With Final Takedown, Goodrich's Phipps Arrives at Championship Destination

By Drew Ellis
Special for Second Half

March 4, 2023

DETROIT – A journey that had been 13 years in the making finally ended with a dream come true for Goodrich junior Easton Phipps.

Since he began wrestling at age 4, Phipps had been focused only on winning a state title.

At Saturday’s Division 2 Individual Finals, Phipps (41-4) had to tap into everything he had worked for to win the 190-pound championship.

After a 1-1 tie through three periods with Clio’s Jacob Marrs (37-5), the two remained tied after the sudden victory stage.

Things came down to the ultimate tiebreaker, which saw Phipps score a takedown to win.

“That state title is what was pushing me,” Phipps said. “I wanted to avenge all my teammates that didn’t get the shot to get a state title. I worked for them and the whole town. I get my picture on the wrestling room wall now.”

The junior said his championship match just came down to will power, as the two cancelled each other out in skill.

“I don’t really know what to say; the skill wasn’t there, it was just about toughness when it got into overtime,” Phipps said.


Champion: Brady Baker, Stevensville Lakeshore, Soph. (48-2)
Major Decision, 9-1, over Cristian Haslem, St. Clair, Fr. (46-2)

Baker had control throughout the whole match as the sophomore took home his first Finals championship.

He hit multiple takedowns and a reversal to keep Haslem from getting into the match.

“Things played out well,” Baker said. “I was getting into my attacks, scoring early and often. That’s what you have to do if you want to win.”

Baker failed to place at last year’s Finals and was motivated all season because of that. That motivation pushed him to a championship.

“It means a lot to not place last year and come in this year and win a state title,” Baker said. “It had been on my mind a lot, but there’s still bigger things to come.”


Champion: Malachi Kapenga, Hamilton, Soph. (48-4)
Decision 6-4 (OT) over Carter Cichocki, Lowell, Soph. (31-9)

The longest seconds of Kapenga’s life occurred as he awaited a referee’s decision at the end of the third period.

Trailing Cichocki 4-3, Kapenga managed to score an escape as the round ended, but also looked as if he may have had a takedown. Referees conferenced on whether he escaped in time, or even potentially won.

After ruling Kapenga got the escape point, he then went on to score a takedown in sudden victory to win his first Finals championship.

“I just was waiting and praying that they would at least give me one point,” Kapenga said. “I knew if I got the one point, I was at least still in the match. I was expecting a win or a loss, so getting the point, I was happy to at least be going into overtime.”

The match with Cichocki was back-and-forth, with both wrestlers holding leads during the first three rounds.

“It was a hard-fought match, and I had to be smart with my shots,” Kapenga said. “To win feels amazing. I have been working very hard toward it.”


Champion: Jackson Blum, Lowell, Soph. (39-3)
23-8 Technical Fall (4:52) over Tayden Miller, Mason, Sr. (37-2)

Blum was very workmanlike in winning a second championship.

The Lowell sophomore scored takedown after takedown to pick up the tech fall victory in the third period.

“There can be some built-up anxiety as you approach the match, but it’s just about getting into what you know you can do and the pressure goes away,” Blum said.

The pressure of a second consecutive title never seemed to get to Blum during the season, as he kept his focus on getting better each day.

“You feel that pressure, but you just have to block it out and do what you do in practice each day,” Blum said. “If you put in the work, the rest takes care of itself.”


Champion: Marcello Milani, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Sr. (50-0)
Decision, 3-0, over Bryce Shingelton, Linden, Sr. (45-3)

Milani had to wrestle a flawless match to get past Shingelton.

A first-round takedown got him off to a good start, and an escape in the third was the insurance point he needed to grind out the victory.

“I was just trusting in my wrestling, trusting in what I could do,” Milani said of what carried him through the match. “I have trained for this and had to trust that I did the work.”

The Orchard Lake St. Mary’s senior was able to cap off his career with a perfect 50-0 record on top of the title.

“This is something I really wanted since I was a freshman,” Milani said. “I am really glad I got to close it out this year.”


Champion: Grant Stahl, Mount Pleasant, Sr. (41-0)
Decision, 12-9, over Aaron Lucio, Stevensville Lakeshore, Sr. (49-2)

The long road to a Finals championship brought a lot of tough moments for Stahl, but it paid off Saturday.

The Oilers senior finished his career with a perfect season record capped by a 12-9 thriller against Lucio.

“This means everything. I had finished second and third and missed a year because of COVID,” Stahl said. “I have given everything to get this, and it feels incredible to finally get it. I wanted it so bad.”

Stahl was able to go up 8-1 thanks to a set of near-fall points early in the third period. He then had to fend off an aggressive Lucio to hang on for the championship.

“(Lucio) just shot in deep and he was sitting there, so I just reached back and hooked his arm, tilted him up and that was the difference,” Stahl said.


Champion: Jayden Schwartz, Charlotte, Sr. (52-2)
Decision, 11-5, over Owen Segorski, Lowell, Soph. (29-7)

Trailing 4-2 going into the third period, Jayden Schwartz knew it was time to go into overdrive.

Trusting in his stamina, Schwartz came out aggressive in the third and scored nine points to get past Segorski, a 2022 champion.

“All the work I have put in over the last few weeks, it was all for that third period,” Schwartz said. “I knew I had the stamina for the third to really push the pace.”

The top-seeded Schwartz finished with 52 wins while ending his prep career as a champion.

“This feels amazing,” Schwartz said of the title. “It hasn’t really hit me yet, but all the hard work really paid off.”


Champion: CJ Poole, Lowell, Sr. (31-8)
Injury Stoppage (5:00) over Louden Stradling, Gaylord, Sr. (50-1)

The final match of the night ended with unfortunate circumstances.

