D4 Preview: Return of Familiar Championship Match Anticipated

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

February 23, 2022

After a few seasons with a new champion changing things up in Division 4, expectations are we'll see the return this weekend of one of our most familiar MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals title-deciding matchups.

With two-time reigning champion Clinton now in Division 3, Hudson and New Lothrop occupy the top two seeds heading into Friday's Quarterfinals at Wings Event Center. They are lined up to see each other in Saturday's finale, just as they did five straight seasons from 2014-18.

Division 4 Quarterfinals – matchups below – begin at noon Friday at Wings’ Arena, with Semifinals at 9:30 Saturday morning and the championship match at 3:45 p.m.

#1 Hudson (19-4) vs. #8 LeRoy Pine River (27-11)
#4 St. Louis (23-3) vs. #5 Decatur (24-6)
#3 Bronson (32-6) vs. #6 Manchester (21-6)
#2 New Lothrop (21-2) vs. #7 Iron Mountain (19-3)

Tickets for Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals will be sold by the Wings Event Center box office. All matches for all three rounds also will be viewable on MHSAA.tv with subscription.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed.

19-4, No. 1
League finish: Tied for second in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Scott Marry, 34th season (862-198)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2019), four runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Cole Marry (18-12) soph., 125 Austin Marry (21-11) soph., 130 Jackson Miller (23-10) sr., 130 Kannon Marry (16-7) jr., 135 Payton Rogers (27-6) sr., 140 Bronson Marry (21-2) sr., 145 Aden Barrett (26-12) jr., 152 Calix Campbell (27-11) jr., 171 Logan Ryan (16-21) soph., 189 Cameron Kimble (37-1) sr., 215 Logan Sallows (27-8) jr.  
Outlook: Hudson is back as the top seed with no end to its success in sight as the starting lineup includes only six seniors, while seven of 11 Individual Finals qualifiers have one or more high school seasons remaining. Bronson Marry was the individual runner-up last season at 130 and won 112 as a sophomore, and six other 2021 individual placers also are back – Cole Marry, Rogers, Austin Marry, senior Tristan Bolenbaugh, Miller and Barrett. The Tigers emerged from a league that also includes Clinton and reigning Division 3 champion Dundee.   

21-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Mid-Michigan Activities Conference
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 21st season (525-97)
Championship history: 15 MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Blake Wendling (28-14) fr., 112 Daven Lockwood (29-12) jr., 130 Dalton Birchmeier (27-10) fr., 145 Jack Kulhanek (37-13) soph., 189 Cooper Symons (19-4) sr., Grayson Orr (42-4) jr., 285 Isiah Pasik (40-0) sr.
Outlook: New Lothrop returned to its first Final last season since 2018 and finished runner-up, and is expected to reach the championship match again with a much younger lineup featuring only two seniors. Pasik is the returning champion at 285 and hasn’t lost a match since his sophomore season, and junior Brady Gross also is a returning Finals placer.

32-6, No. 5
League finish: Second in Big 8 Conference
Coach: Chad Butters, ninth season (226-60)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2002 and 2003.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Aiden Fill (38-12) soph., 119 Perry Lake (42-11) jr., 145 Devlin Duff (29-19) jr., 152 Carson Norton (29-15) soph., 171 Jacob Britten (41-14) soph., 189 Jacob Dixon (28-15) jr.
Outlook: The Vikings are back at the Finals for the first time since 2017, and with only one senior starter are built to return. They defeated No. 4 Union City and Springport to advance this time and have reached Regionals all nine seasons under Butters. Junior Mathew Blankenship (43-12 at 214) leads the team in wins this winter, and eight regulars have at least 30.

