By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Dundee and Richmond have met in the last four MHSAA Division 3 championship matches.
By way of Dundee receiving the top seed and Richmond the fourth, those rivals could meet in a Saturday morning Semifinal, with the winner expected to see either Remus Chippewa Hills or Lake Fenton to decide the title this time.
And that's if seeds play out – a scenario four more teams are working against.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 3, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 4 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at noon Saturday and the championship match at 3:30 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.TV. For results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.
The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.
Record/rank: 19-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Tim Roberts, 17th season (458-61-1)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2014), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Tylor Orrison (33-3) soph.; 140 Zach Blevins (44-3) sr.; 145 Alex Motylinski (34-11) jr.; 152 Sean Sterling (40-4) jr.; 160 Kyle Reinhart (21-10) soph.; 171 Kyle Motylinski (31-9) soph.; 189 Brandon Whitman (41-1) soph.; 215 Gabe Heiserman (39-9) sr.
Outlook: Dundee is up to 14 straight appearances at Finals weekend, coming off its eighth championship match appearance in nine seasons although the Vikings saw their two-season streak of titles come to an end with a two-point loss to Richmond a year ago. Three more wins would give Dundee its first perfect season under Roberts – it has lost only one match twice during his tenure, including in 2013-14. Whitman was the champion at 171 and Blevins an individual runner-up last season at 135, and Orrison, Sterling, Heiserman and senior Drew Mandell all were placers.
#2 Remus Chippewa Hills
Record/rank: 30-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Gold.
Coach: Nate Ethridge, 16th season (463-90)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Mason Hayes (36-10) fr.; 119 Kaden Ellis (42-6) jr.; 140 Todd Slade (43-4) sr.; 145 Jaycob Sharp (46-4) soph.; 152 David Spedowski (35-8) soph.; 160 Luke Henderson (36-14) jr.; 189 Brendan Barry (43-6) sr.; 215 Billy Koepf (45-4) soph.; 285 Andrew Vinton (35-13) soph.
Outlook: Chippewa Hills is seeking the take the next step for the first time after reaching the Semifinals last season for the second time and the Quarterfinals now for the ninth in 11 seasons. The road once again was a tough one, with No. 6 Caro among those the Warriors defeated to reach CMU. Slade was an individual placer in 2015 and is one of only three seniors in a lineup with eight underclassmen and 12 wrestlers total with at least 30 wins.
#3 Lake Fenton
Record/rank: 38-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference.
Coach: Vance Corcoran, sixth season (190-53)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2011.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 AJ Geyer (46-8) jr.; 119 Jarrett Trombley (27-0) soph.; 125 Hunter Corcoran (47-9) jr.; 135 Sean Trombley (42-14) fr.; 135 Devan Melick (48-2) soph.; 140 Jackson Nevadomski (49-8) soph.; 285 Trent Hillger (57-0) jr.
Outlook: Lake Fenton has bounced way back after not winning its league or District last season, returning to the Quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons and third time under Corcoran, a two-time MHSAA individual champion during the mid-1980s. Hillger was the individual champion last season at 215 and helps headline a lineup with only two seniors and 12 wrestlers total with at least 30 wins. Corcoran and senior Saben Spangler also were individual placers last season.
Record/rank: 24-10, No. 3
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference.
Coach: Brandon Day, 12th season (382-84)
Championship history: Seven MHSAA championships (most recent 2015), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Hunter Seguin (20-12) fr.; 112 Roy Costello (35-10) jr.; 119 Cody Keller (36-7) sr.; 119 Alec Ziza (29-11) soph.; 125 Aaron Kilburn (39-4) sr.; 135 Graham Barton (27-6) sr.; 140 Alex Roberts (24-14) soph.; 171 Colton McKiernan (36-6) soph.; 215 Tyler Marino (33-13) soph.
Outlook: Richmond is back at the Quarterfinals for the eighth straight season after edging Dundee for the title in 2015, and despite graduating a strong group of nine seniors who led the charge. There are only four seniors in the lineup this time and six underclassmen, but Kilburn was the individual runner-up last year at 119 and won at 112 as a sophomore. McKiernan and Costello also were placers last winter.
Record/rank: 25-1, No. 5
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference.
Coach: Cliff Sandee, ninth season (210-32)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Hunter Bower (39-6) soph.; 119 Corey Robinson (42-6) sr.; 125 Allen Powers (39-13) fr.; 135 Reiley Brown (45-1) sr.; 140 Jwan Britton (45-2) sr.; 140 Josh Thommen (34-13) soph.; 145 Jojo Dowdell (40-5) jr.; 152 Joe Haynes (37-18) sr.; 189 Luke Morningstar (40-15) sr.
Outlook: After a two-season hiatus, Whitehall is back at the Quarterfinals for the third time in five years after surviving a path that included frequent power Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Brown was the individual champion last season at 125, and Britton was third at 135; they anchor a lineup keyed by seven upperclassmen and also 11 wrestlers total with at least 30 wins.
#6 Birch Run
Record/rank: 26-4, No, 7
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference East.
Coach: Mike Miller, first season (26-4)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Kyle Parlberg (31-17) fr.; 125 Mason Breece (49-3) soph.; 135 Trent Naragon (15-8) fr.; 140 Kyle Naragon (24-12) jr.; 145 Ean Taylor (38-8) sr.; 152 Malachi Breece (39-13) sr.; 160 Logan Bovee (40-9) sr.; 160 Tyler Childs (39-8) sr.
Outlook: The Panthers are making their fourth trip to Finals weekend in five seasons, this time with a first-year varsity coach and eight underclassmen – although Miller has coached in the community for more than a decade. Mason Breece, Taylor and Childs all placed at last season’s Individual Finals, and Bovee also is a returning qualifier for that tournament next weekend.
Record/rank: 16-1, unranked
League finish: First in Great Northern Conference.
Coach: Jesse DeBacker, sixth season (65-17)
Championship history: Upper Peninsula champion 1987, two U.P. runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Adam Bruce (36-1) fr.; 145 Bobby Beauchamp (32-4) sr.; 160 Austin Demeuse (35-3) jr.; 160 James Bruce (27-5) sr.; 285 Zach Bailey (24-6) jr.
Outlook: This is Gladstone’s fourth trip the Quarterfinals over the last decade and first since 2013, and comes with Beauchamp also a returning individual placer at 145. He’s one of only two seniors in a lineup with seven underclassmen and a strong group of juniors. Gladstone defeated No. 10 Roscommon by eight points in the Regional Final.
#8 Delton Kellogg
Record/rank: 19-3, unranked
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley.
Coach: Brett Bissett, first season (19-3)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Jake Bever (41-14) jr.; 145 Christian Kapteyn (24-12) sr.; 152 Jake Reed (48-2) sr.; 215 Tyden Ferris (50-2) soph.; 285 Esteban Villalobos (32-15) jr.
Outlook: This will be the first appearance for Delton Kellogg at an MHSAA Quarterfinals, but the Panthers dominated on the way not giving up more than 15 points in a postseason match. Ferris finished eighth at 215 as a freshman last season and is the most accomplished so far of a lineup with only four seniors. Bissett, a two-time league champion last decade, was an assistant for nine seasons before taking over this winter.
PHOTO: A Remus Chippewa Hills wrestler works against an opponent from Hudson during last month's duals at CMU. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.
“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.
“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.)