By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half
DETROIT – Alex Facundo knew the wrestler and the impressive wrestling resume he had in front of him.
But that didn't faze the Davison freshman.
Facundo, who came in with a pretty impressive youth resume of his own, and a top-10 national ranking, won one of the most anticipated matches of the weekend at the MHSAA Individual Finals at Ford Field when he beat Detroit Catholic Central two-time champion Cameron Amine, 4-2, in their Division 1 152-pound title match Saturday evening.
"He was a two-time state champ, so he was pretty good, but look at my stuff," said Facundo, who ended his freshman season with an umblemished 29-0 record. "I love the underdog role. I had nothing to lose out there. I was a freshman coming in wrestling a junior, a two-time state champ, so I just went out and had fun."
Facundo showed talent on his feet, and scored the lone takedown of the match.
"The key were my shots," said Facundo, who ended his year with a 29-0 record. "He tried to be a bully, pushing me around and stuff, so I had to become a bully, too."
Amine ended his year at 43-3.
Champion: Brock Prater, Macomb Dakota, Soph. (51-3)
Decision, 8-2, over Blake Noonan, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Soph. (46-1)
The Macomb Dakota wrestling program has molded many talented wrestlers in the recent past, but none were able to win that elusive title.
That was until Prater beat Noonan 8-2 in their title match.
"I have never felt this way before," said Prater after his win. "I won five MYWAY state titles, but that never really felt this good. I'm really kind of speechless. I have been working for this all year long. There were a lot of time where I wanted to give up, but I stuck with it."
Champion: Andrew Chambal, Davison, Soph. (35-3)
Decision, 7-1, over Nick Alayan, Macomb Dakota, Jr. (49-2)
Last weekend at the MHSAA Team Finals in Kalamazoo, Chambal had a rough weekend, bumping up a weight and losing two matches.
But he came back strong this weekend, winning all four of his matches and taking home the 112-pound title.
"I was wrestling up a weight class last weekend, but I was also doing it to get better," Chambal said. "I learned from my losses, and I worked harder this week. (I was) more crisp on my shots."
Champion: Benyamin Kamali, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (35-1)
Decision, 9-4, over Mark Brado, Waterford Kettering, Jr. (44-6)
It's on to the University of Virginia for Kamali, who ended his highly successful high school career by winning his third championship.
"This is special, you know," Kamali said. "To be mentioned with all of the other three-timers, that's special. It proves that all the hard work that I have put in has paid off. It feels great. I wrestled my match.
"I'm excited to bring this momentum to the Division I level," Kamali added. "I want to wrestle the same way there. I want to dominate."
Champion: Michael Mars, Westland John Glenn, Sr. (52-0)
Decision, 5-1, over Kyle Kantola, Hartland, Jr. (55-2)
Mars is his own harsh critic.
The Westland John Glenn senior had just won his third title Saturday evening with a hard-fought 5-1 win over Kantola, but didn't like how he performed – showing a mentality that no doubt contributed to his becoming a multi-year champion.
"I feel good, but I wish I did better in that finals match," Mars said. "I won, so I am proud of it. I thought I wrestled pretty good this year, so I am proud of that, too. I just wish I could have wrestled better in that finals match."
Champion: Joshua Edmond, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (24-0)
Decision, 7-4, over Jared Riggins, Jackson, Jr. (35-3)
Two highly athletic and talented wrestlers took to the mat during the 130-pound final, and the Detroit Catholic Central sophomore showed he had just a little more in his tank while also going back to the basics.
"I just needed to stay on pace and keep in good position," Edmond said. "Also hand fighting, I knew I needed to stay in good position and keep hand fighting. It was stuff like that, staying to the basics."
Champion: Derek Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (39-5)
Decision, 8-5, over Sergio Borg, Oxford, Sr. (46-6)
Not many times was a Detroit Catholic Central wrestler considered an underdog this weekend.
That may have been the case in the 135-pound final.
But Gilcher showed just how much he has learned in the DCC practice room, as he pressured his way into an 8-5 win and his first title.
