AUBURN HILLS – Hudson sophomore Jordan Hamdan didn’t just want to win a Division 4 title Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills – he also wanted to impress his older brother, Roddy.
Hamdan accomplished both, defeating Jackson Lumen Christi’s Spencer Good 3-2 in a matchup of returning MHSAA champions in the 119-pound Final.
“It means more, because he kind of helped me get this good,” said Hamdan, who had his brother – a Division 4 champion in 2013 – in his corner as an assistant coach during the match. “We’ve been always wrestling with each other since we were really young, and I’ve been looking up to him. So it was kind of a big deal to me – I wanted to impress him.”
Hamdan scored an early takedown in the match, then was forced to switch up his strategy as Good clamped down defensively on his feet.
“I knew I was ahead, and I knew he couldn’t hold me down,” Hamdan said. “So I had to keep it even and keep it close since I couldn’t score on my feet, and then I knew he wouldn’t be able to score if I was still being offensive in the third period.”
Hamdan and Good, a senior, were each looking for their second title, as they both won at 112 a year ago – Hamdan in Division 4 and Good in Division 3. With two titles in two years as a high schooler, Hamdan is now thinking big.
“It was kind of like a dream more than a goal,” Hamdan said. “And I guess my dream is becoming a reality, slowly. It’s a process. I’ve been working out all summer, in the season and offseason for this, and getting prepared as much as I possibly can for this tournament.”
Champion: Reese Fry, Manchester, Jr. (51-1)
Major decision, 10-0, over Jamison Ward, Carson City-Crystal, Fr. (52-3)
Fry learned some lessons in his first two trips to the Palace.
“(I learned) how to push myself,” Fry said. “How to develop and just grow as a wrestler – fundamentally and mentally.”
Fry turned those lessons into a Finals title, as he defeated Carson City-Crystal’s freshman sensation Jamison Ward.
The Manchester junior controlled the match throughout, scoring a takedown in each period, and taking Ward to his back in the second.
“I kept in control,” Fry said. “I just wrestled the match I wanted to wrestle.”
Champion: Noah Comar, Clinton, Soph. (51-0)
Decision, 3-1 (OT), over Tucker Sholl, Hudson, Soph. (33-3)
It was a Hudson wrestler that stopped Comar’s title bid a year ago. He wasn’t going to let a Tiger get in his way again.
Comar scored a takedown in overtime to defeat returning champion Tucker Sholl and finish off a perfect sophomore season. Comar lost in the 2016 112-pound Final against Sholl’s teammate, Jordan Hamdan.
“My strategy was just to push the pace and catch him off guard,” Comar said. “I guess it worked, because I got the ankle and got a takedown. I had to push the pace. My greatest defense was my offense. … It was sweet revenge.”
Champion: Skyler Crespo, Mendon, Fr. (52-1)
Decision, 3-1, over Robert LeFevre, Erie Mason, Sr. (48-5)
Crespo couldn’t stop moving after winning the 125-pound title. Despite just finishing a hard-fought match against returning champion Robert LeFevre, Crespo still found the energy to jog in place.
“I’m so excited,” he said. “There’s been a lot of time and work put into this.”
The Mendon freshman capped off a remarkable first high school season by taking LeFevre down in the first period, and holding him off the rest of the way. Now, the inevitable four-time champion discussions will begin, and Crespo is ready for them.
“Get back to work as soon as I can,” Crespo said. “Monday morning, I’ll be doing something. Running or whatever it is.”
Champion: Robert Rogers, Burton Bentley, Jr. (43-1)
Decision, 9-4, over Nick Felt, Shelby, Soph. (49-2)
Rogers claimed his second straight title, jumping out to a 7-2 lead before holding off big-move attempts from Shelby’s Felt.
“In those situations, most people are going to throw,” Rogers said. “I’ve been in those situations before, and I’ve been on the big stage, so I know what it takes to win. With 20 seconds left, I’m not going to let you do your moves; I’m going to do mine.”
While Rogers called upon his big-match experience in the waning moments, he didn’t let his status as a returning champion allow him to get overconfident.
“You have to come in here thinking that you could win or lose,” he said. “You can’t just come in here thinking, ‘Oh, I’m a returning state champion and I’m going to win.’ I came in thinking, ‘You know what, I’m just another guy on the chart, and anyone can beat me.’ So I had to go out there and show everyone that I can beat them.”
Champion: Ethan Woods, Manchester, Sr. (49-2)
Decision, 5-0, over Jayce Kuehnlein, St. Louis, Jr. (45-6)
After falling one win short of a title in each of the last two years, Ethan Woods climbed to the top of the podium as a senior.
“It feels great,” an emotional Woods said. “Everything that I’ve worked for my whole life finally paid off. I put so much time in training for this my whole life. I could have wrestled better and I should have, but I did what I needed to win, and I finally accomplished what I set out to do, and it feels great.”
Woods got an early takedown, and controlled the match throughout, even if the scoring may not have been there.
“Each year, my confidence and composure has built and developed, and I’m able to handle all the pressure and the nerves,” Woods said. “Obviously I still put a lot of pressure on myself, because I just won but I don’t feel like I wrestled as good as I could have. But I think (three previous trips to the MHSAA Finals) helped me prepare mentally.”
Champion: Sean O’Hearon, Springport, Sr. (42-0)
Technical fall, 26-11 (4:46), over Braxton Seida, Carson City-Crystal, Soph. (49-5)
O’Hearon put on a takedown clinic on his way to a dominant victory.
The Springport senior took Carson City-Crystal’s Seida down 12 times – and added a reversal – on his way to his second straight title.