Tied 1-1 in the third, Poole shot in for a takedown on Stradling. The two collided heads and the impact from the shot, which finished out of the circle, left Stradling unable to continue.

Stradling suffered a head injury, and the match was ruled over and awarded to Poole.

“He’s a back-up-and-shoot kind of wrestler and I saw he was backing up and getting ready to shoot, so I shot for a double. He lowered his level and we hit heads and I was just trying to drive through on my shot,” Poole said.

The way the match ended wasn’t likely how Poole envisioned it, but he’s still grateful to be a champion.

“It still feels amazing,” Poole said of the title. “It’s been a lot of work.”


Champion: Trevor Swiss, Petoskey, Sr. (47-0)
Decision, 10-4, over Jack Conley, Lake Fenton, Sr. (31-3)

Swiss completed an unbeaten season, and the Petoskey senior never trailed in this match.

Going into the third period tied 4-4, Swiss picked up the pace and outscored Conley 6-0 to secure the championship.

“I knew I had to work, so I just came out knowing I needed to make something happen,” Swiss said. “I was able to capitalize when he got off-balanced, so I managed to put him on his back.”

Despite the unbeaten season, it was the Finals title that Swiss had been craving all year, fulfilling a childhood dream.

“This is what I have been dreaming of since I was in first grade,” Swiss said. “It feels amazing, and I really can’t put it into words.”

Jackson Northwest’s Zach Jacobs, front, works to break the hold of Pontiac’s Cory Thomas Jr. on Saturday.


Champion: Cory Thomas Jr., Pontiac, Jr. (26-0)
Decision, 5-1, over Zach Jacobs, Jackson Northwest, Sr. (39-3)

After a scoreless first period, Thomas Jr. managed to ride out Jacobs in the second period to keep the match at 0-0.

In the third, Thomas Jr. knew he had put himself in position to win, which he did with an early escape and two takedowns during the closing two minutes.

“I work really hard at home, and I think that showed in being able to get those late takedowns,” Thomas Jr. said. “I was able to just keep pushing through.”

Thomas Jr. placed third at the 2021 D1 Finals at 125 pounds wrestling for Detroit Catholic Central, but being able to come back this year to win a title for Pontiac was even more rewarding.

“It’s been a crazy journey. I’m just so happy to be able to experience this,” Thomas Jr. said.


Champion: Philip Lamka, Fenton, Jr. (44-2)
Decision, 6-5, over Max Macklem, Goodrich, Soph. (33-5)

After placing third at last year’s Finals, Lamka wouldn’t let himself experience disappointment again.

He trailed Macklem 5-4 in the third period, but scored a late takedown to edge his opponent by one point.

“I’ve worked so hard for this all year,” Lamka said. “After last year, this is all I wanted. Coming up short in the semifinals in overtime to the eventual champ (in 2022) was hard. Coming in, I had one job to do and that was to win. I got it done.”

Following the victory, Lamka dropped to his knees and took in the moment.

“This is everything I have worked for my whole life,” Lamka said. “After coming up short before, (the emotions) just flood you.”


Champion: Brayden Gautreau, Gaylord, Sr. (52-1)
Decision, 3-1 (OT), over Carson Crace, Lowell, Sr. (33-6)

For Gautreau to come up with a second-consecutive championship, he needed a little more time. The senior was tied 1-1 with Crace through three periods after each scored an escape.

In OT, the past champ showed his mettle and came through with a takedown to earn the victory.

“I was on my stuff,” Gautreau said of the OT period. “(Crace) did a good job of keeping me off during most of the match. I just kept attacking, and it eventually paid off.”

Gautreau won the D2 171-pound title last year but said he never felt a lot of pressure to repeat.

“I didn’t feel a lot of the pressure. I just love wrestling, so I just love being able to compete,” Gautreau said. “You put in a lot of work for these moments, and this is where champions shine.”


Champion: Adam Haselius, Jackson Northwest, Sr. (50-0)
Decision, 5-1, over Joey Scaramuzzino, Croswell-Lexington, Jr. (51-4)

Haselius likes to be consistent, and he was very consistent Saturday night.

The Jackson Northwest senior claimed a second-consecutive Division 2 title after winning at 189 pounds in 2022.

“It feels great to repeat,” Haselius said. “Obviously that has been the goal since last year. It just comes down to consistency for me. Nobody that wins a state championship believes that they can’t win it again.”

Haselius never trailed, as he set the tone early with a takedown and added another in the second period before grinding out the victory in the third.

“I just wanted to keep myself in good positions,” Haselius said of the match. “Once I got the lead, I knew it was on him to bring the pressure, so I just had to wrestle smart.”


Champion: James Mahon, Goodrich, Soph. (14-0)
Decision, 5-4, over Aaron Holstege, Allendale, Sr. (49-1)

Battling through a labrum injury, Mahon managed to ride out Holstege for the final minute to secure a one-point victory.

“In a lot of my matches this year and last year, I’ve had to find ways to win 1-0 or win by one point,” Mahon said. “I’ve always found ways to get it done.”

Mahon trailed 4-3 in the third period, but scored a takedown with a minute left to go ahead and then worked on his top game to earn his first Finals title as a sophomore.

“I really expected this the whole year,” Mahon said. “It was never in doubt for me. Now I have to go and get two more.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Goodrich’s Easton Phipps takes a champion’s photo at Ford Field. (Middle) Jackson Northwest’s Zach Jacobs, front, works to break the hold of Pontiac’s Cory Thomas Jr. on Saturday. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)

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.”

2023 Made In Michigan

July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18:
Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12:
Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: 
Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5:
Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read

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.)