By Nick Hankins
Special for Second Half
AUBURN HILLS – Kam Bush gave the Grandville High School wrestling program and his community something to cheer about Saturday at a time when cheers were fewer than usual at the end of a wrestling season.
Because of an unfortunate oversight, the Grandville wrestling team, and most of the individuals on the team, were unable to wrestle in the MHSAA Tournament because the team had too many competition dates during the regular season.
Bush, along with three teammates, were able to compete in the postseason because they missed some of the earlier events with injuries or illnesses. Bush made the most of the opportunity, winning a Division 1 title at The Palace of Auburn Hills with a 7-6 win over Ryan Morgan of Rochester at 152 pounds.
“This feels amazing knowing that all of the hard work paid off.” Bush said. “(I knew) that this state championship isn’t just for me, but for the whole program. Winning this state championship means a lot to me, but all of the guys that couldn’t wrestle feel like state champs, just like I do right now.
“(Grandville coach Bubba Gritter) told us four we were still eligible to wrestle, and he nailed it in our brains that he was sorry for everything that happened, it is now over and we are representing Grandville and we need to come out strong and show everyone we are the Bulldogs,” added Bush, who ended his season with a 44-2 record.
Gritter said it was a lesson learned for his program.
“We brought all 14 guys down so they could experience this tonight.” Gritter said. “This was a tough year, and it is bittersweet for me. It was a good finish to the season, the best way it could finish for our program.”
Champion: Benyamin Kamali, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (20-1)
Decision, 10-8 SV-1, over Ravon Foley, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Jr. (57-1)
Kamali was part of a special night for the Shamrocks, as he was one of five Detroit Catholic Central champions.
The Shamrocks were 5 for 5 on the night in title-deciding matches.
“I feel amazing, amazing,” Kamali said. “I just kept pushing the pace. I lost to him at Regionals, and I knew I could beat him. It’s just awesome knowing all the hard work you put in pays off. I knew he was tired, so I pushed the pace in overtime to get the takedown.”
Champion: Michael Mars, Westland John Glenn, Soph. (52-2)
Fall, 1:09, over Max Johnson, Davison, Sr. (30-1)
Mars may have been a little nervous before his championship match with Johnson, but it sure didn’t show.
Mars wasted little time in winning his second title, pinning Johnson in one minute, nine seconds.
“It feels really good,” Mars said. “I was a little worried at the beginning of the match, but I stayed calm and finished the match. It feels amazing finishing with a pin and hearing the crowd roar.”
Champion: Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central, Fr. (47-3)
Decision, 8-1, over AJ Facundo, Davison, Soph. (31-10)
Davenport proved he is one of the top freshmen in a strong freshmen class statewide this year.
He handled returning champion Facundo, 8-1, in their 119-pound match.
“I feel really ecstatic right now,” Davenport said. “All the hard work I am putting in has paid off. I want to thank my family, God, my coaches and all my siblings for supporting me all of these years. I knew that if I just kept working hard, it would pay off.”
Champion: Cameron Amine, Detroit Catholic Central, Fr. (39-9)
Decision, 6-0, Donte Rivera-Garcia, Southgate Anderson, Jr. (54-3)
Another Detroit Catholic Central contender, another championship. And another impressive win, as Amine beat past finalist Rivera-Garcia, 6-0.
“I feel great right now,” Amine said. “We were five for five as a team. It was a lot of motivation watching everyone win in front of me.
“I come from a great wrestling family that helps me and inspires me to be my best everyday.”
Champion: Noah Schoenherr, Bay City Western, Jr. (49-2)
Decision, 7-6, over Tyler Sanders, Macomb Dakota, Soph. (55-7)
A move up in divisions didn’t affect Noah Schoenherr. He came back off his loss in the Division 2 Finals a year ago with an exciting 7-6 win over Sanders.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Schoenherr said. “It was the last match of the year. I had to give it everything, all I had to get it done.
“My goal was to beat my brother Chris (in MHSAA titles won; Chris won last season at 145). He helps me whenever he can, mainly on my feet. I learned a lot from last year being a runner-up. I was nervous, and being there helped me with my mindset this year.”
Champion: Ben Freeman, Walled Lake Central, Jr. (42-0)
Fall, 1:18, over John Siemasz, Westland John Glenn, Jr. (52-4)
He’s arguably the best wrestler in the state in all divisions, and Ben Freeman proved that this weekend, winning four matches on his way to his third MHSAA championship.
His last came with a pin in one minute, 18 seconds.
