By Dan Stickradt
Special for Second Half
DETROIT — Alex Facundo suffered a blow when he was disqualified one week ago during a match at the Division 1 Team Finals against eventual champion Detroit Catholic Central.
But Facundo, the top-ranked wrestler in both the state and nation, did not let last weekend’s setback deter his goal this weekend of winning a third Individual Finals title.
Facundo, a junior who has committed to Penn State, posted a 13-5 major decision victory over Grandville’s Josh Kenny at 171 pounds at Ford Field.
“I wanted to win this really bad and prove that I was the best in the state — and nation,” smiled Facundo. “I did that today. (Last week’s opponent) didn’t beat me. I lost on a (technically). I had something to prove.”
Facundo, who finished 39-2 this winter, will try to join an elite crowd next season as he’ll pursue a fourth MHSAA individual title.
“I’m really happy with the third title. I knew I could do it,” he said. “Next year, I’ll come back and go after my fourth title.”
Kenny, a senior who was third at 152 last season, finished 38-2.
Caden Horwath, Davison, Fr. (43-2)
Decision, 7-2, over Louden Stradling, Battle Creek Lakeview, Fr. (51-2)
One of five finalists for Davison, Horwath wrapped up a stellar 44-2 freshman campaign.
“I got a couple of takedowns early, rode him pretty hard on top and I took control,” said Horwath. “It means a lot to me because all of my hard work paid off. It’s a little relief off my shoulders.
“There’s a lot of (history) at Davison and because we lost (in the Team Final) it feels good for all of us to do well here,” added Horwath. “Now I hope to be back next year.”
Dylan Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central, Fr., (40-3)
Technical fall, 18-3 (4:29), over Aiden Smith, Brighton, Soph. (39-11)
One of the state’s premier freshmen, Gilcher joined Catholic Central’s long list of Finals champions.
“There’s so much history at CC, and it’s incredible to be able to win a title,” said Gilcher. “It’s an incredible feeling and such a blessing to wrestle here at (Catholic Central). There’s some really high expectations.”
Brendan Ferretti, Macomb Dakota, Jr. (34-1)
Decision, 7-2, over Andrew Hampton, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Jr. (52-2)
Ferretti has been nearly unstoppable the past two seasons, posting a 90-1 record during that span. The junior outlasted Hampton to capture his second straight title.
Ferretti won at 112 last season.
“I never wrestled (Hampton) in my life. I just know I’m the best in my (weight) class and I wanted this,” said Ferretti. “I was nervous coming in, but it’s always good to work out those nerves and just go out there and win. I love this. I thrive off of (the big crowds). It makes it so much better, I think."
Andrew Chambal, Davison, Sr., (42-5)
Decision, 5-1, over Mason Shrader, Brighton, Jr. (41-7)
Davison had five finalists, and top-seeded Andrew Chambal came through with the victory in his final high school match.
He finished second at 119 last season.
“I went to a really dark place last year after I lost,” said Chambal. “Things were different for a while. Coming out here and doing what I love and coming out on top means the world to me. This changes my life. I feel like I’m on top of the world again.”
Sam Freeman, Brighton, Sr. (41-5)
Decision, 3-2, over Dylan Phelps, Holt, Sr. (39-5)
Freeman put together four years of hard work to reach the summit as a senior. He ended his prep career with a narrow 3-2 decision over Phelps, an opponent he has wrestled several times.
“This is just four years of hard work,” said Freeman. “A lot of guys will peak freshman year, but I didn’t make it to states my freshman year. I kept working, and it means so much more to know that I kept working to get here. It’s a great feeling to be at the top of the mountain at the end of the day.
“It’s not confidence as much as it’s excitement,” added Freeman. “This was two guys on the same level going for it on the big stage with a great match like that.”
Eddie Homrock, Brighton, Sr. (43-3)
Major decision, 9-0, over Camden Trupp, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (35-6)
Homrock has gotten used to Finals championships.
He’s now won two of them, after also capturing the title at 125 in 2019. But this deciding match carried some extra significance.
“I was nervous (this time), not because of (my opponent), but because it was my last match,” Homrock said. “I wasn’t scared, just nervous. I went out there and got it done. I knew no matter what I was going to push through it all.”
Josh Edmond, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (43-0)
Technical fall, 23-7 (5:50), over Zach Johnson, Brighton, Jr. (41-9)
Detroit Catholic Central has produced legions of all-state wrestlers and champions. But Edmond reached an elite group at his school and statewide with his third Finals title.
“It means a lot. I really wanted to be a three-time state champ, and I worked really hard for this,” said Edmond. “I think it’s a blessing. I am just blessed to be a part of the CC wrestling family. I thank all of my coaches for helping me get here.
