D3 Preview: Great Stories to be Told

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

February 27, 2020

This weekend’s Division 3 story is familiar. But last year’s finish no doubt has added to the buildup. 

Dundee or Richmond has won the last 10 Division 3 team wrestling championships, and they’ve faced each other in the deciding match eight of those 10 seasons. And for the third time in five seasons, last year’s title came down to the day’s final match – this time with Dundee earning the victory by the score of 26-25.  

Those headliners are the top-two seeded teams again at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, but hardly the only story in Division 3. Among others, Fremont and Kingsley are in Quarterfinals for the first time, and Alma has made a big jump over the last two years to fall in alongside the favorites at the top.

The Division 3 Quarterfinals will be wrestled at 4:30 p.m. Friday. Top seed Dundee will wrestle Dowagiac, No. 2 Richmond will take on Kingsley, No. 3 Alma will face Fremont and No. 4 Montrose will match up with Remus Chippewa Hills. Semifinals are noon Saturday, with the championship match that afternoon at 3:45 p.m. All matches this weekend will be viewable live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 3, listed by seed.

#1 Dundee

Record/rank: 20-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association 
Tim Roberts, 21st season (535-75-1)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA championships (most recent 2019), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Braeden Davis (31-4) fr., 112 Kaden Chinavare (27-8) fr., 119 Jacob Fenbert (21-12) fr., 125 Aiden Davis (36-4) fr., 130 Austin Fietz (34-6) jr., 135 Casey Swiderski (32-1) soph., 135 Christian Killion (39-6) sr., 140 Kyle Yuhas (21-9) sr., 145 Tyler Swiderski (40-3) jr., 152 Dominick Lomazzo (17-4) jr., 160 Stoney Buell (38-3) jr., 181 Jaxon Guinn (31-8) sr., 215 Dennis Root (33-6) sr.
Outlook: Dundee has won two straight Division 3 titles and five of the last season, and this team remains built for now and the future with only four seniors among 13 Individual Finals qualifiers. After again winning an LCAA that included Division 4 top seed Hudson, Dundee gave up a combined 15 points over four District and Regional matches on the way back to Kalamazoo. Buell will be seeking his third individual championship next weekend, while Casey Swiderski will be seeking his second straight and Tyler Swiderski and Killion are both two-time Finals runners-up. Fietz and Guinn also are both repeat Finals placers.

#2 Richmond

Record/rank: 24-5, No. 2
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference 
Brandon Day, 16th season (476-98); Preston Treend, fourth season (94-14)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Emmet Kettle (26-8) jr., 103 Noah Harris (23-8) fr., 112 Hunter Keller (32-3) jr., 119 JD Gross (27-12) sr., 119 Josh Barton (24-8) sr., 130 Austin Kilburn (16-3) sr., 145 Kevin McKiernan (20-15) soph., 171 Wesley Peters (30-9) soph., 189 Noah Montanari (29-3) sr., 215 Luke Davis (35-2) sr., 285 Dan McKiernan (28-5) jr.
Outlook: Richmond is the two-time reigning runner-up and like Dundee always finds its way into the championship mix. After emerging with another BWAC title, the Blue Devils defeated three of league foes and also Madison Heights Bishop Foley soundly over the last two weeks, giving up a combined 48 points over four postseason matches. Keller and Davis were Finals runners-up last season, while Kilburn and Peters were placers too and Gross and Dan McKiernan also will be returning to Ford Field after competing there a year ago.

