Dundee Ties Program Best with 4th-Straight Finals Win

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

March 30, 2021

KALAMAZOO – The Dundee wrestling team found itself in an unfamiliar position Tuesday evening: behind. 

The Vikings were dominant all season. They feature eight wrestlers ranked No. 1 in their weight class, and lost just once – against Division 1 Finals champion Davison. 

But thanks to wins from Whitehall’s Max Brown and Marco Moore, which sandwiched a long technology delay, Dundee had to spend nearly 30 minutes of the Division 3 Final trailing on the scoreboard.  

It didn’t take nearly as long for the Swiderski brothers – Casey and Tyler – to erase the deficit, though, as they re-established a Dundee lead that was never relinquished in a 55-17 victory at Wings Event Center. 

“I was saying it myself, ‘Here we are. We’re behind after two matches. Here we go,’” Dundee coach Tim Roberts said. “The guys responded and came back well. (Whitehall) was wrestling well. I give them a lot of credit; their guys came to compete. It was their first time in the Finals ever, and I think they made a good showing of themselves in how hard they competed and how they started that dual. I think they have a lot to be proud of, too.” 

It’s the fourth straight title for the Vikings, and their 13th overall. It’s the second time Dundee has won four straight titles, as the program did as well from 1995-98 in Division 4 and Class C-D (1995). The program has entrenched itself as the best in Division 3 by advancing to the Finals each year since 2007, winning in eight of those 14 years. 

"I’m just very grateful to be part of a program that’s done this well,” senior Stoney Buell said. “It puts a little more gratefulness on this year with COVID. I’m just beyond blessed for this opportunity and to be able to do it with a great bunch of guys.” 

Dundee had a bye in Tuesday’s Quarterfinal, and defeated its longtime rival Richmond 72-6 in the Semifinals. It was the culmination of an entire season spent as a heavy favorite, but the team never lost focus. 

Whitehall/Dundee wrestling“Our whole mentality and in practice, it’s all about having fun,” junior Casey Swiderski said. “It’s not about coming here and winning team state, it’s about putting points on the board, everybody does their job and then you win 55-17 in the Finals. That’s how it works.” 

The season-long dominance didn’t mean it wasn’t a stress-free season for Roberts, as he spent the entire year trying to make sure his team was healthy above all else.  

“We know we have a good team, we know we had a lot of talent on it, but we need them to keep their minds in the right place moving forward and still fighting for something,” Roberts said. “That was a lot of work building goals for these to keep chasing. The way they handled it, and the way they kept fighting all year, I’m really proud of them and the way they came through in a situation that was weird. They handled it really well.” 

Whitehall kept things interesting for a while, though. Brown’s victory came in overtime against top-ranked Austin Fietz at 140 pounds and was followed by Moore’s decision at 145. Casey Swiderski won by technical fall at 152, followed by a major decision from his brother Tyler at 160. Dominick Lomazzo (171) and Buell (189) each won by fall to stretch Dundee’s lead to 21-6, but Whitehall pulled back to within four after Shane Cook (215) won by forfeit and Ira Jenkins (285) won by technical fall. 

Dundee closed the match with six straight victories to clinch the title, getting pins from Kade Kulce (103), Braeden Davis (112), Kaden Chinavere (119), Logan Sander (125) and Aiden Davis (135). Trey Parker won by major decision at 130. 

“We just told our guys to go out there and compete and give their best effort,” Whitehall co-coach Justin Zeerip said. “At the end of the day, if they gave their best effort, I knew they could be happy with themselves. We just wanted to go out there and wrestle them hard. That was a really big match for Max, that kid’s been ranked No. 1 all year, so for Max to go out there and win it in overtime, I thought he looked really, really good today.” 

Brown, Cook and Jenkins each won three matches on the day for Whitehall, which defeated Hart 41-23 in the Quarterfinals and Alma 37-29 in the Semifinals.  

“I couldn’t be prouder of the kids,” Zeerip said. “Our first two matches today, they wrestled really, really hard. Even in the Finals. Dundee, they have such a historical program, and even though we didn’t win the match, I was really happy with our kids’ effort and how hard they fought out there.”

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PHOTO: (Top) Dundee celebrates its fourth-straight Division 3 title. (Middle) Whitehall's Max Brown works to gain control during his match at 140 pounds. (Click for more from 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.)