KALAMAZOO – Alex Facundo’s wrestling career has taken him around the country and across the Atlantic Ocean, and long ago into consideration as one of the top high school wrestlers in the nation regardless of weight class.
But there’s no way this week doesn’t remain a cherished memory even after Facundo leaves for Penn State and encounters more higher-level opportunities that surely lie ahead.
On Tuesday, he led Davison to its first Division 1 team championship since 2006. On Saturday, returning to Wings Event Center, he capped his Cardinals career by becoming the 30th four-time individual champion in MHSAA Finals history.
“I just treat it like another match. But then I realized the specialness of it. Before I even looked over, I heard all the cheers and stuff,” Facundo said. “I mean, I’m going to miss this a little bit.”
Facundo (25-0) stacked a pin and two technical falls at 171 pounds Saturday, including 26-11 over Kalamazoo Central senior Leonardo Gallasso (30-2) in the championship match. He ended with a 132-2 career record and championships at 152, 160 and twice at 171.
“This week has been the best moment, the best week of my high school career,” Facundo said. “Not only winning the fourth (individual title), but winning the team state title that we haven’t won in 15 years. That’s just special. That’s never going to leave us. That’s never going to leave my name – they’re going to hear four-timer, but they’re also going to hear the 2021 Davison wrestling team.”
Champion: Justin Gates, Davison, Fr. (23-0)
Decision, 8-4, over Caleb Weiand, Macomb Dakota, Soph. (31-1)
Not long after Facundo finished his fourth championship run Saturday, Gates capped his first.
He reached this title match with a pair of pins and a technical fall before handing Weiand his only defeat of this season.
“Nothing really compares – it’s been honestly one of the best weeks of my life,” Gates said. “I’m just hoping I can follow in (Facundo’s) footsteps. Obviously, Josh Barr just won his second next to him, and after that Jimmy Colley got his first. So, it’s a special team we’ve got here.”
Champion: Drew Heethuis, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (30-0)
Decision, 9-5, over Zach Phifer, Howell, Sr. (32-5)
DCC junior Anthony Walker and sophomore Clayton Jones finished fourth and sixth, respectively, at 119 on Saturday. They also received assists for training Heethuis up on the way to his first Finals championship.
“It’s pretty much all the difference – being able to have good partners and good people to work with and go against, it’s a main factor in being able to be good and get to the next level,” Heethuis said.
After finishing third at 103 last season, Heethuis did take those next steps with a perfect run.
“It’s kind of expected. I just want to get where I can be at the best I can,” he said. “This is what I’ve been working for my whole life.”
Champion: Caden Horwath, Davison, Soph. (27-0)
Decision, 6-2, over Louden Stradling, Battle Creek Lakeview, Soph. (29-1)
These two also met in the 103-pound championship match last season. The result was nearly identical this time after Horwath had won the 2020 bout with a 7-2 decision.
He reached Saturday’s finale with two pins and a major decision.
“(I was) just working hard, pushing my pace, making sure I get to all of my attacks,” Horwath said. “Not worrying about what they were doing, just try to wrestle my match and how I want to.
“Not too much (was different this season) – just getting better and better, critiquing little things.”
Champion: Ashton Anderson, Clarkston, Sr. (26-4)
Decision, 9-2, over Andrew Hampton, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Sr. (34-4)
The last conversation Anderson had with his late grandfather Pete Vandermeer was about making weight. That was only a couple of years ago, and Anderson knew he was watching Saturday – “I wanted to do it for him,” Anderson said. “He’s smiling down at me.”
It surely was a proud family moment, as Anderson not only avenged a 5-1 Regional loss to Hampton to defeat the top seed this time, but in the process became the sixth member of his family to wrestle in an MHSAA Final and third to win a title for Clarkston – joining uncles Jerry Anderson (1993), Matt Vandermeer (2011) and Nick Vandermeer (2013).
Ashton also was thinking Saturday of last season’s Finals, when he fell in his first match at 125 by a 13-11 decision, then fought all the way back to finish third.
“I was supposed to be in the Finals last year, and I lost early and didn’t get to make it, and it’s my last chance,” Anderson said. “I wasn’t letting it slide by.”
Champion: Brendan Ferretti, Macomb Dakota, Sr. (33-0)
Decision, 6-3, over Tyler Herrema, Grandville, Sr. (30-1)
The joy was all over Ferretti’s face as he finished his high school career by joining the short list of three-time Finals champions.
After placing third at 103 as a freshman, Ferretti won titles at 112, 119 and now 130, with a combined 121-1 record over those championship seasons.
“It was honestly about having fun, because it’s my last year … and honestly just trying to get through the year with all of this COVID stuff,” Ferretti said. “We only got half a season to train for this, so it does feel pretty good, knowing that I’m winning because I worked hard in the room and stuff like that. It all pays off. Now it’s time to take it to the next level.”
Ferretti will be wrestling next season at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Champion: Dylan Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (26-1)
Decision, 3-0, over Evan Herriman, Davison, Soph. (22-3)
These two met to close Davison’s Team Finals win on Tuesday, with Gilcher winning 5-2, and the rematch was even more low-scoring.
But Gilcher scored enough and also his second championship, adding to the title won a year ago at 112.
“I wrestling him twice earlier, so I knew I could get a takedown. I wasn’t as busy as I like, but I was in control. I felt safe,” Gilcher said. “I rode this time – last time I didn’t ride – so I got less points. But like I said, it was safe.”
