By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Dundee and Richmond have met in six of the last eight Division 3 Team Finals, but none carried as much anticipation as this weekend’s possible rematch is building.
Richmond claimed last season’s MHSAA title on a tie-breaker after the teams tied 28-28. They're expected to see each other again Saturday at Wings Events Center – although undefeated Remus Chippewa Hills is among six other quarterfinalists that will try to break through instead.
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 noon Saturday and the championship match that afternoon at 3:30 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.
Record/rank: 14-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Tim Roberts, 19th season (494-69-1)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Austin Fietz (30-12) fr., 112 Tyler Swiderski (27-10) fr., 119 Jonathon White (29-10) jr., 125 Daniel Jaworski (22-11) sr., 130 Christian Killion (28-8) soph., 135 Stoney Buell (36-4) fr., 140 Grant Ott (27-8) jr., 145 McCallister McAvoy (30-10) jr., 152 Zachary Bellaire (36-7) sr., 160 Tylor Orrison (38-3) sr., 171 Jaxon Guinn (29-8) soph., 189 Kyle Reinhart (33-13) sr., 189 Kyle Motylinski (33-8) sr., 215 Brandon Whitman (40-0) sr.
Outlook: As noted above, Dundee led by six senior starters should be as motivated as ever. The team qualified all 14 wrestlers for the Individual Finals – headlined by three-time champ Whitman. Bellaire and Orrison also won MHSAA individual titles last season, and White and Killion placed. The Vikings gave up 11 points to No. 9 Ida in the District Final but shut out their other three postseason opponents.
Record/rank: 19-5, No. 2
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Co-coaches: Brandon Day, 14th season (428-93); Preston Treend, second season (46-7)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 JD Gross (22-8) soph., 112 Daniel McNichol (31-9) jr., 119 Josh Barton (24-13) soph., 135 Alec Ziza (24-9) sr., 140 Hayden Bastian (26-8) jr., 145 Ethan Wyatt (21-14) jr., 145 Alex Roberts (30-5) sr., 152 Eric Barr (16-4) jr., 160 David Kaltz (22-7) sr., 189 Luke Davis (35-8) soph., 215 Colton McKiernan (37-1) sr., 285 Tyler Marino (25-4) sr.
Outlook: This will make a decade of consecutive Quarterfinals appearances for the Blue Devils, who eliminated No. 6 Algonac in the District along the way. McKiernan and Marino were Individual Finals runners-up last season, and Roberts also placed. Those three are among five senior starters and nine upperclassmen total expected to take the mat.
#3 Remus Chippewa Hills
Record/rank: 23-0, No. 3
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Gold
Coach: Nate Ethridge, 18th season (515-93)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2016.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Carson Hayes (40-7) fr., 125 Bray Haynes (36-7) jr., 145 Austin Young (43-5) sr., 152 Jaycob Sharp (9-2) sr., 171 Robert Granberry (40-5) sr., 189 Chayton Wiggins (37-7) soph. 215 Jared Bean (33-8) sr., 215 Billy Koepf (37-3) sr., 285 Andrew Vinton (35-7) sr., 285 Colby Roosa (37-5) fr.
Outlook: After breaking through to the championship match for the first time in 2016, Chippewa Hills fell to Dundee by just six points in last year’s Semifinal. The Warriors haven’t lost again. Sharp was an Individual Finals runner-up as a sophomore and a placer last winter, along with Granberry. The tough part is two of this year’s 10 qualifiers likely won’t compete in a given match – Chippewa Hills has multiple at both 215 and 285. But nine expected starters have at least 30 wins, as do four subs.
Record/rank: 30-3, No. 4
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Cliff Sandee, 11th season (261-39)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Tom Balakovitz (40-8) sr., 145 Trenton Blanchard (40-9) jr., 160 Derek McCollom (36-8) sr., 171 Kayleb Venema (46-4) soph., 189 Allen Powers (45-4) jr.
Outlook: Whitehall nearly broke into the Semifinals for the second season in a row last year, and a team with six senior starters is forecast to advance this time after coming in seeded fifth the last two Quarterfinals. Powers and junior Sam Baustert (112, 37-9) were individual placers a year ago, and senior past qualifier Josh Thommen (145, 15-6) also reportedly will return to the lineup this weekend after missing earlier rounds with an injury.
#5 Birch Run
Record/rank: 32-2, No. 5
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference East
Coach: Mike Miller, third season (88-11)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Christian Miller (40-14) soph., 119 Mac Breece (53-3) soph., 130 Kyle Parlberg (34-18) jr., 140 Mason Breece (52-3) sr., 152 Trenton Naragon (46-6) jr., 189 Brockton Cook (52-4) jr.
Outlook: This will be Birch Run’s fifth trip to the Semifinals over the last seven seasons after the Panthers missed a year ago. They gave up an average of just 16 points over their four District and Regional matches. Mason Breece, Mac Breece and Miller all placed at the Individual Finals last season and bolster an expected lineup with just three seniors but five 40-match winners.
Record/rank: 25-9, unranked
League finish: Second in Wolverine Conference
Coach: Colin Burandt, third season (52-25)
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 1998).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Kody Walker (45-6) sr., 189 Justin Lyle (41-11) sr.
Outlook: Dowagiac will return to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2004 after upsetting No. 7 Lake Odessa Lakewood in the Regional Final. The Chieftains have more than doubled their number of wins from last season under Burandt, previously a Finals individual placer and later assistant coach at Niles. Walker is one of four seniors in the expected lineup and was a Finals placer in 2017.
Record/rank: 32-9, No. 8
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference Central
Co-coaches: Randy Miniard, seventh season (153-85)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nolan Rodriguez (39-9) fr., 119 Dametrius Castillo (33-6) fr., 130 Jarrett Ferman (41-11) soph., 152 Justin VanBlaricum (40-15) soph., 285 Greg Simmons (35-6) sr.
Outlook: A year after leading Alma to its first league title since 1992, Miniard has the Panthers at the MHSAA Quarterfinals for the first time in program history. Five seniors are joined by nine underclassmen, including five freshmen, in the expected starting lineup. Alejandro Rosas (140, 32-5) didn’t make the Individual Finals this season but was a placer in 2017.
#8 Comstock Park
Record/rank: 22-10, unranked
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue
Coach: Jim Olson, 30th season (457-225)
Championship history: Class C champion 1974, runner-up 1980.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Bailey Borgeld (41-7) jr., 130 Zion Taylor (42-8) jr., 135 Austin Sanders (32-13) jr., 140 Christian Maldonado (39-11) jr., 160 Nick Brill (27-14) sr., 215 Joe Nagle (48-0) sr.
Outlook: Comstock Park last made the Quarterfinals in 2015, in Division 2, and also has won three District titles over the last four seasons. Nagle and Borgeld also were Individual Finals qualifiers last year and help pace a lineup with seven 30-win wrestlers.
PHOTO: Dundee’s Christian Killion (left) and Richmond’s Alec Ziza locked up for a 1-0 decision win for Killion at 125 pounds during last season’s Division 3 Final. (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.)