"I feel very excited with how I performed," Gilcher said. "I just didn't let off the whole time. I always try and keep constant pressure, and that's what gave me the win."
Champion: Nick Freeman, Walled Lake Central, Sr. (29-0)
Decision, 2-0, over Anthony Gibson, Westland John Glenn, Sr. (51-5)
Winning MHSAA titles is a Freeman family tradition.
One year after his older brother Ben Freeman won his fourth MHSAA championship for Walled Lake Central, senior Nick Freeman won his second.
"We are competitive, and we like to win," Nick Freeman said of his family. "Every single competition we enter, we give it our all. If that doesn't work out, whatever."
It has worked out the past five years for the Freeman family.
Champion: Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (41-3)
Decision, 7-1, over Vic Schoenherr, Bay City Western, Jr. (47-3)
Just like last week at the Team Finals, when Detroit Catholic Central gets on a roll, it's hard to stop.
That was the case Saturday at Ford Field, as Davenport was the fourth straight Shamrock to win a championship, claiming his third with a decisive 7-1 win over Schoenherr.
"This feels great," Davenport said. "To follow suit with the rest of my teammates. We already had three guys that won, and I wanted to do whatever it took to keep that momentum going."
Champion: William Marano, Dearborn Edsel Ford, Sr. (56-0)
Decision, 10-5, over River Shettler, Hartland, Jr. (44-4)
Edsel Ford senior Marano did something Saturday that hadn't been accomplished in 33 years.
He won an MHSAA wrestling title for his school.
"The last state champ at the school was in 1985; it was Scott Wyka," Marano said. "He was a heavyweight, and he was up in the stands. I had a lot of friends and family here for my support, and this feels so amazing."
And he left little doubt.
"All season I wanted this like no on else," Marano said. "I just kept the pressure on and kept moving out there."
Champion: Layne Malczewski, Macomb Dakota, Sr. (54-0)
Decision, 5-0, over Cal Stefanko, Davison, Jr. (40-4)
The fourth time was the charm for Malczewski
This weekend was his fourth trip to the Finals. In his three previous three, he came home with medals, but not that elusive championship.
"Those years in the past helped me for this year," Malczewski said. "Obviously I have been working hard, but this summer I put extra time in, and that helped out."
Champion: Benjamin Cushman, Flushing, Sr. (53-0)
Major Decision, 16-5, over Jacob Ransom, Traverse City West, Sr. (44-6)
Not many times in the upper weight divisions do you see a wrestler drop down a weight class to compete. Most of the time, a body's growth dictates that the big men keep growing.
That wasn't the case for Cushman, who won a Division 1 title at 215 pounds last year, then came back this year and won at 189.
"We kind of flip a coin every year, and last year Coach wanted me to go 215 pounds, so I did it," Cushman said. "And this year it didn't matter as much, so we decided I go 189 pounds."
Asked which title was harder to win, there was no hesitating.
"Two hundred and 15 pounds, they were bigger," Cushman said.
Champion: Easton Turner, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (36-1)
Fall, 5:28, over Blake Wingate, Temperance Bedford, Jr. (41-9)
Sacrifice is a regular part of wrestling.
This past fall, Turner gave up football to concentrate on his winter sport – and won his first MHSAA Finals championship.
"All the extra work I put in after practice, and not playing football to put in extra work, it all paid off in the end,” Turner said.
Champion: Austin Emerson, Temperance Bedford, Sr. (48-3)
Decision, 5-1, over Steven Kolcheff, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (31-8)
Last season, Emerson lost at the Finals to a Detroit Catholic Central wrestler.
He wasn't going to let that happen again.
A year after dropping a heart-wrenching 3-2 loss to the Shamrocks’ Nicholas Jenkins, Emerson beat DCC sophomore Kolcheff 5-1.
"I just kept working on repetitions on what I was drilling, putting myself in situations," Emerson said. "And I also blew my lungs out, really working on my conditioning. That really helped me this year."
PHOTO: Davison freshman Alex Facundo locks up Detroit Catholic Central’s Cameron Amine on the way to claiming his first Division 1 title. (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.)