By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half
AUBURN HILLS – After seeing his team’s string of five straight MHSAA team championships come to an end the week before in the Division 4 Final at Kellogg Arena, Hudson senior Cole Weaver was not about to let his high school career end with a loss at the Individual Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
A two-time champion with a perfect record this winter, Weaver was determined to not have a letdown in his title match at 140 pounds against Chase Siersema, a returning finalist from Hesperia.
Weaver capped his career in style as he defeated Siersema 9-4 to win his third straight individual title and finish this season with a 57-0 record.
“I wanted to end my career with a bang,” Weaver said. “I did not want to get beat. I turned it up.”
Weaver, who will continue his wrestling career at Indiana University next season, was solid on his feet as he steadily built a lead against Siersema, who finished the season with a 44-4 mark.
“Takedowns were the key,” Weaver said. “I didn’t think he could beat me on my feet.”
While three individual titles in a row meant a lot to Weaver, the sting of seeing Hudson’s string of team titles snapped was still a painful subject for him.
“That is still a touchy subject,” Weaver said. “It hurts knowing that the string was snapped. It meant a lot to Hudson and to us.”
Champion: Davian Gowens, Hesperia, Soph. (24-3)
Decision, 14-6, over Corey Agens, Hesperia, Sr. (43-9)
Teammates and training partners squared off when Gowens wrestled Agens at 103 pounds. Gowens, who beat his teammate by a single point in both the District and Regional tournaments, steadily built a lead against his teammate in the Final.
“I’m a lot stronger this year,” Gowens said. “I weighed 95 pounds last year.”
Going up against his training partner was not something to which he looked forward.
“We wrestle each other every day,” Gowens said. “It’s very difficult wrestling against your partner. You really don’t want to beat him, but you are in the state finals.”
Champion: Joe Traynham, Onaway, Jr. (43-4)
Major decision, 16-4, over Roddy Hamdan, Hudson, Jr. (45-12)
Coming from Onaway, Traynham showed the crowd at The Palace that there are some serious wrestlers in Northern Michigan as he defeated a returning MHSAA champion with a major decision.
Traynham grabbed the lead early and steadily built it to double figures.
“Anybody can be beat,” Traynham said. “I feel like I put more time into training then anybody here.”
Traynham was making his first trip to the Finals as he was defeated in the second round of consolations at Regionals last year to miss the cut.
“I just worked so hard during the summer,” Traynham said. “I went all over the country wrestling and spent so much time in the weight room.”
All the work paid off in a big way.
“I can’t explain how it feels,” Traynham said. “It’s too good a feeling. This is something that I’ve been working for since the eighth grade.”
Champion: Logan Griffin, Erie-Mason, Jr. (34-4)
Decision, 6-2, over Dresden Simon, Dansville, Soph. (49-4)
Last year, Griffin battled through a shoulder injury at the Finals to win his first title. This season, a healthy Griffin was in command throughout his match with Simon.
“Last year I didn’t have much practice because of my injury,” Griffin said. “This year I was on my A game. I thought I peaked at the right time.”
Griffin also sported a new look at the Finals as his newly-dyed bright blue hair stood out.
“I lost a bet with my teammate,” Simon said. “If I pinned my first kid at Regional he would dye his hair, and if he beat his first kid at Regional I would dye my hair. We ended up both pinning, so we both dyed our hair.
Champion: Zack Yates, Hesperia, Sr. (47-0)
Technical fall, 15-0, over Logan Eaves, Hesperia, Soph. (38-15)
Not only did Yates defeat a teammate when he stopped Eaves, but he also defeated a family member to earn the title as the two are also first cousins.
“You can’t go out there thinking you are wrestling a family member,” Yates said. “You have to go out there and give it your all. You can’t go out there and take it easy.”
For Yates, it was his third straight appearance in the Finals and second straight individual title. Yates also wrapped up the season with a perfect record.
“I was proud that my cousin made it to the Finals,” Yates said. “He had a couple of ranked kids ahead of him, but he pulled it off. I just had to go out there and go as hard as I can.”
Champion: Carter Ballinger, Jonesville, Sr. (47-1)
Decision, 5-3 (OT), over Kyle Barkovich, Lawton, Jr. (50-3)
On the trip up to Auburn Hills from Jonesville on Thursday, Ballinger was not sure he would even be able to wrestle this weekend. Early in the week, Ballinger suffered an allergic reaction to some medicine used to treat a spot staph infection, which left him with a bright red rash on his neck and shoulders.
“I only got an hour and a half of sleep worrying about if I would be able to wrestle or not,” Ballinger said. “I was not sure I would be able to wrestle.”
Ballinger got the green light and took full advantage as he brought home the first title for Jonesville in 40 years.
“My coach was planning to retire after my freshman year, but I sent him a text saying that I was going to win a state title some day, and he decided to stick around,” Ballinger said. “This is just crazy. It’s amazing.”
Champion: Brock Thumm, Watervliet, Sr. (40-0)
Decision, 10-5, over Trenton Roesly, Hesperia, Jr. (50-4)
If not for a shoulder injury suffered last year, Thumm could well have been wrestling for a third consecutive title Saturday.
An MHSAA champion as a sophomore, Thumm suffered a torn labrum in his shoulder early last season. He needed to have three bones shaved and three titanium pins placed in his shoulder and missed the remainder of his junior season.
“I put in a lot of work over the summer and it feels great to come back,” Thumm said. “I worked on my conditioning and to get my shoulder strong.”
The hard work paid off for Thumm, who started strong and never looked back.
“This is very special for me,” Thumm said. “I worked pretty hard for this. I just wanted to end my senior season at state.”
