D4 Preview: Champ Returns as Favorite

February 25, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The MHSAA Division 4 Team Wrestling Finals feature the smallest schools competing in our state. 

But they also included the headlining finish from last season’s championship matches at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

New Lothrop ended Hudson’s record five-year title streak by downing the Tigers 33-22 – and the Hornets return to Kellogg this weekend as favorites to repeat.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 1 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 9:30 Saturday morning and the championship match at 4 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. (Records below are based on those submitted for the Individual Finals.)

#1 New Lothrop

Record/rank: 26-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference.  
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 14th season (365-65)
Championship history: 13 MHSAA championships (most recent 2014), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Tommy Malloy (34-19) fr., 112 Connor Krupp (34-12) soph., 130 Dalton Birchmeier (32-9) sr., 135 Cole Hersch (46-0) jr., 140 Gabe Bennett (36-3) sr., 145 Steven Garza II (36-0) jr., 145 Trevor Copes (29-10) sr., 152 Johnny Robinson (33-11) jr., 160 Erik Birchmeier (34-8) soph., 171 Joe Fisher (16-5) sr., 189 Caleb Symons (44-1) jr., 285 David Robertson (34-19) sr.
Outlook: New Lothrop’s title last winter was its first since 2004 and keyed in large part by eventual and now-graduated individual champions Josh Wendling and Taylor Krupp. But Symons, usually unable to break into the lineup at the same weights as those two, also was a hero of last year’s final weekend. Bennett, Garza and Connor Krupp are returning Individual Finals placers, and Hersch is considered a contender next weekend as well.

#2 Decatur

Record/rank: 29-2, No. 4
League finish: Second in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Coach: Brian Southworth, 31st season (639-206-3)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 David Helmuth (44-8) soph., 130 Ethan May (45-11) soph., 145 Elijah Luth (41-10) jr., 152 Hunter Bell (50-1) sr., 189 Cole Southworth (45-7) sr., 285 Logan Kennedy (23-2) soph.
Outlook: Decatur returns to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012, having conquered No. 3 Lawton in their District Final after finishing behind Lawton in the SAC standings and falling to the Blue Devils in District Finals the last two seasons. Half the starting lineup is underclassmen, but Kennedy was an Individual Finals placer last season, as were Cole Southworth and Bell.

#3 Hudson

Record/rank: 21-5, No. 2
League finish: Tied for first in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Scott Marry, 27th season (713-151)
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), runner-up 2014.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dylan Leathers (24-13) jr., 119 Roddy Hamdan (37-7) sr., 125 Tyler Roberts (26-15) sr., 130 Michael Prock (34-12) sr., 145 Mason Lopinski (34-5) jr., 152 Kyle Johnson (41-6) jr., 171 Clayton Brockway (28-16) sr., 189 Mitch Ely (28-13) sr., 189 Tylor Grames (30-17) soph.
Outlook: Hudson is capable of starting another title run with five Individual Finals placers in the lineup this weekend including Johnson, the reigning champion at 152, and Hamdan, the runner-up at 112 last season. The Tigers edged No. 5 Springport in the Regional Final to advance after sharing the LCAA championship with Division 3 top-ranked Dundee.

#4 Manchester

Record/rank: 28-7, No. 7
League finish: Tied for first in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Steve Vlcek, 25th season (500-181)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Reese Fry (29-12) fr., 112 Brendan Abrigo (45-1) sr., 119 Ethan Woods (38-8) soph., 135 Nick Dettling (45-6) sr., 140 Brock Vlcek (45-3) sr., 145 Corey Johnson (41-7) sr., 152 Matt Cuevas (38-11) sr., 152 Garrick Ockerman (28-19) sr., 160 Trevor Humphrey (45-4) jr., 285 Stevie Suliman (33-17) jr.
Outlook: Manchester also is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. The Flying Dutchmen scored at least 60 points in all three of their postseason wins to get to Battle Creek after sharing their league title with No. 6 Addison. Abrigo was the Individual Finals runner-up at 103 last season, and Woods finished sixth at that weight.

#5 Leroy Pine River

Record/rank: 25-5, No. 8
League finish: First in Highland Conference.
Coach: Tim Jones, 16th season (424-95)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nate Park (38-7) jr., 103 Andrew Park (28-7) fr., 112 Jordan Stone (44-8) sr., 119 Tony Moore (44-6) sr., 125 Tucker Fansler (36-15) soph., 135 Phil Ragatzki (27-16) sr., 171 Jeff Gross (33-11) sr., 189 Tyler McCurry (39-10) sr., 215 Dominic Garcia (25-4) jr., 215 Josh Jackson (39-8) jr., 285 Chase Morrison (37-6) jr.
Outlook: Pine River has dominated its league and District with 15 championships over the last 16 seasons at both stages. This is the Bucks’ first trip to the Quarterfinals since 2008 and has come after four tournament wins by an average score of 67-13. Stone should be an Individual Finals contender after placing eighth at 112 last season.

#6 Norway

Record/rank: 18-5, unranked
League finish: First in Mid Peninsula Athletic Conference.
Coach: Nick Burkland, sixth season (84-32)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Dylan Hoffart (39-3) soph., 140 Cole Gonzalez (40-1) sr., 152 Tanner Gonzalez (36-4) soph., 160 Taylor Bonetti (47-4) sr.
Outlook: Norway’s surge continues as it is making the trip to Battle Creek for the third straight year and is a combined 68-6 in duals over the last three seasons. The Knights have moved up one seed each of these Quarterfinal trips and return 10 wrestlers from last season’s lineup. Cole Gonzalez and Bonetti both were Individual Finals placers in 2014.

#7 Climax-Scotts/Martin

Record/rank: 22-4, unranked
League finish: Third in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Co-coaches: Jason Wade, 10th season (N/A); Pete Boyd, 27th season (531-234) 
Championship history: Martin was Class D champion in 2008, Division 4 runner-up in 2004 and Class D runner-up in 1991 and 1987.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Dayton VanderPloeg (34-8) jr., 145 Todd Myers (35-8) jr., 152 Zack Mobley (43-9) jr., 215 Ethan Simmons (37-5) soph.
Outlook: These two schools formed a cooperative program this season for the first time and finished third together in one of the toughest small-school wrestling leagues in the state. VanderPloeg finished fourth at 103 pounds at last season’s Individual Finals and brings championship experience to a lineup with only two seniors. Climax-Scotts/Martin edged both Hesperia and Kent City by a point apiece to win the Regional.

#8 Cass City

Record/rank: 40-10, unranked
League finish: First in Greater Thumb Conference.
Coach: Don Markel, 30th season (521-343-2)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 140 Darrin Dickson (38-11) soph., 189 T.J. Moore (45-7) soph.
Outlook: Cass City is making its first trip to the Quarterfinals but has won nine league and five District titles under Markel, who took over the program heading into the 1985-86 season. The Red Hawks bounced back from two straight sub-.500 seasons to make this historical run with only five seniors on the roster but 10 wrestlers total with at least 30 wins this winter.

PHOTO: New Lothrop's Caleb Symons (right) earned a major decision in last season's Division 4 Final win and will be among those counted on again this weekend.  (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

July 25, 2023

ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.“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.

Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season.“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.)