Dundee Adds Perfect Season to Tradition

February 27, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

MOUNT PLEASANT — In case the championship banners and trophies weren't enough of a reminder, it wasn't necessary for an aging alumnus or a veteran coach to help Dundee's wrestlers understand the Vikings' tradition.

In their midst is a senior who has lived that tradition more than most who have come through one of Michigan's most successful programs. 

Zach Blevins wrestled in an MHSAA team wrestling championship match for the fourth time in his career Saturday, as Dundee completed a perfect dual-meet season by beating Remus Chippewa Hills, 40-16, in the Division 3 Final at Central Michigan University.

Blevins beat Austin Spedowski by a 19-6 major decision at 140 pounds, giving him a 4-0 career record in championship matches at the Team Finals. In his career, he was 11-1 on Finals weekend, the only loss coming Saturday in the Semifinal, a 4-3 decision against Jwann Britton of Whitehall. Britton was third at the MHSAA Finals at 135 pounds last year, while Blevins was second.

Taking the mat before a sold-out crowd of more than 4,300 at McGuirk Arena, it felt like just another match for Blevins. It was his 26th career match at the Team or Individual Finals. He finished eighth at 112 pounds in 2013 and fifth at 125 pounds in 2014 to go with the second place at 135 last year.

"It helps a little bit, being down here all four years," said Blevins, who will wrestle at Eastern Michigan University. "You won't get as nervous, because you know what to expect. I was feeling confident and calm."

Blevins was on three championship teams and a runner-up in his four years with Dundee, which has won nine MHSAA titles. It was the fifth straight year the Vikings reached the final match and the 14th straight year that they earned a trip to Finals weekend. Blevins is the only member of the current championship team who wrestled in the 2013 title match.

"He's really been a go-to guy and a very talented wrestler who has done a great job for us," 17-year Dundee coach Tim Roberts said. "In four years in the lineup, he's always stepped up and did his job well. I remember one year we needed him to get five takedowns in one period so we could get a tech, and he did that."

Blevins and Sean Sterling wrestled in the 2014 title match, as Dundee beat Richmond. Eight wrestlers who took the mat Saturday competed in the 2015 final match against Richmond, which won the last three matches to erase a 25-12 deficit and win, 27-25.

"We just worked really hard all year to make sure it wouldn't happen again, and it paid off," Blevins said.

Although the Vikings won by 24 points, it could've been a different outcome had Dundee wrestlers not come from behind in the final seconds of three matches.

Tyler Orrison, who was sixth at 125 pounds last year, got things started for Dundee by twice scoring in the final seconds of periods in a marquee matchup with Slade Todd, who was sixth at 135 in 2015. Orrison scored three points at the buzzer in the second period to take a 7-6 lead in the 135-pound match. He then won the match, 9-8, with a two-point reversal with 16 seconds left.

At 171, Dundee's Kyle Motylinski scored two points with 12 seconds left in the third period to tie his match with Luke Henderson, 2-2. Motylinski won 4-2 in overtime.

At 103, Dundee's Jonathan White scored two points with 25 seconds left to win 3-2 over Bray Haynes.

"That was a case of they've been here before," Chippewa Hills coach Nate Ethridge said. "Give all the credit in the world to Dundee. They did a heck of a job and knocked us off; they deserve it. We needed those three and we didn't get those three. Then we had to do some things with our lineup that we didn't necessarily want to do, because we had to win out."

Dundee didn't have much lineup flexibility, with only 15 healthy wrestlers. Drew Mandell, who was eighth at 130 pounds last year and a participant in the 2014 team championship match, was on crutches after breaking his leg. District champion Grant Ott had an arm in a sling because of a separated shoulder.

"These guys kept stepping up and gutting it out," Roberts said. "You saw all those last-second wins we were getting there. That's just a testament to guts, and the guys kept wrestling."

Roberts said Dundee typically has about 24 wrestlers, but had a low turnout this season. An Individual Finals qualifier was among those who chose not to come out.

How does that happen to a program with Dundee's tradition? 

"You tell me," Roberts said. "The culture can change where it's not cool to wrestle, then we get to win state. It makes it that much more satisfying that these guys pulled together and did it. I'm really proud of this group. Whenever we had injuries, we had guys cut down in weight to make us stronger. Guys stepped in and really sacrificed to make this team better."

Dundee (21-0) reached the title match by beating Delton Kellogg, 63-13, in the Quarterfinal on Friday and Whitehall, 39-18, in the Semifinal on Saturday.

Sterling, White, Zachary Bellaire and Brandon Whitman were 3-0 on the weekend for Dundee. Sterling and Whitman won all three of their matches with pins, with neither of their matches lasting beyond the second period.

"My early memories were when I was in fourth grade," Whitman said while holding the championship trophy. "We were always watching Dundee. My brother was in high school a couple years before I was. It was always fun watching him. The expectations are high. When you come into the room, you've got to work as hard as you can every day."

Brendan Barry, Billy Koepf and Austin Young had 3-0 records on the weekend for Chippewa Hills (31-2), which was making its first appearance in the title match. The Warriors historically were 2-8 on Finals weekend before beating Gladstone, 48-24, in the Quarterfinal and Lake Fenton, 31-27, in the Semifinal.

The Warriors have nine qualifiers for next weekend's MHSAA Individual Finals, with only one senior among that group.

"We've been close a lot of times," Ethridge said. "Obviously, we had a heck of a weekend to get where we're at. Our kids are great. They train really hard. They're pretty awesome."

Click for full results.

The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.

PHOTO: A Dundee wrestler, left, and his Chippewa Hills opponent work for position during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Click to see more at 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.)