By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Hudson is seeking this weekend to become the first team in MHSAA history to win six straight wrestling team championships. And that’s the expectation, as the Tigers enter the MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals seeded first in Division 4 and ranked No. 1 in the state poll.
But the teams ranked 2-5 also are headed to Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena – and each would love to be the one to end this history-making streak.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Their 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. Rankings below are from MichiganGrappler.com.
Record/rank: 33-4, No. 1
League finish: Second in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Scott Marry, 26th season (690-145)
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2013).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Zach Lopinski (29-16) fr., 112 Roddy Hamdan (39-11) jr., 112 Tyler Roberts (38-15) jr., 119 Isaac Dusseau (31-11) sr., 130 Mason Lopinski (34-13) soph., 135 Carlos Randall (13-11) sr., 140 Cole Weaver (50-0) sr., 145 JD Waters (43-9) sr., 152 Kyle Johnson (41-9) soph., 160 Clayton Brockway (29-22) jr., 160 Brian Sumber (17-14) sr., 171 Tylor Grames (16-16) fr., 189 Mitch Ely (28-21) jr., 215 Jacob Morgan (31-16) sr.
Outlook: Hudson last season became the second in MHSAA history to win five straight Finals team championships, tying the Davison teams from 2002-06 for the longest streak – and are heavily favored to extend it this weekend. Hamden, Weaver (two straight) and Waters are reigning individual champions and Dusseau was a runner-up last season, and all but one of the expected starters have qualified for next week’s Individual Finals. And yet, only six of the team’s 14 qualifiers are seniors.
#2 NEW LOTHROP
Record/rank: 28-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 13th season (336-64)
Championship history: 12 MHSAA championships (most recent 2004), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Connor Krupp (35-12) fr., 119 Cole Hersch (44-7) soph., 125 Dalton Birchmeier (38-10) jr., 130 Gabe Bennett (47-3) jr., 135 Trevor Copes (40-12) jr., 140 Steven Garza II (22-0) soph., 145 Aaron Bauman (46-4) sr., 160 Josh Wendling (49-4) sr., 171 Taylor Krupp (50-0) sr., 189 Cody Symons (43-4) sr., 215 Dakota Clark (29-12) sr., 215 Owen Wilson (32-9) sr., 285 David Robertson (37-12) jr.
Outlook: New Lothrop has reached the Quarterfinals all 13 seasons under Campbell and missed its first championship berth since 2007 by only two points in the final match of last season's Semifinal. Wendling was an individual champion in 2013 and Taylor Krupp a runner-up, and all but two of the probable starters this weekend have qualified for the Individual Finals – with Wilson able to sub in at the heavier weights. New Lothrop’s lone loss this winter was to Division 2 top seed Lowell by five points.
Record/rank: 29-0, No. 5
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference
Coach: Troy Johnson, first season (29-0)
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recent 1990), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jacob Chapman (25-8) fr., 112 Julian Torres (45-0) jr., 130 Kyle Barkovich (45-2) jr., 135 Cole Menck 45-3) jr., 140 Travis Smith (40-10) sr., 152 Chris O’Donnell (44-3) jr., 171 Brody Conner (47-0) jr. Outlook: Lawton is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1997, and Johnson has led the Blue Devils through a tough run as former coach and program-builder Bryan Sosinski died earlier this year after a battle with brain cancer. Johnson was part of three MHSAA championship teams before graduating in 1987 and served as Sosinski’s assistant before taking over the program. Torres, Barkovich, Menck and Conner all were Individual Finals placers last season.
#4 CARSON CITY-CRYSTAL
Record/rank: 25-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Kacy Datema, fourth season (82-30)
Championship history: MHSAA runners-up in 2000 and 2001.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Taylor Barkley (34-10) soph., 112 Alex Baker (32-4) jr., 119 Dallas O’Green (40-3) soph., 145 Darren Decker (42-1) jr., 152 Dillen Decker (37-2) jr.,
Outlook: Carson City-Crystal returned to the Quarterfinals last season for the first time in a decade and is led by three returning Individual Finals placers in O’Green and both Deckers. Still, the Eagles are young and could be contending for at least the next few seasons; only two starters are seniors including Garner Cusack, another Finals placer in 2013.
Record/rank: 26-3, No. 4
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association
Coach: John Dingledine, first season (26-3)
Championship history: MHSAA champion 2008, five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Corey Agens (36-8) sr., 103 Davian Gowens (18-3) soph., 125 Zack Yates (41-0) sr., 125 Logan Eaves (34-13) soph., 135 Trenton Roesly (45-3) jr., 140 Chase Siersema (39-3) sr., 145 David Jacobs (33-11) sr., 160 Mark Workman (22-2) soph.
Outlook: Hesperia has finished MHSAA runner-up three times in five seasons, including last winter, and hopes to take the final step under Dingledine. He took over for longtime coach Doug Baird this fall and inherited a reigning individual champion in Yates and a last season runner-up in Siersema. Half of this weekend’s probable lineup competed in last season’s 32-24 championship match loss to Hudson.
Record/rank: 24-4, unranked
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference
Coach: Dave Pratt, ninth season (235-66)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Walter Betz (31-10) sr., 135 Nick Cooper (36-9) fr., 140 Brandon Tanner (39-12) sr., 145 Zeth Caudill (32-3) soph., 152 Andrew Grady (29-15) sr., 189 Jacob Cooper (40-2) jr., 215 Adam Lammers (35-11) jr.
Outlook: Although Springport is returning to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2008, it has had plenty of local success with eight league and nine District titles in nine seasons under Pratt. The Spartans defeated an impressive slate to return to Battle Creek, including No. 6 Schoolcraft, Constantine and last season Quarterfinalist Bronson. Cooper is the reigning individual champ at 160 pounds.
Record/rank: 19-0, unranked
League finish: First in Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference
Coach: Nick Burklund, fifth season (62-26)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Zac DeCremer (40-2) soph., 140 Cole Gonzalez (41-4) jr., 171 Taylor Bonetti (37-7) jr.
Outlook: The Knights continue to shine after making the Quarterfinals last season for the first time. They’ve gone a combined 45-2 over the last two seasons. Norway will hope to make a splash despite entering as the seventh seed, but could be back for more in 2015 with only four starters graduating.
Record/rank: 21-12, unranked
League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Jeff Rolland, first season (21-12)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: None.
Outlook: Clinton sent 10 qualifiers to its individual Regional last weekend, but amazingly has advanced to the team Quarterfinal without a single Individual Finals qualifier. Junior Zech Johnston, 33-10 and wrestling at 119 pounds, leads the team in wins but was stuck in one of the toughest brackets in Division 4. It’s an impressive feat led by Rolland, a Clinton grad who previously coached Onsted to three straight District titles from 2009-11.
PHOTO: New Lothrop senior Aaron Bauman has his hand raised in victory after a match against Lowell this season. (Click to see more at 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.)