Champion: JD Waters, Hudson, Sr. (49-10)
Fall, 0:51 over Zachary Francis, Lutheran Westland, Sr. (20-4)
The signature move for Hudson wrestlers is the far-side cradle, and Waters wasted little time in executing the move to perfection as he won his second consecutive title.
“The far-side cradle, it’s what Hudson is known for,” Waters said. “All Hudson wrestlers know how to use it, and it came in handy today.”
Waters’ victory at 145 pounds came on the heels of his teammate Weaver’s title at 140, and the wins were a perfect end to the high school careers of the Hudson wrestling standouts who started out as teammates at a young age.
“I love Hudson; there is nowhere else I would want to wrestle,” Waters said. “Cole is my partner, and we have been wrestling together since kindergarten. When we were in junior high school, we would go to the high school meets and see all the bigger guys and say that we wanted to be like that some day.”
Champion: Kyle Johnson, Hudson, Soph. (46-10)
Decision, 5-4 over Ali Rashad, Highland Park Renaissance Academy, Sr. (29-2)
Working in the Hudson wrestling room with champions like Weaver and Waters has proven to be very beneficial for Johnson, a sophomore. After finishing third at the MHSAA Finals at 152 pounds last year, Johnson is starting to work on his own Hudson wrestling legacy as he avenged a loss suffered against Rashad in the Individual Regional.
“He (Rashad) beat me 2-1 at Regionals,” Johnson said. “I knew what I had to do this time. I had to make sure that he didn’t throw me.”
Johnson took an early lead against Rashad and wrestled a solid technical match to earn the win.
“I train for the big moments,” Johnson said. “Wrestling against Cole and JD, you gain so much and learn so much. You know, at a little school like Hudson, when you wrestle against Cole you are going up against someone that is going to Indiana and that makes you so much better. I’m so glad I’m able to train with guys like that.”
Champion: Josh Wendling, New Lothrop, Sr. (56-4)
Decision, 13-7, over Mark Workman, Hesperia, Soph. (27-3)
Wendling added a second straight title and finished his career at New Lothrop with a 202-24 overall record.
After helping New Lothrop win the team title a week ago, Wendling had to guard against a letdown this week.
“I had to keep my mind right,” Wendling said. “Everyone was talking about the team state all week, and it was tough keeping my mind at the task at hand. I thought I was able to do that and keep myself at the top of my game.”
Wendling also had to guard against the high expectations of a returning champion.
“Just because I won it last year, everyone thought I had it locked up this year,” Wendling said. “They thought I would win automatically. Winning this one was awesome. It feels great.”
Champion: Taylor Krupp, New Lothrop, Sr. (56-0)
Decision, 6-5, over Shane Rodenburg, Kent City, Jr. (52-2)
Saturday’s title was vindication for the entire Krupp family.
Last year Taylor lost in overtime in the 160-pound championship match. Taylor’s older brother Justin reached the Finals twice during his career but also came up short both times.
This time Taylor won the title and did it in a big way as he scored a takedown in the final 10 seconds to secure the win. Making the moment even more special was having Justin, a New Lothrop assistant, right there on the mat.
“Justin is my coach, and he was the first one who hugged me after the match,” Taylor said. “It was sweet having Justin there when I finally won it. It was a great brother-bonding moment. It was great to share it with him. He was there to see me lose last year, and now he was here to see me win this year. ”
Making the day even sweeter for the Krupp family was young brother Connor, a freshman, placing fifth at 103 pounds.
Champion: Jacob Cooper, Springport, Jr. (45-2)
Decision, 7-2, over Nathan Philburn, Byron, Sr. (35-5)
After winning the 160-pound title last year, Cooper went up two weight classes this winter. The move up in weight did little to slow him down as he added a second straight title.
“At first it was hard getting used to the new weight class,” Cooper said. “I eventually got used to it and adapted to it.”
Cooper used his quickness and ability to score on his feet to his advantage during the match.
“I knew he was all upper-body,” Cooper said. “I knew I would have some shots. I just had to keep going in.”
With a second MHSAA title under his belt, Cooper already is setting his sights on a three-peat.
“I just have to keep getting better and stronger,” Cooper said. “I have to keep working hard.”
Champion: Kevin Koenig, Laingsburg, Soph. (48-3)
Decision, 14-3, over Patrick Harbin Jr., Detroit Loyola, Jr. (20-1)
After losing in the Final by technical fall last year, Koenig was on a mission this season and he didn’t let up until he captured the first MHSAA title in school history.
“I knew I had him after the first takedown,” Koenig said. “He couldn’t stop it.”
Koenig began wrestling in the third grade.
“I wanted to be the first state champion in school history,” Koenig said. “Ever since the eighth grade I have been working for this.”
Champion: Ryan Prescott, Whittemore-Prescott, Jr. (34-0)
Fall, 2:41, over Nate Boardman, Hillsdale, Sr. (40-2)
It was a second straight title for Prescott, who turned in a dominant season. Prescott took command of his match early and then finished the job with a pin in the second period.
“It feels like I’m on top of the world,” Prescott said.
A three-time MHSAA finalist, Prescott lost by one point in the title match as a freshman and then won the by decision last year. This time around Prescott won the title in a big way, and he credits his improvement to hard work and experience.
“Maturity,” Prescott said. “My maturity really helped me. I feel I am such a better wrestler and much stronger. I have improved a lot since last year. I worked so hard during the summer. Training and going to camps.”
PHOTO: Hudson's Cole Weaver (left) works to control Hesperia's Chase Siersema during their Division 4 Final at 140 pounds. (Click to see more fromHigh School Sports Scene.)
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.)