By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Sean Spidle is back where he started this run, and with an opportunity to finish it among the all-time greats in MHSAA wrestling history.
The Flint Powers Catholic senior, along with two others this weekend, will wrestle at Ford Field to become the 27th to win four MHSAA Individual Finals titles.
His first two were won in Division 3, at 103 pounds as a freshman and 112 as a sophomore. But Powers was Division 2 a year ago, and so Spidle claimed his second 112 championship against a different group of contenders. But he’ll be back in Division 3 this weekend, sharing the 119 bracket with the opponent he defeated to win his first title.
Below, we look at Spidle and nine more contenders to watch in Division 3, plus list all of the top seeds heading into this weekend. Of course, we likely missed a few who will end up among the biggest headliners Saturday – but come back to Second Half early Sunday as we’ll interview and report on all 56 champions.
The “Grand March” on Friday begins at 11 a.m., with five rounds wrestled throughout the day including the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Wrestling picks back up with consolation rounds at 9 a.m. Saturday, and concludes with the championship matches that afternoon at 3:30 p.m.
112 Jordan Rodriguez, Chesaning senior (37-1) – After finishing third and then seventh at 103 his first two seasons, Rodriguez powered into the championship at 112 in 2019 before falling 6-2 to Hunter Assenmacher (see below). He’s the top seed at this weight, with his only loss this season to 125 qualifier Aidan Bernard of Montrose.
119 Hunter Assenmacher, Ida senior (44-1) – After falling to Spidle in the 103 championship match when both were freshman, Assenmacher may see him one more time – but now after winning titles at 103 in 2018 and 112 a year ago. His only loss this winter was to Macomb Dakota’s Brendan Ferretti, the Division 1 top seed at this weight, by 5-3 decision.
119 Sean Spidle, Flint Powers Catholic senior (33-0) – Last season’s Division 2 champion at 112 pounds also won 112 in Division 3 as a sophomore and 103 as a freshman. He will continue at Central Michigan.
135 Casey Swiderski, Dundee sophomore (35-1) – Last season’s champion at 103 made a big jump in weight and hasn’t missed a beat. His only loss came to an out-of-state opponent in December, and four of his wins came against Division 1 contenders including 125 top seed Andrew Chambal of Davison.
140 Christian Killion, Dundee senior (42-6) – The three-time placer and two-time runner-up is hoping to end his high school career with his first title win. Killion was fourth at 119 as a freshman, second at 130 (to four-time champ Jarrett Trombley of Lake Fenton) as a sophomore and just missed claiming the championship last year with a double-overtime loss in the title match at this weight.
145 Tyler Swiderski, Dundee junior (43-3) – Few of late have been able to claim a tougher-luck pair of past runner-up finishes. As a sophomore he fell to Spidle at 112, and last season Swiderski had to take on senior teammate Jonathon White in the final at 135 and lost 1-0. This season, his only in-state defeat came to Division 2 contender James Fotis of Lowell, and in sudden victory.
160 Stoney Buell, Dundee junior (41-3) – Buell is potentially on a four-title track, having won at 135 as a freshman and 152 last season and earning the top seed in this weekend’s bracket. Only one of his defeats this winter was in state, to Division 1 Manuel Rojas of Detroit Catholic Central by a point.
171 Dillon Kroening, Gladwin senior (48-1) – He’s back as the top seed at this weight after falling in last season’s championship match, and is a combined 98-3 over the past two seasons. Kroening’s only defeat this winter came in sudden victory in December against Division 4 contender Jacob Cassiday of Beaverton, whom Kroening had defeated a week earlier.
215 Luke Davis, Richmond senior (38-2) – Last season’s 215 runner-up fell just short a year ago losing in a 3-0 decision, but he’s back as the top seed. His only in-state loss this winter was a 3-1 decision to reigning Division 1 champion Brendin Yatooma of Detroit Catholic Central. Since that defeat, Davis has pins in 17 of 19 matches.
285 Grant Clarkson, Lake Odessa Lakewood senior (36-0) – He’s back as the top seed in this bracket after finishing third at this weight in 2019, his first as a Finals placer. He’s pinned all of his opponents but one this season (and not counting a handful of matches won by forfeit).
Other 2019 runners-up: 112 Hunter Keller, Richmond junior (34-4, 103 in 2019); 125 Brendan Connelly, Yale senior (45-5, 119 in 2019); 135 Mac Breece, Birch Run senior (40-2, 125 in 2019); 135 Luke Mahaney, Williamston junior (27-4, 130 in 2019); 152 Max Halstead, Grayling senior (22-1, 145 in 2019).
Additional No. 1 seeds: 103 Braeden Davis, Dundee freshman (34-4); 125 Aidan Davis, Dundee freshman (39-4); 130 Brock Holek, Durand junior (42-0); 152 Dominick Lomazzo, Dundee junior (20-4); 189 Jonathan Clack, Lake Odessa Lakewood senior (48-0).
PHOTO: Flint Powers Catholic’s Sean Spidle (far left) stands atop the championship podium for the third-straight season in 2019 after winning a Division 2 title at 112 pounds. (Click for more from 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.)