“The game plan was to just wrestle hard. Things opened up, and I was able to pull away,” added Edmond. “I felt pretty good that I could win my third.”
T.J. Daugherty, Waterford Kettering, Sr. (35-0)
Decision, 3-1 (OT), over Marc Shaeffer, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (32-13)
Daugherty posted bookend Finals championship wins, earring titles as both a freshman and again as a senior.
“(Shaeffer) took a shot and I doubled by and went behind and got the point, and I did it,” said Daugherty of his win. “I beat him at (Oakland) County and I beat him at the Clarkston Duals. But this is where it matters most.
“When I was a freshman, I didn’t really know what was going on,” added Daugherty, who won at 103 in 2017. “This year I wanted to win it more than anything. I was able to get the win this year.”
Shaeffer previously finished runner-up at 140 in 2019.
Josh Barr, Davison, Fr. (39-0)
Decision, 5-3, over Logan Sanom, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (42-10)
Davison’s future is bright, to say the least. There will be 11 returning starters next winter from a team that finished as the Division 1 runner-up, Barr among them.
The talented freshman was one of five finalists and three champions for the Cardinals, and a top seed at his first Individual Finals.
“I worked so hard all season to get here,” said Barr. “It’s a great feeling to win as a freshman. But this is just the beginning. I want to come back and go for it again. Plus we’re going to be really good again next year with almost everyone returning. We only had three seniors. So this is just a step (forward).”
Derek Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (45-2)
Decision, 3-2, over Jay Nivison, Davison, Sr. (36-6)
Just a couple of hours after his freshman brother Dylan Gilcher claimed a title, Derek Gilcher followed suit with his third straight championship and fourth placing at the Finals.
“Right now I feel great. But before my match I was a little nervous, really before my brother’s match. He’s new, he’s a freshman and never been through states before like I have,” said Gilcher. “But he did his job, and I had to go do mine.”
Gilcher has been a four-year starter during Catholic Central’s four-year reign as the Division 1 team champion.
“I don’t think that’s been done before — the first time in CC history we’ve won four in a row,” smiled Gilcher. “We never won four in a row before, and now the three individual wins. It’s crazy. It adds to the legacy of the program, and the accomplishments show all of the hard work of the athletes and coaches.”
Manuel Rojas, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (46-1)
Decision, 7-3, over Colin Jagielski, Temperance Bedford, Sr. (47-3)
After getting the win with Facundo’s DQ at last weekend’s Team Final, Rojas heeded some advice from his coaches this week – and won his first individual championship.
“I went to school on Monday and sat down with (CC head coach Mitch Hancock). We decided to give up social media, stay off of it, and get away from all of the negativity. Just focus on all of the positive things,” said Rojas. “I just had to concentrate on getting prepared for this weekend and try to win here. Just be around my teammates and the people that care for me. That’s all that matters.”
Rojas was poked in the eye during the first period Saturday, which drew a little blood, and the scratch forced his eye to swell throughout the match.
“I hear it’s pretty nasty. I can’t see it yet,” added Rojas of his swollen eye. “It happens. That’s wrestling.”
Brendin Yatooma, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (45-1)
Decision, 4-2, over Luke Stanton, Brighton, Sr. (32-4)
One week after helping DCC to another team title, Yatooma aided his team’s run to nine individual state finalists and six individual champions. The reigning champ at 215 capped his prep career with a repeat.
“This is for our coach and our entire coaching staff. They work so hard for us to get to this point,” said Yatooma. “We wrestle as hard of a schedule as anyone, and we come here to win. It’s an incredible brotherhood at CC. Not just wrestling, but for everyone. There is nowhere else I’d rather be than here competing for CC.”
Steven Kolcheff, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (45-2)
Decision, 3-2 (OT), over Jake Swirple, Livonia Franklin, Sr. (58-2)
Kolcheff doesn’t mind a little overtime. He had to put some in Saturday night, and it resulted in a victory over top-seeded Swirple in the rubber match between the rivals.
Kolcheff won at the District level, while Swirple turned the tables during the Regional round.
“We’re the most conditioned team in the state,” said Kolcheff. “In overtime I felt good, felt confident. I didn’t want to win a state championship on a coin toss … so I went for it in overtime.
“It’s a great rivalry between us. For me, wrestling is my sport and it’s really dear to my heart. I want to win state titles, and that’s what I did today.”
PHOTO: Davison’s Alex Facundo (right) gets ahold of a leg of Grandville’s Josh Kenny on the way to winning his third Individual Finals championship. (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.)