By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The eight teams wrestling in Division 1 this weekend at Battle Creek's Kellogg Arena have combined for 34 MHSAA team championships.
Some like Temperance Bedford going for a dozen or reigning champion Detroit Catholic Central trying to make it 10 titles, are plenty familiar with finishing as the last team standing. Others, like Hartland, could provide plenty of drama in pursuing a first championship.
Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 1, listed by seed. Their Quarterfinal matches begin at 3:15 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 9:30 Saturday morning and the championship match at 4 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv. For results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page. Rankings below are from MichiganGrappler.com.
#1 DETROIT CATHOLIC CENTRAL
Record/rank: 22-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic High School League
Coach: Mitch Hancock, sixth season (128-28)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recently in 2012), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 285 Robert Coe (38-4) sr., 112 Parker O’Brien (31-13) jr., 119 Trevor Zdebski (34-5) soph., 125 Evan Toth (37-10) jr., 130 Myles Amine (33-6) soph., 135 Ken Bade (34-6) sr., 140 Malik Amine (33-6) jr., 152 Mike Babicz (32-16) sr., 160 Logan Marcicki (30-4) jr., 171 Drew Garcia (45-0) jr., 189 Nick Giese (34-12) soph., 189 Jimmy Russell (34-14) jr.
Outlook: The Shamrocks will wrestle for their fourth straight championship match appearance and third title over those four seasons. Bade and Garcia were two of the team’s three individual champions last season, and Malik Amine was a Finals runner-up. Coe and Marcicki join those three as top-ranked in this division in their respective weight classes.
Record/rank: 12-4, No. 2
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley Association
Coach: Roy Hall, 16th season (390-68-1)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recently 2006), one runner-up finish.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Jacob Madrigal (29-8) jr., 112 Lincoln Olson (40-1) soph., 125 Derek Humphrey (36-7) jr., 135 Matt Miller (25-5) jr., 135 Justin Oliver (10-1) jr., 140 Dominic Russ (32-7) jr., 140 Carter Stoddard (19-3) sr., 145 Thomas Garty (33-10) jr., 152 Patrick Rooker (24-14) sr., 160 Jordan Cooks (36-1) jr., 171 Tyler Wildmo (34-7) soph., 215 Trevor Thomas (32-10) sr.
Outlook: Davison looks good to make a run at extending its incredible wrestling tradition under Hall, who led the team to five straight titles from 2002-06. The Cardinals have moved up a seed from last season’s Quarterfinals, and all but one of its Individual Finals qualifiers finished first or second at Saturday’s Regionals. Olson, Oliver and Cooks all won individual championships last season – and the future is similarly bright, with only two seniors in this weekend’s expected lineup.
Record/rank: 32-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association
Coach: Todd Cheney, 21st season (562-88-2)
Championship history: Four MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recently in 2007).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 285 Josh Charneski (27-21) jr., 112 Sage Castillo (42-10) fr., 119 Nate Hughes (45-6) jr., 130 Jacob Gorial (50-3) soph., 130 Austin Eicher (45-0) jr., 160 Nate Smith (34-18) jr., 171 Mitchell Thomas (52-1) sr., 189 Ryan Hill (39-13) sr.
Outlook: Hartland is back in the hunt for its first MHSAA team title, and two seeds higher than at last season’s Quarterfinals. The Eagles beat No. 9 Brighton in the Regional on the way to Battle Creek. Eicher was an Individual Finals runner-up and is ranked number one at 130 weight this winter, and Gorial is ranked number two (Eicher is slated to wrestle 135). Thomas and Hughes also are ranked among the top seven at their weights.
#4 TEMPERANCE BEDFORD
Record/rank: 26-2, No. 4
League finish: First in the Southeastern Conference
Coach: Kevin Vogel, second season (46-6)
Championship history: 11 MHSAA championships (most recently 2011), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 285 Adam Ortman (36-10) jr., 119 Mitch Rogaliner (44-2) sr., 125 Mitch Pawlak (44-1) sr., 171 David Lijewski (35-12) sr., 189 Codie Bettencourt (32-12) sr., 215 Brandon Sunday (46-1) sr.
Outlook: Vogel has led the Kicking Mules to the Quarterfinals both of his seasons as coach, and like last year’s team this one features 10 wrestlers with at least 30 wins this winter. Rogaliner is the reigning Individual Finals champion at 112 pounds, and Sunday was runner-up last season at 189. They are two of four Bedford wrestlers ranked among the top eight in their respective weight classes.
Record/rank: 23-11, No. 7
League finish: Tied for second in the Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Frank Lafferty, 10th season (197-117)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Justin Kim (46-7) sr., 125 Josh Wood (13-0) sr., 140 Kaelan Richards (50-2) sr., 160 Dean Vettese (40-1) sr., 171 Shane Shadaia (32-6) jr., 189 Shawn Shadaia (48-1) jr.
Outlook: Rochester has won two straight District titles and is at Kellogg for the first time under Lafferty after beating No. 5 Oxford along the way. Wood was an Individual Finals runner-up as both a freshman and sophomore and is ranked number one in his weight class this winter. Shawn Shadaia also is ranked number one in his class, and total, five Rochester wrestlers are ranked among the top four at their weights.
#6 MACOMB DAKOTA
Record/rank: 37-4, No. 8
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Co-coaches: Ed Skowneski and Mike Marlin, first seasons (37-4)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Sal Caruso (48-7) jr., 145 Alex Bozinovski (46-9) jr., 152 Jake Johnson (54-2) jr., 189 Antonio Balabani (50-6) soph.
Outlook: Skowneski – a 2003 MHSAA champion at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley and former assistant at Warren DeLaSalle and Fraser – and Marlin, an assistant at Dakota for four seasons and a two-time MHSAA Finals qualifier on the mat, have brought Dakota to the Quarterfinals in their first season running the program. Six starters have at least 42 wins this winter, and four will compete next week to try to become the first individual champion in Dakota wrestling history.
Record/rank: 15-10, unranked
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Coach: Rocky Shaft, 33rd season (471-75)
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recently 2008), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Benny Gomez (42-0) soph., 119 Shayne Wireman (42-0) sr., 125 Martin Rodriguez (11-0) jr., 130 Kyle Granger (25-16) jr., 140 Dominic Trevino (31-3) sr.
Outlook: The Rams beat No. 10 Battle Creek Lakeview in the Regional on the way to this weekend, but are no strangers to Kellogg Arena. Shaft has led Holt to four Quarterfinals over the last six seasons and 26 straight District championships. Wireman was an individual champion in 2011, and he and Gomez are the top-ranked contenders in their respective weight classes.
Record/rank: 22-7, unranked
League finish: First in O-K Red
Coach: Bubba Gritter, third season (49-25)
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recently 1993), three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Dakota Torralva (41-6) sr., 135 Collin Tomkins (15-1) jr., 215 Courtney Meyers (36-6) sr.
Outlook: Gritter – a three-time MHSAA individual champion for the Bulldogs from 2001-03 – has Grandville in the Quarterfinals after wins at the Regional by 16 over annual power Rockford and then by seven over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central. All three of the team's individual qualifiers are ranked among the top five in their respective individual weight classes.
PHOTO: Detroit Catholic Central's Logan Marcicki (top) wrestles Oxford's Wesley Maskill during last season's Division 1 championship match at Kellogg Arena. (Click to see more at 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.)