“That was pretty cool to finish a tournament like that,” Freeman said. “Yesterday I felt sluggish, but I felt really good in my warm up today – I was ready to go. I just need to stay focused. I set my goals high, so when I get nervous I just think of what I want to accomplish as an ultimate goal – it makes it seem really small.”
Champion: Reece Hughes, Hartland, Jr. (51-4)
Decision, 7-3, over Alex Hrisopoulos, Oxford, Sr. (51-6)
It’s been a great two weeks for Hartland junior Reece Hughes.
A week after helping his team win its first MHSAA championship, he won his own individual title with a 7-3 decision over rival Hrisopoulos.
“I feel amazing right now; this feels great,” Hughes said. “I knew he was not going to stop, so I knew I had to have him wrestle my pace and my way. So I slowed him down to set up shots better.”
About the team championship, he added: “We have two state championship titles in one week. I am proud of my team and how hard we worked all year. This is for all my practice partners: Sage Castillo, Noah Lopez and all of the captains, everyone who was working hard, who got me here to win this title. I am not taking any solo credit for this; it was our team.”
Champion: Nathan Atienza, Livonia Franklin, Jr. (57-0)
Fall 0:42 over Kajuan Caldwell, Bloomfield Hills, Sr. (26-1)
Atienza wasted little time in realizing his dream of an MHSAA championship.
He pinned Caldwell in 42 seconds, and just as quickly, jumped to his feet and acknowledged the roaring crowd.
“I feel amazing right now,” Atienza said. “I feel like I am on top of the world right now. I was feeling really confident in myself going out there, and I knew there was nothing he could do to stop me – it was mine this year.”
Champion: Blake Montrie, Temperance Bedford, Sr. (51-1)
Decision, 2-0 SV1, over Nate Vandermeer, Clarkston, Sr. (47-6)
History repeated itself for Temperance Bedford senior Blake Montrie.
Last year he won an MHSAA title in overtime, and this year he did the same.
“It was almost the exact same as last year,” Montrie said. “I finished them both in overtime. (Coach Kevin Vogel) pushes us so hard in the room. I honestly think we are in better condition than anyone in the state. I can go forever, and he has prepared me for that.”
Champion: Tyler Morland, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (45-1)
Decision, 6-2, over Devon Pingel, Lapeer, Sr. (50-4)
Morland wanted to avenge his only loss of the year, and went against his rival to do it.
Staying in the 171-pound weight class, Moreland beat Pingel to win his first championship.
“I purposely went 171 this year (for the postseason) because this was my only loss of the year,“ Morland said. “I came back and beat the kid I lost to; that was all I wanted. I could have gone 189, but that was all I wanted. I prepared for this match, and my coaches got me ready to win. I learned from the loss that I needed to be in better condition, and my coaches prepared me for that. It means everything to join the list of state champs at Catholic Central.”
Champion: Brenden McRill, Davison, Jr. (38-2)
Decision, 7-6 TB1, over Nicholas May, Kalamazoo Loy Norrix, Sr. (50-1)
On a tough night for Davison finalists, McRill brought home a title for the Cardinals with a hard-fought 7-6 overtime win.
McRill was one of three Davison finalists, but the only one to earn a championship.
“I knew this was going to be a fight,” McRill said. “I studied his state finals match from last year. I wanted this match. It was a good feeling. I got a stall called on me to go into overtime, and it was my fault. I have to get on the attack more to get it done. It feels great to be a state champ for Davison. I feel we have the best wrestling program in the nation. Our coaches are the best around, and it is an honor to wrestle for them.”
Champion: Lucas Ready, Brighton, Sr. (41-1)
Fall, 1:57, over Sam Kinne, Lapeer, Soph. (48-9)
Ready was just as impressive winning his second title as he was winning his first.
“This feels pretty good; it feels just like last year,” Ready said. ”It was a lot of fun. I did not expect to pin him that quick. My gameplan was to finish the match as quick as I could, and I executed it tonight. I trained all summer to get back to the top of the podium this year.”
Champion: Nicholas Jenkins, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (39-10)
Decision, 5-1, over Ali Wahab, Dearborn Heights Crestwood, Sr. (60-1)
In one of the biggest upsets of the night, Jenkins beat undefeated and returning runner-up Wahab.
“It was crazy as time expired,” Jenkins said. “I feel amazing right now. I am on top of the world. A lot of preparation and a lot of hard work over the past year have led me to this point. Our coaches have prepared me to get to this point in my career, and we had a game plan going into this match, and I was able execute.”
The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.
PHOTO: Grandville's Kam Bush wrestles an opponent from Midland in his first-round match Thursday; on Saturday, he won the Division 1 title at 152 pounds. (Click to see more at 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.)