By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Hudson and New Lothrop have met for the Division 4 championship the last four seasons, and last year even as the Hornets entered Finals weekend unranked.
For example, 66 Individual Finals qualifiers will take the mat for Friday’s Division 4 Quarterfinals, beginning at noon. That’s compared to 55 individual qualifiers a year ago – and three reigning MHSAA champions will be among those to watch as competition gets rolling at Wings Events Center for the first time.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at noon Friday, with Semifinals at 9:30 a.m. 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: 17-5, No. 1
League finish: Second in Lenawee Country Athletic Association
Coach: Scott Marry, 30th season (769-180)
Championship history: Six MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dallas Pibbles (25-10) soph., 103 Caden Natale (27-7) fr., 119 CJ Berro (28-16) fr., 125 Scott Torres (43-4) sr., 130 Jordan Hamdan (45-0) jr., 130 Tyler Curtis (20-15) sr., 140 Carson Price (43-3) jr., 145 Jorge Sereno (27-18) jr., 152 John Betz (27-15) jr., 189 Spencer Blanco (27-9) jr., 215 Kyle Moll (15-14) soph.
Outlook: Hudson took home the champion’s trophy again last winter after three straight runner-up finishes, and a team with only two seniors among its expected starters could be gearing up for another multi-year run. Hamdan is a two-time Individual Finals champion, and he and his team have battled another schedule filled with larger schools including league foe and reigning Division 3 runner-up Dundee. The Tigers beat No. 9 Addison in their Regional Final.
Record/rank: 32-4, No. 2
League finish: First in Tri-County Conference
Coach: Jeff Rolland, fifth season (133-37)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 AJ Baxter (49-2) fr., 125 Noah Comar (52-2) jr., 125 Spencer Konz (37-10) fr., 130 Anthony Stockdale (30-22) sr., 140 Riley Jeffrey (37-15) jr., 145 Jeffrey Konz (35-13) jr., 160 Brayden Randolph (45-3) fr., 171 Eathan Hicks (40-9) sr., 171 Cecil Rafferty (25-19) jr., 189 Trent Sexton (39-10) sr., 285 Don Stump (45-8) sr.
Outlook: This is Clinton’s third trip to the Quarterfinals in five seasons under Rolland, and the then-seventh seeded Redskins missed upsetting second-seeded Leroy Pine River last year by only two points. Similar to Hudson, only four of Clinton’s expected starters are seniors, but Comar is another veteran leader with an Individual Finals championship from last season and runner-up finish from 2016. Clinton beat No. 4 Manchester in its Regional Final.
#3 Carson City-Crystal
Record/rank: 38-3, No. 5
League finish: First in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Kacy Datema, eighth season (195-66)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2000 and 2001.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nolan Datema (41-3) jr., 119 Jamison Ward (47-1) soph., 125 Jaron Johnson (32-6) fr., 130 Aiden Adkins (43-6) soph., 135 Daryn Shepler (39-11) jr., 145 Braxton Seida (45-3) jr., 189 Daniel Smith (43-2) jr., 215 Brian Yeakey (40-6) soph.
Outlook: Make it six straight league and District titles and the second straight Regional championship for the Eagles, who downed No. 10 Hesperia to advance and posted a pair of shutouts in their District. Ward and Seida are returning Individual Finals runners-up from last season, and six of eight qualifiers this season also qualified a year ago for a team that still has only three seniors among expected starters.
Record/rank: 30-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Southwest 10 Conference
Coach: Caleb Stephenson, second season (46-8)
Championship history: Class D champion 1991, runner-up 1990.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Nik Andaverde (48-3) sr., 130 Kody Drewer (33-9) jr., 135 Skyler Crespo (50-1) soph., 135 Wyatt Diekman (36-13) soph., 140 Eric Vergauwen (11-3) soph., 145 Kaden Frye (26-2) sr., 171 Wyatt Cool (48-2) sr., 215 Emmett Bingaman (43-6) soph.
Outlook: Mendon will wrestle in its first Quarterfinal since the 1991 championship season, when Stephenson’s father Art Stephenson was the coach. Crespo earned the program’s first Individual Finals championship last season since 1991 as well. Andaverde, Cool and Bingaman also made the Finals a year ago, giving the Hornets their most qualifiers at the time since, again, 1991.
#5 Leroy Pine River
Record/rank: 29-6, No. 7
League finish: First in Mid-Michigan Wrestling Conference
Coach: Tim Jones, 19th season (531-123)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Caleb Nolf (28-19) soph. 119 Dylan Stephens (39-9) sr., 125 Jordan Koetje (24-11) soph., 125 Tyler Signor (29-8) sr., 130 Jac Roberts (39-12) sr., 140 Andy Park (48-1) sr., Brocko Nelson (42-7) soph., 189 TJ Rizor (32-6) soph., 285 Bryan McCurry (37-14) jr.
Outlook: Pine River has made the Semifinals two straight seasons and more recently ran its record under Jones to include 18 league and District titles. The Bucks, who also have just three seniors among expected starters, held their District and Regional opponents to an average of 11 points the last two weeks. Seven of this season’s Individual Finals qualifiers also reached the final weekend a year ago, and six were Division 4 placers.
#6 New Lothrop
Record/rank: 23-3, No. 6
League finish: Second in Genesee Area Conference
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 17th season (431-82)
Championship history: 15 MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Andrew Krupp (27-15) fr., 119 Logan Wolford (31-14) soph., 125 Logan Zell (30-19) jr., 140 Austin Wolford (46-1) jr., 152 Zack Riley (27-11) jr., 171 Justin Carnahan (34-5) soph., 189 Allan Jamick (33-15) jr., 215 Garrett Birchmeier (19-13) jr., 285 Cameron Dusenberry (28-17) sr.
Outlook: The rest of Division 4 should be cautious of the Hornets, who rose from the sixth seed and unranked last season to finish runner-up. New Lothrop is only slightly higher-regarded this time as it seeks its fourth team title in five seasons. Austin Wolford and Carnahan were Finals placers last season as was senior Tommy Malloy (119, 33-11), one of only two seniors among expected starters.
Record/rank: 19-3, No. 8
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference
Coach: Matthew Darling, second season (37-7)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class D runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Robert Paterson (32-14) fr., 112 Trenton Graddy, 23-19, jr. 135 Thomas Potter (36-9) soph., 152 Noah Teague (39-4) sr., 171 Zach Betz (29-13) sr., 215 Aaron Ludwig (31-15) jr., 285 Luke Overweg (41-2) sr.
Outlook: Springport has won league, District and Regional championships both seasons under Darling and just missed the Semifinals a year ago, falling five points shy of advancing. Despite graduating three of six Individual Finals qualifiers from last season, the Spartans actually will take seven to Detroit next weekend. Teague and Overweg were placers last season and are two of only three seniors expected to be in the starting lineup.
Record/rank: 18-6, unranked
League finish: First in North Star League.
Coach: Mark Grant, 16th season (record N/A)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Teddy Peters (33-9) soph., 135 Matthew Grant (42-3) soph., 152 Coty Ionetz (29-8) jr.
Outlook: Onaway won its first Regional title to make championship weekend for the first time, edging Ishpeming Westwood by six in last week’s title match to advance. Grant was an Individual Finals placer last season and is among standouts on a roster with only one senior but nine underclassmen helping to fill out the lineup.
PHOTO: Leroy Pine River’s Jac Roberts (top) and Clinton's Riley Jeffrey are among standouts returning this weekend to the Division 4 Quarterfinals. (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.)