23-3, No. 3
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference West
Coach: Kevin Kuhn, 16th season (298-104)
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Colin Kuhn (34-4) fr., 112 Robert Long-Terwilliger (23-13) sr., 130 Dylan Marr (17-9) jr., 135 Nate March (30-10) sr., 145 Martine Wiggins (32-7) fr., 171 Justice Onstott (33-7) jr., 215 Ben Dousuah (19-7) sr., 285 Braden Ball (25-8) sr.
Outlook: The Sharks are coming off their first Regional championship since 1995, and none of four postseason opponents got closer than 34 points of catching them. Onstott is a returning Finals placer after claiming seventh at 189 last season. Three of the team’s top five winners are freshmen; Genaro Soto (28-17 at 125) joins Colin Kuhn and Wiggins in that group.

24-6, No. 10
League finish: First in Southwest 10 Conference
Coach: Mitchell Kennedy, fifth season (65-59)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Dart Avery (33-12) fr., 140 Andrew Confer (41-6) sr., 189 Gavin Boodt (40-4) sr., 285 Tanner Shugars (30-8) soph.
Outlook: Decatur is returning to Finals weekend for the first time since 2016 off a third-straight District title, and the future is bright with 11 freshman and sophomore starters. Confer was seventh at 130 last season, and junior Braydon Ross (15-3 at 285) also is a returning Finals placer. Total, seven Raiders have won at least 30 matches this season, and Brett Clauser – the team’s only other senior – is right there with 28.  

21-6, No. 7
League finish: Tied for first in Cascades Conference
Coach: Steve Vlcek, 32nd season (678-222)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Onyx Ostrom (21-24) fr., 112 Jacob Bunn (41-2) sr., 119 Jared Bunn (44-4) sr., 135 Mason Schmitt (41-4) jr., 135 Adam Grebe (33-15) fr., 171 Garett Pope (39-5) sr.
Outlook: After missing last season, Manchester is back at the Finals coming off four-point wins over Laingsburg and Lutheran Westland at the Regional. Pope, Jared Bunn and Jacob Bunn all are returning Finals placers and among even starters with at least 30 wins. Those three also are the only seniors as the team starts nine underclassmen.

19-3, No. 9
League finish: First in Mid-Peninsula Conference
Coach: Cory McLaren, fifth season (66-42)
Championship history: Five Upper Peninsula Finals championships, three UP runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Alexander Wilson (31-8) soph., 119 Tyler Winch (28-13) soph., 119 Shawn McGuire (34-2) jr., 125 Daniel Manier (27-11) fr., 140 Isaac Manier (36-6) sr., 145 Evan Haferkorn (35-6) jr., 152 Parker Stroud (36-6) sr., 152 Kivi Mason (21-7) soph., 171 Fulton Stroud (29-5) soph.
Outlook: The Mountaineers are among the most intriguing teams making the trip to Kalamazoo as they return to Finals weekend for the first time since 2011. The team has only two seniors and 15 wrestlers total, but the second-most Individual Finals qualifiers in Division 4. McGuire, Haferkorn and Parker Stroud all were Finals placers last season. Among postseason wins was a 41-39 victory over Bark River-Harris, which also was ranked in Division 4 at times this winter.

27-11, No. 8
League finish: Third in Mid-Michigan Wrestling Conference
Coach: Terry Martin, second season (47-17)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Bryant Wing (11-10) fr., 119 Jordan Nelson (37-15) jr., 140 Ryder Holmes (36-8) soph., 145 Wyatt Underhill (36-14) sr., 152 Phil Rigling (44-9) sr., 160 Cayden Mys (41-12) sr., 171 Rogan Nelson (32-13) sr., 215 Andrew Baldwin (21-16) soph.
Outlook: Pine River is another strong lower seed with eight individual qualifiers from a tradition-rich program. Martin, who also serves as Pine River’s football coach, was a wrestling assistant under former coach Tim Jones for nearly the entirety of Jones’ 20 seasons and 654 wins. Martin has led the team to District titles the last two seasons, and seven seniors and two juniors anchor this lineup.

PHOTO St. Louis, here wrestling during the Division 4 Individual District at Carson City-Crystal, is back at Team Finals weekend for the first time since 1995. (Click for more from 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.)