“I came into the state meet basically making it my goal to tech every single person here,” O’Hearon said. “I guess I was able to do that, so that’s a win.”
Making the title more special was the fact O’Hearon was able to share it with his cousin, Austin, who won the 145-pound title in Division 2 for Eaton Rapids.
“It’s even more awesome because my cousin won, too,” Sean O’Hearon said. “In my senior year, we both win, that’s something not many people can have.”
Champion: Konnor Holton, St. Louis, Sr. (46-3)
Decision, 6-4 (OT), over Noah Niemen, Blissfield, Sr. (29-3)
For the first time since 1967, St. Louis has a Finals champion. Konnor Holton got a takedown in overtime to knock off Noah Niemen and become the Sharks’ second MHSAA title winner.
“I knew he was going to get deep, and I knew that if I got into a scramble position, it was my match,” Holton said. “I knew as soon as I got him uncomfortable, it was my match.”
Holton held a 4-3 lead late in the match, but was hit for fleeing the mat to tie things up and send it to overtime. He bounced back in the extra period, however, capitalizing on his second trip to the Finals after falling a win short a year ago.
“I can’t even describe it right now,” Holton said. “My heart is all over the place.”
Champion: Gerrit Yates, Hesperia, Jr. (37-1)
Pin, 2:22, over Zack Menck, Lawton, Jr. (54-4)
Yates decided to add basketball to his winter athletics load this year. While he thinks it may be hurting him a bit on the mat, you’d be hard-pressed to tell.
Yates came through in his third straight Finals appearance, winning by second-period pin.
“It’s great to win it, but I didn’t wrestle near my ability,” Yates said. “Probably right after this, I’m going to go work in the wrestling room some more, get in the weight room.”
Menck held a 6-5 lead in the match after one period, but Yates took him straight to his back from their feet early in the second to earn the pin.
“The whole match, he was wrestling kind of defensive, staying back and then jumping at me,” Yates said. “I kind of timed it, as soon as I saw him faking, I sat back and tossed him because I saw it coming. I knew I had to go for something big.”
Champion: Tanner Gonzales, Manistique, Sr. (46-0)
Decision, 5-4 (2 OT), over Johnathon Stid, Dansville, Sr. (38-7)
As Gonzales recognized the fans who had made the long trip to the Palace from the Upper Peninsula, one of them shouted to him, “Manistique in the house!”
“I’m the third U.P. champ, and they haven’t had one in a while,” Gonzales said. “So it’s exciting for the whole U.P. and Manistique. It’s a small town, and they’ve never had a state champ in anything.”
Now they do, as Gonzales scored a reversal late in the second period of the second overtime and held on for the win.
“Just hang on,” Gonzales said of his strategy for the final seven seconds. “I hadn’t had a stall call yet, so if I took a stall call, I wasn’t too worried about it.”
Champion: Dylan Smith, Bad Axe, Sr. (47-4)
Decision, 3-2, over David Erwin, Bronson, Sr. (53-3)
A third-period takedown lifted Smith to Bad Axe’s first championship since 1991.
“It’s amazing,” Smith said. “I came in and got sixth last year. This is a lot better feeling.”
Smith and Bronson’s Erwin were tied at 1 in the third period before Smith’s takedown gave him a 3-1 lead. Erwin was able to get away and pull within one, but Smith fought him off.
“I was ready for the shot,” Smith said. “Coach was expecting it. I was ready to sprawl off his quick shot.”
Champion: Tylor Grames, Hudson, Sr. (41-12)
Decision, 5-3 (OT), over Erik Birchmeier, New Lothrop, Sr. (31-3)
A week ago Grames knocked off Birchmeier to kick off Hudson’s march to a team title.
On Saturday, he needed extra time, but again came out on top against the returning champion from New Lothrop.
“I changed it up from wanting the team to do good, to inspiring everyone that was up there watching to want to do good,” Grames said. “Last week when we wrestled he would post a lot, and I capitalized by making my shots. This week, he barely posted, which made it five times harder.”
Grames had to fight off a near takedown from Birchmeier late in regulation to force overtime.
“Fear,” Grames said. “Fear. I really wanted to make my hometown proud, and I was scared that I wouldn’t, so that’s what drove me on.”
Champion: Devon Kozel, Bangor, Sr. (48-1)
Decision, 9-3, over Nick Cooper, Springport, Sr. (40-4)
Kozel was a runner-up a year ago, but he left little doubt Saturday night against returning champion Cooper of Springport.
“I had to redeem myself,” Kozel said.
Kozel had three takedowns and a reversal to control the match and earn a third straight win against Cooper.
“Just have to stay tough on our feet,” Kozel said. “I know where you have to win the match at.”
Champion: Logan Kennedy, Decatur, Sr. (58-2)
Decision, 6-4, over Zach Bailey, Hudson, Sr. (41-10)
Losing wasn’t an option for Kennedy.
After finishing as a runner-up a year ago, and falling behind late in his title match Saturday against Hudson’s Bailey, Kennedy turned up the pace to force overtime and eventually win his first MHSAA championship.
“I just knew I had to something,” Kennedy said. “He’d already been hit with a warning for stalling, so I thought if I went at him, I could get another stalling call and send it to overtime. I love wrestling in the third period because I feel so much better than the other wrestlers.”
He continued that aggression into overtime, where he finished off a dream season.
“It’s been my dream my whole entire life,” he said. “Ever since I started wrestling, I knew I wanted to be a state champion.”
PHOTO: Hudson’s Jordan Hamdan (left) and Jackson Lumen Christi’s Spencer Good face off in the Division 4 Final at 119 pounds Saturday. (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.)