By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The 2018 Division 3 Individual Wrestling Finals gave fans arguably the highlights of the day at Ford Field, with a pair of four-time champions joining a legendary group.
Those are pretty tough acts to follow, of course. But this season’s contenders have opportunities to stack up impressive accomplishments as well.
Below, we look at 10 contenders to watch in Division 3, plus list everyone who finished at least as a runner-up in 2018 and all of the top seeds heading into this weekend. Surely we still missed a few who will end up rising to the top of the podium 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 p.m.
112: Hunter Assenmacher, Ida junior (46-3) – Last season’s champion at 103 and runner-up at that weight in 2017 owns the top seed at this weight this weekend. After going undefeated last season, his three losses this winter were all to Dundee – twice to 103 top seed Casey Swiderski and then to teammate Austin Fietz.
119: Dametrius Castillo, Alma sophomore (33-4) – After last year becoming Alma’s first individual champion since 1993, Castillo is back not as a top seed but with an opportunity to avenge one his losses on the way to the final. His defeats this winter all were to Finals qualifiers, with Montrose’s Jake Elasivich a possible semifinal opponent.
125 Corey Gamet, Michigan Center senior (43-0) – He’s the top seed at this weight, previously winning championships in Division 2 at 103 as a freshman and 112 as a sophomore while attending Parma Western. This also would be his second perfect high school season if he takes the title.
140: Christian Killion, Dundee junior (41-5) – The top seed at 140 was the runner-up last season at 130 and also finished fourth at 119 as a freshman. His in-state defeats this season were to reigning Finals champions from other divisions, Detroit Catholic Central’s Derek Gilcher (D1) and Mendon’s Skyler Crespo (D4).
145: Trevor Robinson, Shepherd senior (41-2) – The runner-up last season at 135 is the top seed this weekend at 145, with losses only to Finals qualifiers from Divisions 1 and 2. He also was the runner-up at 125 as a freshman before taking third at 130 as a sophomore.
152: Stoney Buell, Dundee sophomore (41-8) – Buell is another on a possible four-title track after winning 135 a year ago. He has more losses than some others, but they are quality. In-state he fell to Lowell’s Avery Mutschler and Austin Boone, St. Johns’ James Whitaker and Detroit Catholic Central’s Cameron Amine – all returning champions or top seeds this weekend.
152: Sean Trombley, Lake Fenton senior (47-1) – Last season’s runner-up at 145 is not the top seed at this weight but is opposite Dundee’s Buell, potentially setting up a high-powered final. Trombley also was runner-up at 140 as a sophomore and took fifth at 135 as a freshman. His loss this winter came to Byron’s Jerry Hall in the District, and Trombley avenged it by beating Hall at the Regional.
160: DJ Daniels, Caro senior (52-0) – Last year’s champion at 152 is the top seed at 160, and he’s won a combined 110 matches over the last two seasons. He also took third at 140 as a sophomore.
171: Owen Guilford, Portland senior (44-0) – The reigning champion at this weight has been even better, what little he could improve statistically, with a perfect record after losing just one match last season. The top seed at this weight, he’s looking to add to a run that also included a fourth at 160 in 2017.
189 Gavin Morgan, Mount Morris junior (50-0) – Morgan enters the Finals as an undefeated top seed for the second season in a row after doing the same last year at 160. He went on to finish sixth in part by taking an injury default in his consolation match, but is back seeking his first title after also finishing runner-up at 152 as a freshman.
Other 2018 runners-up: 119 Khalil Moten, Mount Morris senior (10-5, 119 in Division 3 in 2018 competing for Flint Beecher); 135 Tyler Swiderski, Dundee sophomore (25-10, 112 in 2018); 125 Kyle Schaaf, Clare senior (42-4, 119 in 2018); 140 Nick Felt, Shelby senior (41-3, 140 in 2018), 215 Brockton Cook, Birch Run senior (50-3, 189 in 2018).
Additional No. 1 seeds: 103 Casey Swiderski, Dundee freshman (42-2); 119 Josh Sunnerville, Otsego junior (47-2); 130 Josh Rankin, Michigan Center senior (36-4); 135 Jonathon White, Dundee senior (35-9); 215 Brockton Cook, Birch Run senior (50-3); 285 Mike Nykoriak, Algonac senior (44-1).
Also undefeated: 130 Damian Flores-Luevano, Wyoming Kelloggsville senior (21-0); Seth Konynenbelt, Hudsonville Unity Christian senior (45-0).
PHOTO: Alma’s Dametrius Castillo, here last week against Richmond during the Team Quarterfinals, will attempt to win his second individual title after last year claiming the school’s first in more than two decades. (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.)