#3 Alma

Record/rank: 24-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference East
Coach: Randy Miniard, ninth season (212-95)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Gianni Tripp (33-13) fr., 130 Solomon Rosales (37-9) jr., 135 Dametrius Castillo (33-7) jr., 140 Jarrett Ferman (25-5) sr., 152 Jacob Munger (28-12) soph., 160 Justin VanBlaricum (30-5) sr.
Outlook: The Panthers have made another jump, from the sixth seed last season to third this weekend as they return to the Quarterfinals for the third straight year. Alma’s road again took it through Lake Odessa Lakewood, and the Panthers doubled up the No. 5 Vikings 47-21 to win the Regional title. Rosales, Castillo, Ferman and VanBlaricum all were Finals qualifiers last season, as was sophomore Josiah Baltierra (125/31-14). Castillo was an individual champion in 2018, and he, Ferman and VanBlaricum all placed a year ago. Senior Carlos Espinoza (171/30-11) gives Alma another 30-match winner.

#4 Montrose

Record/rank: 32-3, No. 4
League finish: Second in Mid-Michigan Activities Conference 
Steve Barnette, eighth season (172-79)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2005), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Seth Coffin (30-19) soph., 125 Aidan Bernard (45-4) soph., 152 Robert Skinner (28-6) jr., 171 Cody Smith (29-16) soph., 215 Levi Harber (44-4) soph.
Outlook: After last season ending a 13-year hiatus from the final weekend, Montrose is back for the second straight after wins over No. 8 Birch Run and No. 10 Otisville-LakeVille at the Regional. The lineup continues to be young and promising with only two senior starters but eight sophomores and a freshman in the expected lineup. Skinner was a Finals qualifier last season and senior Griffin Barnette (285/34-7) placed although he fell just shy of qualifying for Ford Field this season.  

#5 Remus Chippewa Hills

Record/rank: 24-5, No. 6
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association
Coach: Kevin Edwards, second season (52-7) 
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2016.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Robert VanVleet (30-16) soph., 119 Gavin Miller (27-7) jr., 119 Taylor Gibson (32-14) sr., 125 Ozaawa Manito (24-17) sr., 130 Carson Hayes (32-8) jr., 171 Gabe Petoskey (28-18) sr., 189 Chayton Wiggins (35-8) sr., 215 Colby Roosa (33-4) jr.
Outlook: Make it nine straight Regional titles for Chippewa Hills as they look to also make the Semifinals for the sixth-straight season. The Warriors edged No. 9 Shepherd 37-31 in the Regional Final to advance this time. Hayes and Roosa are returning Individual Finals placers, and bolstering those above is junior Carl Whipple (215/33-10), a Finals qualifier in 2019 and one of five 30-match winners this winter.

#6 Fremont

Record/rank: 24-4, No. 7
League finish: Second in Central State Activities Association 
Craig Zeerip, sixth season (129-60)
Championship history: Has not competed in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 RJ Thome (44-3) soph., 152 Trey Breuker (40-8) jr., 189 Michael Romero (33-15) fr., 215 Kyler Kolk (39-8) sr.
Outlook: The former Fremont and Ohio State wrestler and Hesperia head coach Zeerip will bring his alma mater to the Quarterfinals for the first time. After coming in second in the league to Chippewa Hills, Fremont edged Howard City Tri County 39-37 in its District Semifinal – but has doubled up all of its opponents since. Eight starters have won at least 30 matches, with seniors Matthew Halasinkski (140/38-10) and Chase Knudsen (160/36-9) among those joining Finals qualifiers listed above.

#7 Kingsley

Record/rank: 25-3, unranked
League finish: Second in Mid-Michigan Wrestling Conference 
Corey Crew, first season (25-3) 
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Justin Grahn (40-7) fr., 135 Aidan Shier (36-5) soph., 145 Kyan Fessenden (31-20) fr.
Outlook: In his first season leading the program, Crew has guided Kingsley to its first Regional championship and Quarterfinals trip. Eleven of 13 starters (while giving up 152) have winning records, and eight have at least 30 wins – and the team is nearly all underclassmen, with one senior and one junior on the roster. Sophomore Kaden Patterson (160/40-12), while falling shy of making the Individual Finals, also has topped 40 wins.

