KALAMAZOO – Brendin Yatooma was blocking out all of the noise Saturday at Wings Events Center.
The Detroit Catholic Central senior 215-pounder proudly hoisted the Division 1 MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals championship trophy over his head, a smile plastered on his face as the Shamrocks crowd roared in approval.
Yatooma and his teammates had just claimed the school’s fourth straight title, defeating Davison 34-23 in a match that pitted rival powerhouses and drew heightened emotions across an entire corner of the arena.
“It means a ton to us. It means a ton to the community,” Yatooma said. “Being able to come out here and make history, especially with how rich in wrestling we are as a school. Just being able to be remembered for that makes a huge impact on us. It’s something that we’ll never forget for the rest of our lives. It’s great.”
The title was the 14th in Catholic Central history, but this was the first time the school had won four in a row.
Emotions ran highest during a pivotal match at 189 pounds, which featured two of the state’s best wrestlers in Davison’s Alex Facundo and Catholic Central’s Manny Rojas. Facundo, a two-time Finals champion who has committed to Penn State, was leading 5-2 in the second period when he was called for an illegal move.
Rojas was evaluated on the mat for a concussion, and it was determined he could not continue. Because the injury occurred on the illegal move, Catholic Central was awarded six points for the match, which gave the Shamrocks a 23-18 lead.
“Not the way we wanted it, but without that, we still win that dual by two points,” said DCC coach Mitch Hancock, who added that Rojas had been taken to a local hospital for further evaluation. “The big guys up top stepped up. It’s unfortunate; our thoughts and prayers are with Manny. We just hope he gets better quick.”
Davison’s acting coach Zac Hall – who was filling in for longtime coach Roy Hall, who had been in a car accident and couldn’t attend but is said to be doing well – echoed his team’s disappointment with how the match concluded.
“You even saw it in the atmosphere – it was very back and forth, electric. Then once that happened, it was kind of eerie silent,” Zac Hall said.
“I hope Manny is OK. I know Manny, I’ve trained Manny. He’s a really good kid. Like I said, I just wish things would have worked out differently and I wish that it could have been handled on the mat.”
Catholic Central (20-3) clinched the dual in the next two weight classes, as Yatooma and Steven Kolcheff picked up pins at 215 and 285, respectively. Davison (20-3) got decisions from Aden Williams (103) and Caden Horwath (112) to close out the dual.
“I didn’t tell (Yatooma) anything. He’s a veteran,” Hancock said. “He pinned his way through the individual state tournament last year. You don’t tell him anything, just wrestle.”
The two nationally-heralded teams battled it out throughout the dual, which featured a total of 16 wrestlers who were ranked either No. 1 or 2 in their weight class.
Catholic Central’s Dylan Gilcher bumped up a weight and opened the dual with a 6-5 win at 119 pounds. Davison countered with a pin by Andrew Chambal at 125 and an overtime win from Kyle White at 130 to take a 9-3 lead.
The Shamrocks went ahead 13-9 after Josh Edmond won by technical fall at 135, and Camden Trupp won by pin at 140.
Davison won three of the next four, however, and led 18-17 heading into the Facundo/Rojas match. James Johnston (145) and Josh Barr (152) each won close decisions, while Max Callahan won 11-5 at 171. Catholic Central’s one win in between was a 5-1 decision by Derek Gilcher at 160.
“Being a part of this is just spectacular,” Yatooma said. “I’m just speechless. I don’t have any words to describe the entire situation. It’s just something that can only be experienced.”
Davison, meanwhile, will have to focus its energy on coming back next season and stopping the Shamrocks from getting a fifth straight.
“This is already an incredibly motivated group,” Zac Hall said. “Nobody really aside from our community really gave us a shot to do this at the beginning of the year. (Catholic Central) came in ranked third in the country, and our guys came in and competed. As the year progressed, we got better. I think we came out here and put one hell of a show on. You can see in these guys’ faces how much passion, time and effort we’ve really put into this year. We’ll come back with a vengeance.”
Catholic Central defeated Temperance Bedford 68-6 in the Semifinal, while Davison defeated Brighton 35-29.
Trupp, Derek Gilcher, Rojas, Yatooma and Kolcheff all won three matches on the weekend for the Shamrocks. Chambal, White, Johnston, Barr and Horwath won three for Davison.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central’s Brendin Yatooma points to his team’s fans after his win at 215 pounds Saturday afternoon. (Middle) Yatooma battles Davison’s Jimmy Colley. (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.”
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.)