KALAMAZOO – Tony Greathouse has built one of the state’s elite wrestling programs at Brighton over the past six years.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the state’s most elite program currently resides in their division.
Detroit Catholic Central defeated Brighton 34-19 on Saturday at Wings Event Center to claim its third straight Division 1 team wrestling title.
“Especially this year, we took a big step up where we’re not just barely beating teams, we beat really good teams this year by 40 or 50,” Greathouse said. “Even this dual, even though we lost, the fact that we’re within 15 points of them – they might be the best team that’s ever come out of the state of Michigan. They’re pretty darn good.”
Catholic Central (26-1) finished the decade with seven titles and one runner-up finish. It’s a feat no Division 1 team has ever accomplished.
“You have to take your hats off to our guys; they work so hard,” said Shamrocks coach Mitch Hancock, who has led the program to each of those seven titles. “It’s not about me, it really isn’t. It’s about them and how hard they work. We have a standard at Catholic Central, and that standard is high. When you come to Catholic Central, you better be ready to work, you better be ready to perform in the classroom, pray to God and perform on the athletic field, and those guys live up to that standard every single day.”
The Shamrocks rolled through the postseason, not giving up a team point through the District or Regional, and rolling to 63-6 (Clarkston) and 56-9 (Westland John Glenn) wins in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals.
“We kind of look at it as, we don’t really have anything to prove,” Catholic Central senior Cameron Amine said. “We just have to keep getting better every day in the practice room and pushing each other in the practice room. And that nothing is ever given to us at all. You have to go out there and work for it and get it.”
The dual started in the heart of Catholic Central’s lineup at 140 pounds, and the Shamrocks jumped out to a 29-3 lead despite it being a strong stretch of the Bulldogs’ lineup as well.
Logan Sanom and returning Individual Finals champion Derek Gilcher each won major decisions at 140 and 145, respectively. Three-time individual champion Kevon Davenport won by decision for the Shamrocks at 152, followed by two-time champion Amine winning by major decision at 160.
Brighton got on the board at 171, as River Shettler won by decision, but the Shamrocks rattled off four straight, starting with a decision from returning champion Easton Turner at 189. Brendin Yatooma (215) and Steven Kolcheff (285) also won by major decision, while Anthony Walker (103) won a decision.
Brighton rattled off four straight wins from 112 through 130, getting a major decision from Mason Shrader, a pin from Sam Freeman and decisions from Ben Manly and Eddie Homrock.
The Shamrocks closed the dual with another returning champion, Josh Edmond, winning by technical fall at 135.
“We start at 140, good luck with that, right?” Hancock said. “You got Gilcher, Amine, Davenport, then you go up top to our big guys – we just put a lot of faith in our big guys up top. They’re just a really, really good team, and we were just a couple points better at every weight. To me, that’s just a level of toughness, a level of focus and just some conditioning.
“Hats off to Tony, he’s built a power over there at Brighton.”
The matchups were ones Greathouse knew posed problems for his team coming in.
“We knew coming in that we were going to have to win some matches that we probably weren’t supposed to win,” he said. “We were facing some pretty formidable opposition there. Overall, I thought we competed pretty hard, but they’re better than we are. We had to be better than them today, and we weren’t. We lost by 58 points to them last year in the state finals, today we lost by 15, so we made a 43-point improvement over the last 12 months, so I think that’s something to hang your hat on. We beat the Division 2 state champ (Lowell), we beat the Division 3 state champ (Dundee), so we had a pretty great season. I’m proud of them.”
Hancock wasn’t just impressed with his stars, however, as his younger wrestlers came through for the team as well.
“Anthony Walker I think was the key of the match, his big win down low,” Hancock said. “Logan Sanom, I’m not sure if people expected him to wrestle in that dual but he came out firing. Those two guys really stood out to me, and then up top Brendin Yatooma who beat (Luke) Stanton. Stanton is pretty dangerous on top, so for Yatooma to take him out the way he did was pretty cool.”
Brighton defeated Davison 31-24 in the Semifinals, while Catholic Central defeated Westland John Glenn 56-9.
Gilcher, Davenport, Amine, Turner, Yatooma, Kolcheff, Walker and Edmond each won three matches on the weekend for the Shamrocks, while Freeman and Homrock each won three matches for Brighton.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kevon Davenport was one of nine bout winners for DCC in the Division 1 Final on Saturday. (Middle) Brighton's Greyson Stevens, left, and DCC's Easton Turner wrestle at 189 pounds. (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.)