Only two teams have won Division 4 team wrestling championships over the last decade, and before last season only five teams had competed in the deciding match over the previous 10 years.
But Clinton broke into the mix making its first MHSAA Final last winter – and five of eight Division 4 teams competing at this weekend’s Quarterfinals are seeking their first team championships, even as the long-standing powers wait at the gate as favorites again at Wings Event Center.
The Division 4 Quarterfinals will be wrestled at noon Friday. Top seed Hudson will face Onaway, No. 2 New Lothrop will face Lawton, No. 3 Clinton takes on Carson City-Crystal and No. 4 Hart wrestles Manchester.
Semifinals are 9:30 a.m. Saturday, with the championship match that afternoon at 3:45 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.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed.
Record/rank: 26-6, No. 3
League finish: Second in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Scott Marry, 32nd season (820-191)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2019), three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Kannon Marry (20-4) fr., 103 Dallas Pibbles (29-9) sr., 112 Bronson Marry (32-6) soph., 112 Payton Rogers (23-14) soph., 125 Jackson Miller (23-13) soph., 125 Tyler Bolenbaugh (20-19) jr., 130 Caden Natale (34-4) jr., 135 CJ Berro (25-12) jr., 152 Dylan Smith (31-8) jr., 171 Cameron Underwood (27-14) soph., 189 Kyle Moll (35-7) sr.
Outlook: Hudson has won the last three Division 4 championships and eight of the last 11. The Tigers this time emerged from a Regional where they beat No. 8 Bronson and Addison, and after Addison had defeated No. 9 Union City in the other Regional Semifinal. Although four-time Individual Finals champion Jordan Hamdan graduated, there is still plenty of experience throughout the roster – six of the individual qualifiers mentioned above are repeat qualifiers from last season, when Bronson Marry and Natale finished runners-up at their weights and Moll also was a Finals placer. This is an annual note too, but important to mention – although Hudson did not win its league, the Tigers again finished second to Division 3 top seed Dundee.
#2 New Lothrop
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Mid-Michigan Activities Conference
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 19th season (481-92)
Championship history: 15 MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Daven Lockwood (28-12) fr., 125 Andrew Krupp (34-10) jr., 130 Alex Wolford (27-8) soph., 135 Logan Wolford (34-6) sr., 145 Harry Helmick (25-16) jr., 152 Bryce Cheney (28-3) jr., 160 Austin Barnette (35-6) sr., 189 Justin Carnahan (42-0) sr., 215 Camden Orr (38-3) jr., 285 Isiah Pasik (37-2) soph.
Outlook: New Lothrop saw its championship match streak end at five last season when it lost to Clinton in a Semifinal. But the Hornets are seeded to return to the final round after giving up only a combined 52 points over four postseason matches during this run. While last year’s team was relatively young with six seniors, this year’s has only three seniors but also six junior starters. Carnahan was an Individual Finals runner-up as a sophomore in 2018, and Krupp, Alex Wolford and Orr all were placers a year ago.
Record/rank: 28-5, No. 1
League finish: First in Tri-County Conference
Co-coaches: Jeff Rolland, seventh season (192-48); Casey Randolph, second season (58-10)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2019.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Connor Busz (39-7) fr., 112 Chase Packard (31-13) soph., 112 Ethan Younts (29-18) fr., 119 Zak Shadley (28-12) fr., 130 Landis Gillman (40-8) jr., 135 George Ames (34-6) soph., 140 AJ Baxter (44-5) jr., 145 Kent McCombs (29-9) soph., 160 Spencer Konz (31-2) jr., 171 Brayden Randolph (46-4) jr., 189 Logan Badge (29-0) soph., 215 Jack Voll (35-9) jr., 285 Will Felts (26-6) jr.
Outlook: Clinton won its fifth Regional title in seven seasons and returns to Wings after reaching the championship match last year for the first time. An impressive lineup has Individual Finals qualifiers at all but two weights – 125 and 152 – and some maneuvering produces an expected starting lineup featuring all 13 qualifiers with the 14th wrestler the lone senior starter Noah Deshano (21-14). Badge is the reigning champion at 215, Brayden Randolph was the runner-up last year at 160, and Baxter, Ames, Konz and McCombs also were Finals placers in 2019. Baxter was a Finals runner-up as a freshman.
