DETROIT – Casey Swiderski took a moment Saturday for himself.
The Dundee senior and four-time Individual Wrestling Finals champion had already had his hand raised. He had already addressed the crowd and had a post-match celebration.
But as fans continued to rain applause down on him, Swiderski crouched off to the side of the mat and took it all in.
“It’s tough walking away from this,” Swiderski said following his pinfall victory against Kingsley’s Aiden Shier in the Division 3, 152-pound final. “That was it. That was my last high school match in the MHSAA season. It’s tough. It’s a lot of hard work and years. I’ve got college to go to, but that’s tough right there.”
Swiderski deserved the moment, as he finished off one of the most dominant and successful careers in MHSAA history.
With his victory, and Dundee’s team title win a week earlier, Swiderski became the fourth wrestler in state history to win four team titles and four individual titles. He joined Davison’s Brent Metcalf (who will be one of his coaches at Iowa State), Lowell’s Austin Boone and his former teammate, Stoney Buell.
“It’s amazing,” Swiderski said. “When you put in all the hard work and the belief, this is the bonus day right here. This comes with it. It’s an awesome thing.”
Swiderski (45-0) was leading comfortably in the second period of the final when Shier was able to get his first burst of offense on a deep shot. Rather than give up the takedown, however, Swiderski turned it into his own pinning combination.
He finished the tournament with three pins and one technical fall. None of his matches went beyond the second period.
Champion: Talan Parsons, Ovid-Elsie, Soph. (37-1)
Major Decision, 9-0, over Landon Sopha, Yale, Fr. (53-2)
A year after coming one match short of his ultimate goal, Parsons wasn’t going to be denied Saturday.
“This was my biggest goal,” Parsons said. “Last year I was so close, and it hurt a lot to make it all that way and not take first. So I put in all the work to make my way back and win it this year.”
Parsons jumped on Sopha early and controlled the match throughout, adding a takedown, nearfall and reversal as the match went on to win with a major decision.
Champion: Kade Kluce, Dundee, Soph. (41-6)
Decision, 5-4, over Easton Moran, Yale, Sr. (51-3)
Kluce was a returning Finals champion, having won at 103 a year ago. But he wasn’t happy with how things started this season, and the emotions were evident as he celebrated his second title.
“I just felt grateful I got the opportunity to come here and wrestle,” said Kluce, who suffered a knee injury in the summer that lingered into the beginning of the season. “I lost six matches this year, three times as much as I did last year. I don’t know, I just didn’t feel proud of myself until now.”
Kluce fell behind 2-0 as Moran picked up an early takedown, but he battled back and a takedown with 37 seconds remaining won him the match.
Champion: Braeden Davis, Dundee, Jr. (41-2)
Technical Fall, 3:32, over Connor Busz, Clinton, Jr. (48-3)
Davis has not wrestled into the third period at the Individual Finals.
He’s a three-time champion.
“I’ve just been able to bonus my way through states the past three years, and I’m really grateful,” Davis said. “I’m really happy that I’m able to do things like that.”
Davis, who has already committed to Penn State, won at 103 pounds in 2020 and 112 in 2021. Saturday’s match was his first final to make it out of the first period, but it came against an opponent in Busz who was a runner-up a year ago.
As a three-time individual and team champion, Davis has a chance to match Swiderski’s achievement next season.
Champion: Cameron Chinavare, Dundee, Soph. (39-2)
Fall, 3:14, over Fabian Facundo, Alma, Fr. (38-4)
After an early-season match between these two was airtight, Chinavare – who won that first match 4-3 – was expecting another battle.
“I know I had to go out there and keep my feet moving,” Chinavare said. “I knew he was going to come at me. I dragged him right there at the end and took him to his back. I wasn’t expecting a pin at all, but it fell right into place, I guess.”
Chinavare led the match 2-0 after the first period, and before he was able to get the takedown and pin.
Champion: Zachary Gibson, Lake Odessa Lakewood, Sr. (39-0)
Major decision, 11-0, over Caiden Pelc, Portland, Sr. (34-7)
Gibson and Pelc had met three times throughout the season, with Gibson winning each matchup.
He wasn’t worried about Pelc figuring him out, though.
“I had something new against him every time,” Gibson said.
The title was the second straight for Gibson, who won at 125 pounds a year ago. This was his first at Ford Field.
“It’s way different,” he said. “Way bigger, way more exciting.”
Champion: Aidan Bernard, Montrose, Sr. (46-1)
Decision, 8-1, over Logan Sander, Dundee, Sr. (35-7)
After winning his first Finals title, Bernard couldn’t contain his emotions.
“I’m so happy,” he said. “I’ve been wrestling since I was 9, and this is all I’ve wanted for the past nine years. I’ve been close – my sophomore year I took third. Last year I thought I was going to have it, but I was in really bad shape because of COVID. This year, I really (worked hard) and I had great coaching staff, great family, great friends who pushed me and supported me. I’m just really grateful for the moment.”
