By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Only four teams have competed in MHSAA Division 3 team championship matches this decade.
Top-seeded Richmond and second-seeded Dundee both have won three of the last six titles in this division. Third-seeded Remus Chippewa Hills and fourth-seeded Lake Fenton each have advanced to the final round once during that time and are expected to make the push again.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 3, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 4:30 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and the championship match at 6 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.
The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.
NOTE: There are only seven quarterfinalists in Division 3, and Richmond received a bye for Friday after Mount Morris vacated its Regional title because it used a wrestler at a weight for which he was not eligible.
Record/rank: 27-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Co-coaches: Brandon Day, 13th season (409-87); Preston Treend, first season (27-2)
Championship history: Seven MHSAA championships (most recent 2015), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Austin Kilburn (32-6) fr., 112 Roy Costello (36-7) sr., 125 Alec Ziza (19-15) jr., 140 Gary Resk (24-12) sr., 145 Alex Roberts (28-11) jr., 160 David Kaltz (34-13) jr., 189 Colton McKiernan (42-4) jr., 215 Tyler Marino (42-5) jr.
Outlook: Richmond returns to the Quarterfinals for the ninth straight season and after getting past league rival and No. 10 Algonac along the way. The Blue Devils were slightly upset a year ago, falling as a four seed to fifth-seeded Whitehall in the weekend’s first match, but they return with a lineup boasting 10 upperclassmen. Costello, Roberts and McKiernan all were individual placers in 2016.
Record/rank: 18-4, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Tim Roberts, 18th season (478-65-1)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Jonathon White (27-15) soph., 119 Christian Killion (24-9) fr., 119 Daniel Jaworski (28-14) jr., 140 Zachary Bellaire (32-4) jr., 145 Tylor Orrison (35-5) jr., 152 Alex Motylinski (31-4) sr., 160 Sean Sterling (22-0) sr., 171 Kyle Motylinski (32-12) jr., 189 Kyle Reinhart (35-11) jr., 189 Brandon Whitman (38-0) jr.
Outlook: Dundee climbed back to the top of Division 3 last winter with its third championship in four years and entered this postseason ranked No. 1. The Vikings shut out two opponents and gave up a combined nine points to the other two on the way back to CMU. Whitman has won two straight MHSAA individual titles, last season at 189, and Sterling is the reigning champion at 152. Orrison and Alex Motylinski also placed last year.
#3 Remus Chippewa Hills
Record/rank: 27-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Gold
Coach: Nate Ethridge, 17th season (491-92)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2016.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Bray Haynes (42-9) soph., 119 Kaden Ellis (40-7) sr., 125 Mason Hayes (38-9) soph., 130 Brandon Russell (37-15) jr., 135 Nolan Saxton (52-0) sr., 152 Jaycob Sharp (45-8) jr., 160 David Spedowski (45-4) jr., 171 Robert Granberry (43-10) jr., 189 Luke Henderson (42-7) sr., 215 Billy Koepf (47-2) jr., 285 Andrew Vinton (31-10) jr.
Outlook: Chippewa Hills advanced to its first MHSAA Final last season and hardly has slowed this winter, entering the final weekend with only one loss for the second straight season and third time during Ethridge’s successful tenure. Eleven upperclassmen anchor the line-up; Sharp was the individual runner-up at 145 in 2016, while Spedowski, Koepf, Vinton and Hayes also placed.
#4 Lake Fenton
Record/rank: 33-5, No. 5
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference
Coach: Vance Corcoran, seventh season (221-58)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2011.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 AJ Geyer (40-10) sr., 125 Hunter Corcoran (51-2) sr., 130 Jarrett Trombley (51-0) jr., 140 Sean Trombley (48-5) soph., 152 Jackson Nevadomski (52-1) jr., 171 Logan Julian (23-16) jr., 215 Ryan Franks (42-11) sr., 285 Trent Hillger (53-0) sr.
Outlook: This is Lake Fenton’s third trip to the Quarterfinals over the past four seasons, and after coming up just four points short of advancing in the Semifinals a year ago. The Blue Devils got past Chesaning by only six points to move on this time, an accomplishment since the team voids at 103 and 119. But Lake Fenton counters with serious star power; Hillger is the reigning champion at 285 and won 215 as a sophomore, while Jarrett Trombley is the reigning champion at 119 and Geyer was runner-up last season at 103. Corcoran, Sean Trombley and Nevadomski also placed individually in 2016.
Record/rank: 20-3, No. 4
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Cliff Sandee, 10th season (231-36)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Sam Baustert (28-15) soph., 112 Hunter Bower (24-12) jr., 119 Haddan Young (30-17) jr., 125 Mitchell White (31-13) jr., 130 Trenton Blanchard (38-11) soph., 140 Josh Thommen (35-10) jr. 145 Allen Powers (32-13) soph., 152 Jojo Dowdell (39-9) sr., 160 Kayleb Venema (36-10) fr.
Outlook: Whitehall returns as the fifth seed for the second straight season and after making the Semifinals a year ago. Eight wrestlers have won at least 30 matches for a young lineup with only three seniors expected to start – the Vikings graduated two individual champions last spring. Dowdell also placed individually in 2016.
#6 Lake Odessa Lakewood
Record/rank: 29-6, No. 6
League finish: First in Greater Lansing Activities Conference
Coach: Bob Veitch, 38th season (749-178)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Kanon Atwell (33-9) fr., 119 Cole Jackson (37-6) jr., 125 Jon Maag (32-6) jr., 152 Vern Fields (27-14) fr., 160 Jon Clack (37-10) fr., 171 Daniel Thompson (40-1) sr., 215 Jacob Kelley (35-10) sr., 285 Luke Tromp (38-6) sr.
Outlook: Lakewood is back at the Quarterfinals for the seventh time under Veitch but first since 2011. Along the way, the Vikings posted an impressive 52-17 District Final win over No. 9 Delton Kellogg. There are only four seniors on the team, but all four have won at least 35 matches; Thompson is the reigning champion at 171. Jackson also placed last season.
Record/rank: 28-7, unranked
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference East
Co-coaches: Joe Fulton and William Green, first seasons (28-7)
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2003, two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 John Botkins (53-6) soph., 125 Blain Wood (51-3) jr., 135 Patrick Ford (35-2) sr., 140 DJ Daniels (53-3) soph.
Outlook: Caro is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012 after surviving a run that included a three-point win over Freeland and a six-pointer over Beaverton. Fulton and Green are former Caro wrestlers who took over the program after previously coaching at lower levels. Wood was individual runner-up at 112 last season.
PHOTO: Caro, here against Millington, will return to the MHSAA Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. (Click to see more from Varsity Monthly.)
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.)