Record/rank: 33-3, No. 5
League finish: Second in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Brad Altland, eighth season (221-86)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Trayce Tate (37-7) fr., 112 Trenton Swihart (18-17) fr., 125 Spencer Vanderzwaag (34-6) jr., 130 Chance Alvesteffer (48-3) soph., 135 Mason Cantu (49-2) soph., 145 Jerry Brandel (35-7) sr., 152 Thomas Tanner (35-7) jr., 171 Leo Guadarrama (43-10) soph., 215 Braeden Carskadon (34-16) jr., 285 Tanner Breitwisch (39-5) sr.
Outlook: Hart is making its second appearance at the Quarterfinals, and first since 1990, after defeating No. 7 LeRoy Pine River to open the District and then cruising through three big wins. This run is even more impressive considering the Pirates graduated an individual champion and two more Finals placers last spring. As with Hudson above, it should be noted that while Hart didn’t win its league this winter, it did finish second to Division 2 No. 8 Whitehall in the WMC.
Record/rank: 35-2, No. 4
League finish: First in Cascades Conference
Coach: Steve Vlcek, 30th season (636-215)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jacob Bunn (43-5) soph., 112 Jared Bunn (41-8) soph., 125 Drew Gebhardt (47-3) sr., 130 Jacob Shelby (46-1) sr., 140 Adam Pringle (38-10) jr., 145 Jacob Kurgin (39-7) sr., 152 Jacob Snowden (14-7) jr., 152 Garrett Pope (38-12) soph., 160 Nick Phillips (31-8) sr., 171 Derek Guenther (41-7) sr., 189 Collin McCaffrey (41-6) sr., 285 Simon Lato (47-2) sr.
Outlook: Manchester will make the trip the Quarterfinals for the fourth time in five seasons after giving up a combined 32 points over four postseason matches and defeating No. 10 Springport in the Regional Final for the second-straight year. Six returning Finals placers anchor the lineup, with Shelby a runner-up at 130 pounds last season after falling just 2-0 to Carson City-Crystal’s Jamison Ward in their championship match. He’s also one of seven Flying Dutchmen with at least 40 wins this season. Kurgin, Lato, Gebhardt, and Jared and Jacob Bunn also are returning placers.
#6 Carson City-Crystal
Record/rank: 32-4, No. 6
League finish: First in Mid-State Activities Conference
Co-coaches: Kacy Datema, 10th season (267-74); Dallas O’Green, first season (32-4)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up in 2000 and 2001.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Jaron Johnson (35-0) jr., 135 Jamison Ward (46-0) sr., 140 Cole Stone (42-5) soph., 145 Bryce Stanley (38-10) soph., 160 Blain Mitchell (31-7) jr., 171 Nash Akin (37-9) sr., 215 Ryan Holland (33-12) sr., 285 Brian Yeakey (45-3) sr.
Outlook: The Eagles are making their fourth-straight trip to the Quarterfinals and in sixth in 10 seasons under Datema. Although Carson City-Crystal graduated a good share of star power from last year’s run to the Semifinals, plenty returns to the mat this weekend. Ward is a two-time finalist and won the title at 130 pounds last season, and Johnson and Yeakey also were Finals placers.
Record/rank: 25-10, unranked
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference
Coach: Troy Johnson, seventh season (175-59)
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 1990), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dustin Mallory (42-13) fr., 140 Landyn VanWyk (47-4) sr., 145 Carter Cosby (36-13) fr.
Outlook: Johnson – an individual champion as a senior in 1987 during Lawton’s string of team titles – has the program back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since his first season coaching in 2014. Eight expected starters are freshmen or sophomores. But Andrew O’Donnell (38-12/160 pounds) and Harrison Maynard (16-5/189) join VanWyk in providing senior anchors, and junior Dominic Pickett (33-18/135) also is among five with at least 30 wins this winter.
Record/rank: 11-14, unranked
League finish: Fifth in North Star League
Coach: Mark Grant, 19th season (156-223)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Teddy Peters (17-3) sr., 140 Matthew Grant (20-1) sr., Brendan Fenstermaker (27-9) jr., Seth Enos (22-15) jr.
Outlook: Onaway has now won three-straight Regional titles and three in program history, and all four individual qualifiers mentioned above also were individual qualifiers in 2019. All 10 weights beginning with 130 and heavier are filled by juniors and seniors. Grant placed sixth at 135 pounds last season after finishing runner-up at that weight in 2018.
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.”
2023 Made In Michigan
July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18: Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12: Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5: Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read
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.)