#8 Dowagiac

Record/rank: 23-9, unranked
League finish: Second in Wolverine Conference 
Colin Burandt, fifth season (99-45)
Championship history: Two runner-up finishes (most recent 1998).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jordan Simpson (41-7) soph., 160 Lamberto Parades (35-12) sr., 215 Chris Schultz (19-12) sr., 285 Wyatt Bailey (40-8) jr.
Outlook: Dowagiac will bring double the number of Individual Finals qualifiers to Kalamazoo this weekend as it did a year ago as the program continues to build under former Niles standout Burandt. This team has six senior starters, as opposed to just two a year ago, and Bailey was an Individual Finals placer coming in eighth at 285 in 2019.

PHOTO: Alma, here against Lakewood in the Regional Final, will attempt to reach its first MHSAA team championship match this weekend. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

July 25, 2023

ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.“I always wanted to coach,” the former Rockford High School wrestling standout said. “I think I have wanted to coach since I was in middle school. I wanted to be a college wrestling coach.”

Bennett, 33, is currently living out his dreams of becoming a collegiate coach as a member of the Central Michigan University wrestling program.

Bennett, one of the most decorated wrestlers in CMU history, is in his 10th season on 32-year coach Tom Borrelli’s staff.

“I was getting ready to graduate, and a position opened up,” Bennett said. “I think Coach Borrelli knew that I really wanted to stay involved in wrestling and get into coaching. I was fortunate enough to slide into that position, and he had enough faith in me to let me stay here.”

Before getting the opportunity to coach, Bennett amassed eight years of unbridled success at the high school and collegiate levels.

He was a three-time Individual Finals champion at Rockford and helped lead the Rams to a Division 1 team championship as a junior.

“I had a really good high school experience, and I really enjoyed wrestling for our head coach at the time, Don Rinehart,” Bennett said. “He coached for a long time, and we always had some very competitive teams.

“In 2007, my junior year, we won the team state duals, but every year we were really competitive and had multiple individual state champions. Those were the type of teams I was able to wrestle on, which made it pretty exciting and pretty fun when you have those types of guys around you.”

After excelling through the junior ranks, Bennett made an immediate impact for the Rams and captured the Division 1 championship at 140 pounds as a freshman.

However, the following year, he took third at 152 after losing a semifinal match 2-1.

That defeat was humbling for Bennett but also showed him how to handle adversity.

“At the time, in my eyes, the world was ending,” Bennett said. “You look back and it probably was more of a positive. It's good to have those things happen to you, and you face some adversity.

“And I think that's more relatable to life rather than just when you win all the time. I did a lot of winning, but when things are really important, sometimes it's good to fail, for things not to go your way because it will probably happen for the rest of your life.

“You have to learn how to respond and come back from that and handle it the right way and just get back to work. At the time, I remember how devastated I was, but looking back it probably was a positive thing long term.”

Bennett wound up collecting two more Individual Finals titles, at 160 and 171 pounds, to end his high school career and then was named Mr. Wrestler, receiving the award given to the top senior wrestler by the state coaches association.

“I wasn't even thinking that I might get that,” he said. “There are so many great high school wrestlers that come out every year, and thinking about the guys I wrestled … to be singled out as the one chosen for that award was pretty special.”

After graduation, Bennett took his talents to Mount Pleasant. He could’ve gone anywhere to wrestle, but found the right fit at CMU.

“I knew I wanted to wrestle in college, and it was close to home, which I liked,” Bennett said. “I didn't feel like I had to go across the country to have an opportunity to accomplish my goals. I felt like I could stay here and do that.”

Bennett is the only four-time All-American in CMU history and one of three Chippewas to have earned four individual Mid-American Conference titles.

Bennett twice earned the Chick Sherwood Award as CMU’s most valuable wrestler and was named the MAC Wrestler of the Year in 2012. He also had earned the MAC Freshman of the Year Award in 2010.

