KALAMAZOO – It had to be Casey Swiderski.
The best way to cap off another dominant season for Division 3’s dominant wrestling program was by having its most dominant wrestler on the mat for the final match.
Swiderski, who will compete for a fourth straight individual title in a week, won by pin Saturday to close out Dundee’s 55-12 Division 3 Final victory against Alma at Wings Event Center. It was the fifth-straight Finals title for the Vikings.
“Nothing beats that, man,” Swiderski said. “It’s crazy that’s the weight that was drawn. I weighed in above 160 by a pound, and I knew I was going to go 171. It’s just crazy that was drawn. It’s awesome. No better feeling than this right here.”
The Vikings (17-4) have now won eight of the past 10 Division 3 Finals titles, and 14 total. They’ve made at least the Final in each of the past 11 seasons.
“It’s the first time in our school’s history that we’ve won five in a row,” Dundee coach Tim Roberts said. “Where this team was when we started the year, I knew we had a lot of good guys coming back, but when we started, everybody was 152 and below, and we had a bunch of guys at 145. Some guys had to just wrestle over their heads. Connor Collins, he’s a 152-pounder is what he should be. We had him wrestle 160 all year then had him get heavy so he could wrestle 189. Then this weekend, he’s wrestling 189, winning matches, and that Jacob Munger (of Alma) is the No. 1-ranked kid in the state right now, and he kept it to a regular decision. So you’ve got guys giving efforts like and fighting like that.”
As Saturday’s match ended, Roberts and Swiderski shared an embrace on the edge of the mat.
“When we drew that weight, we’d weighed him in at (160) this weekend for a purpose, but we just decided that no matter what, he’s wrestling last,” Roberts said. “He’s been special to this program with all the things he’s accomplished. The level he wrestles, it’s just really fun to watch. All the things he’s done, I’m really proud of him.”
Swiderski is one of multiple returning individual champions and top-ranked wrestlers for the Vikings, who actually fell behind 9-0 in the dual.
Munger opened with the decision for Alma, and Adam Garcia won by pin at 215 to get the Panthers’ crowd on its feet.
It only took 45 seconds, however, for Dundee to take a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, as Kaiden Hubbell (285) and Ashton Viers (103) each won with first-period pins.
That was the beginning of 10 straight victories for the Vikings. Kyle Smith (119), Braeden Davis (125), Logan Sander (140) and Aiden Davis (152) won by pin, Kaden Chinavare (135) won by major decision, and Kade Kluce (112), Cameron Chinavare (130) and Trey Parker (145) each won by decision.
“I thought we had a better chance,” Alma coach Randy Miniard said. “I thought we could take the four top weight classes by pin, so I thought if we could sneak in two or three other matches, we might be able to sneak it in there. But we had a hell of a run. At the beginning of the season, we wanted to make the Finals. This year, we thought we had a chance. Knowing that you have a chance and getting here is really, really special. Even though we didn’t get the job done, there’s no shame in losing to Dundee.”
The trip to the Final was the first for Alma (28-2). The Panthers had qualified for the Semifinals the previous two seasons, and its large senior class had finished every season at Kalamazoo.
“I’ve got 10 seniors that put the work in ever since they were in youth wrestling until now, and they deserve every bit of it,” Miniard said. “There’s so many people that it takes to be a championship-quality team. The tradition of Alma wrestling, for five years in a row being here, is unbelievable, and it took a lot of people and a lot of effort. It takes a community of people to win championships, and we’ve got a community of people in Alma that love their wrestling program.”
Cole O’Boyle (160) also picked up a victory for Alma in the Final.
Dundee defeated Imlay City 74-5 in the Semifinals. Both Chinavares, both Davises, Sander, Swiderski, Hubbell, Viers and Kluce all had three wins on the weekend for Dundee.
Alma knocked off Clinton – the 2020 and 2021 Division 4 champion – 33-29 in the Semifinals. The match was sealed by a Fabian Facundo decision, but turned on its head when Munger defeated three-time individual champion Logan Badge at 189. Munger and Garcia each finished with three wins on the weekend for Alma.
PHOTOS (Top) Dundee’s wrestlers celebrate their fifth-straight Division 3 championship Saturday. (Middle) Alma’s Jacob Munger works toward a decision 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.)