Twice during his Finals match, Bernard’s injured knee flared up. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him.
“I knew I was going to keep going,” he said. “I told my parents and my friends, even if I break something early in the match, I’m going to keep going.”
Champion: Ryker Johnecheck, Williamston, Sr. (38-2)
Decision, 5-1, over Peter Pena, Milan, Jr. (21-2)
Johnecheck never planned to be flashy in claiming his third-straight individual title. He just wanted to be efficient.
He was certainly that as he controlled his match with Pena throughout.
“I think it’s one of those matches where it’s the state finals, I’m not going to go take any unnecessary risks,” he said. “I just went out there, wrestled smart. He can catch people, so my big thing was be smart, get a comfortable score, and take what’s there, and I think that’s what I did.”
Johnecheck won at 125 in 2020 and 130 in 2021.
“It’s not what I expected coming in as a freshman,” Johnecheck said. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet, that I’m going to be one of those guys in 10 years that they’re looking up (in the gymnasium) and say, ‘Oh, I knew him.’”
Champion: Aiden Davis, Dundee, Jr. (43-0)
Decision, 11-5, over Mason Cantu, Hart, Sr. (48-2)
Despite being a returning champion, Davis said he felt the pressure was on Cantu coming into their Finals match. So the Dundee junior picked his spots to finish off his unbeaten season and come away with another title.
“I’ve been here before. I sort of know the environment,” Davis said. “And I had to stay cool, calm and collected throughout the whole match.”
Davis won at 135 pounds a year ago, and was runner-up at 125 in 2020. Cantu was a Division 4 runner-up at 135 pounds in 2020.
Champion: Connor Owens, Flint Powers Catholic, Jr. (18-0)
Decision, 5-2, over Nick Marienfeld, Napoleon, Sr. (54-1)
Owens didn’t like the feeling of not winning a Finals title a year ago, when he finished runner-up at this weight. So he decided this season to simply not lose.
“This is dreams coming to reality right here, man; this is nuts,” he said. “This is my biggest wrestling dream ever, and I’m just in shock right now. That feeling of losing, whether in the state finals or not, when you’re a true competitor, you have to hate losing more than you love winning, and you just have to refuse to lose.”
The match was tied heading into the third period, but an escape and a takedown gave Owens the victory.
Champion: Kevin McKiernan, Richmond, Sr. (40-9)
Decision, 4-3, over Jake Nelson, Howard City, Sr. (38-8)
McKiernan is the youngest of five brothers, and all made a Final for Richmond. He’s now the third McKiernan to win a title.
“It means a ton,” he said. “You can’t be the only brother to not make it to the Finals. Then you’re the end of every joke. But it means a ton.”
McKiernan took third in his region, but battled through this bracket to get his first title. He scored a late first-period takedown to take his first lead, and never relinquished it.
“It’s the coaches standing in the corner, the practice partners in the room, all of that adds up to state titles,” McKiernan said. “I think this is just proof of that again.”
Champion: Jacob Munger, Alma, Sr. (43-2)
Decision, 11-5, over Logan Badge, Clinton, Sr. (36-6)
For the second time in as many weeks, Munger defeated Badge, this time claiming his first title, and denying Badge his fourth.
“All my coaches, they say to stay with the positive, remember what worked the last match and bring it to this match,” Munger said. “I stayed with the positive … I knew I had a great gas tank and brought that over. It’s just all positive.”
Munger led 6-3 heading into the third period, and added two more takedowns in the third to pad his lead.
Badge was a three-time champion in Division 4, winning at 189 in 2020 and 2021, and 215 in 2019.
Champion: Hunter Huguelet, Gladwin, Sr. (46-1)
Fall, 1:54, over Adam Garcia, Alma, Sr. (32-7)
Huguelet thought for a long time about what he could do to win his first individual title.
It didn’t take him that long to do it.
The Gladwin senior capped off his career with a first-period pin.
“That was great,” Huguelet said. “I just was focusing for the last two hours, all day today and last night, and I just came in ready to go. It feels amazing. It’s more than what I thought.”
Champion: Levi Harber, Montrose, Sr. (44-4)
Fall, 3:51, over Eli Marshall, Watervliet, Sr. (42-3)
Harber was dominant throughout the tournament, pinning each of his first three opponents in the opening minute.
His Finals match took a little longer, but ultimately had the same result.
Harber had Marshall on his back in the first period as well, but it didn’t result in a pin, and that wasn’t necessarily even the plan.
“I’m going to be honest, I threw that cradle to get some comfort points between me and him,” he said. “So, I wasn’t expecting a pin. He was getting pretty close, but I was not in the position that I felt I could pin him properly.”
PHOTOS (Top) Dundee’s Casey Swiderski is applauded after concluding his high school career with a fourth Division 3 individual championship. (Middle) Alma’s Jacob Munger, left, works toward a win 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.)