Bennett ranks sixth in CMU history with 121 career victories, and his career win percentage of .834 is fourth all-time. In 2013, he finished 31-2 for a .939 win percentage, the second-best in program history. He also won a school-record 30 consecutive matches during that season and finished a personal-best fourth at the national tournament.

Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season.“At the time I was disappointed with how my career went, because I was never a national champion,” Bennett said. “But I think looking back on it, I have a lot more appreciation for what I did.

“As a coach, I realize how hard it is to have success at the college level, and every year you see great wrestlers not make the podium. Sometimes I’m shocked when certain guys don’t place, and it makes me appreciate how hard it is to be a four-time All-American, let alone place one time or multiple times.”

The transition to the coaching side was a difficult process for Bennett, but he knew he wanted to mentor other wrestlers the way his former coaches did with him.

“You put so much into the sport and you realize how much time other people invested and how important it was for me to do well, and so I guess for me it was a hard transition to make,” Bennett said. “You’re so competitive and so focused on yourself, but then being able to help these guys improve, get better and hopefully accomplish their goals was something I was looking forward to doing.

“I had so many people help me do that, and then I was able to be in their shoes and give back to these guys.”

Coaching has kept him involved in a sport he loves.

“And I get to continue to learn and grow and develop in different areas, not just wrestling-wise,” he said. “I get to meet a lot of great people through wrestling and coaching. The guys who come through our program are pretty awesome people.

“I’m pretty fortunate, and I've really enjoyed the coaching side of it, being in the wrestling room with these guys. Getting them ready for a match and going over things after a match. There is a lot that goes into it, but I really enjoy it.”

The love of wrestling for Bennett began at 6 years old, when he was coached by his uncle Tom Bennett – a former Division III All-American – and dad Doug.

“My uncle did a ton for me wrestling-wise, and my dad was the conditioning and discipline-type guy,” Bennett said. “Together it was a good mix. For as long as I can remember, I was always in really good shape. I loved wrestling right away.”

Bennett admits that he probably missed out on a lot when he was younger because he was determined to be the best and his life revolved around wrestling and training.

“It can be a tough way to live, but at the time that's what I wanted to do so that's what I did,” Bennett said. “When I was little my dad always told me that I'm not going to take you across the country to these tournaments if we are not training to win the tournament, not going to fill out the brackets, so my whole life the goal was always to be a champion.

“Going into high school my goal was to be a four-time state champion. I wanted to win the senior nationals, the junior nationals, and I won all those things. Going into college, in my mind, the next step was to be a national champion, and I don't think you realize how hard it really is, and I don't think I realized how hard it was to be an All-American.”

Bennett was promoted to CMU associate head coach last June after spending nine seasons as an assistant. He said the biggest difference with his new position is on the administrative side.

“I do a lot of scheduling and budgeting, things I didn’t do as much before in my years as an assistant coach,” he said. “I’ve taken the reins on some of these things, and it’s good for me to learn.”

Bennett is content with his current role at CMU and continuing to evolve as a coach under Borrelli. However, he hopes to one day take that next step as the head coach of a collegiate program.

“That’s my ultimate goal with coaching,” he said. “When that will happen, I don’t know. I guess I’m not in a hurry. When it happens, it will happen. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can right now.

“Coach Borrelli is an unbelievable coach, leader, mentor and role model, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him and soak up as much as I can from him until I get an opportunity somewhere to be a head coach. Right now I'm happy with where I'm at, and when that time comes, it will come.”

Bennett, 33, is engaged to former Chippewas field hockey player Erica Garwood. The couple has been dating for seven years and will get married next month.

“We’re excited, and I’m sure life will really change when we start having kids,” Bennett said. “But it’s good right now. We both went to school here, and she has a good job at an elementary school in town. We enjoy it up here.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Ben Bennett stands atop the podium at the 2008 Individual Finals, and now with fiancé Erica Garwood. (Middle) Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season. (Current photo courtesy of Ben Bennett; 2008 photos from MHSAA Archives.)