Gilcher’s first three matches Saturday were far more high-scoring – he put up 18, 21 and 22 points in three tech falls.
Champion: Mason Shrader, Brighton, Sr. (31-0)
Decision, 7-1, over Philip Burney, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (22-4)
Shrader had been all around a championship his first three seasons, finishing sixth at 103 as a freshman, eighth at 119 as a sophomore and second last season at 125.
In his final high school match, Shrader arrived and earned a spot at the top of the podium.
After falling in that 2020 championship match, Shrader made a deal with himself that he wouldn’t lose this time. He hardly slept Friday night thinking about the opportunity.
“I’ve been working so hard since last year, since I lost in the Finals,” Shrader said. “The past three years, my mindset was nowhere near where it is right now. I wanted it so bad, and I just put my mind to it and got it done.”
Champion: Darius Marines, Detroit Catholic Central, Fr. (17-2)
Decision, 5-3, over Camden Trupp, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (23-3)
Very rarely, the Individual Finals pits teammates against each other. Marines and Trupp met in the championship matches at every level of this tournament, with Trupp winning 3-1 at the District and Marines taking the Regional 5-2.
“First one I was a little nervous, you know, (facing the) senior captain,” Marines said. “Second time, I knew what I was expecting.”
This time? “Nerves, everything. I was just thinking about standing on that podium and getting that trophy. That’s all I had in mind.”
During Tuesday’s Team Finals, Marines bumped up to 152 while Trupp wrestled at 145. Combined they finished 5-1 that day winning with three pins, a tech fall and a decision.
Champion: Trenton Wachter, Rockford, Sr. (24-1)
Fall, 5:17, over James Johnston, Davison, Sr. (25-3)
The final minute was ticking down and Wachter was a few points behind, a runner-up finish shaping up as the likely result.
In an instant, everything changed.
“I just felt his head, way too high, took it over, pinned him,” Wachter said. “I get in that position a lot in practice, so I’m used to it.”
They’d wrestled a similar match Tuesday, which Wachter won 7-5 in sudden victory after trailing 5-1.
The title finished a nice climb for Wachter, a fifth-place finisher at 130 as a sophomore and third-place finisher at 140 last season.
Champion: Josh Barr, Davison, Soph. (26-0)
Major Decision, 9-1, over Gary Nilson, Utica Ford, Sr. (21-2)
Moments after Facundo won his fourth championship, Barr reached the halfway point in pursuit of the same – and with a second-straight undefeated season.
“I love this man right here; he’s my training partner every single day,” Barr said as Facundo offered a quick congratulations. “That’s the person who trains me for every single situation to help me out on any mat I ever step foot onto.”
Barr will be among those who will be looked toward next, especially as Davison returns next season as the reigning team champion.
“Just keeping the momentum going,” he said. “On Tuesday we just won a team state title, and it was a great thing to do with my brothers. Keep winning team state titles, keep winning individual titles. Break some records here. … Keep pushing the pace.”
Champion: Manuel Rojas, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (29-2)
Decision, 11-5, over Remy Cotton, Traverse City Central, Soph. (28-1)
Cotton was the top seed and Rojas the second, and they reached the championship match with a combined five pins and a tech fall.
Rojas also was the reigning champion at this weight, and now he’ll head into his final season with a chance to join that three-timer list.
“Nothing’s different. Just getting to come out here and do the same job,” Rojas said comparing this season’s run to last. “Same job every year.
“Maybe getting to train a little bit harder every year. Get a little better. That’s it. Just getting better.”
Champion: Jimmy Colley, Davison, Jr. (19-1)
Fall, 1:00, over Ethan Green, Howell, Sr. (28-3)
Colley was one of six Davison top seeds entering Saturday, after finishing fourth as a freshman and third last season both at this weight.
“Nothing better than as a team having that bond, winning together, everybody excited, coming here excited, ready to wrestle. Everybody came here to win,” Colley said. “We all grew up together. Everybody knows each other, practice partners. It’s just great to know you’re practicing with the best guys in the state.”
He added a first place to his list with a quick pin, becoming Davison’s third champ of the day.
“I went out there pretty quick, took him down, got to my underhook, where I know I’m good there, got my takedown,” Colley said. “My goal was to go out there and dominate the match.”
Champion: Jayson Roy, Jackson, Sr. (31-0)
Decision, 4-0, over Joshua Terrill, Holt, Jr. (25-4)
Roy will not be soon forgotten by Jackson wrestling. And he’s hopeful what he accomplished Saturday helps the program for years to come.
Roy became the Vikings’ first Finals champion since 1975.
“I’ve always known I could do it. I’m glad I finally did,” Roy said. “I thought it was going to be last year. I lost to Nick (West of Lincoln Park) in the second round, came back (and defeated him), took third. I knew I was winning it this year. I wasn’t going to let anybody stop me.”
He’s also hopeful his championship run will spark the sport at his school.
“It will encourage people to come out and try it,” he said, “get some better wrestlers in there next year.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Davison’s Alex Facundo raises the traditional four fingers signifying his fourth Finals title Saturday at Wings Event Center. (Middle) Clarkston’s Ashton Anderson works to get control of his opponent’s legs at 125 pounds. (Below) Brighton’s Mason Shrader applies some leverage during his championship match win at 140. (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.)