DETROIT – Hunter Assenmacher had waited three years for this.
The Ida senior defeated Flint Powers Catholic’s Sean Spidle 7-4 on Saturday in the Division 3 119-pound championship match at the MHSAA Individual Finals at Ford Field. The win avenged Assenmacher’s only Finals loss, which came against Spidle their freshmen year.
“It was definitely weighing on my mind, but I knew I had put in the work the past three years,” Assenmacher said. “I worked so hard, I’ve been waiting for this chance to come back at him. A lot of people thought we might try to bump away from each other, but both of us have been great competitors for each other with great sportsmanship. Wrestling him was truly an honor. It was a great match, and I was really looking forward to it all year.”
The title was the third straight for Assenmacher (48-1), and prevented Spidle (35-1) from claiming his fourth.
Assenmacher was clinging to a one-point lead late in the match, but was able to lock up a front cradle on the edge of the mat to extend his lead to three and wrap up the match and the title.
“I know a lot of people were thinking of him as undefeated the past two years, a four-timer possibly, but you just can’t let that get into your head,” Assenmacher said. “Everybody has to take it one match at a time. Once you get to the state finals, it’s a restart button. You’re both 0-0. It’s just whoever goes out there and wants it more.”
Champion: Braeden Davis, Dundee, Fr. (38-4)
Technical fall, 16-1, over Dallas Stanton, Almont, Soph. (39-5)
Before Davis could fully celebrate his Finals title, he had to do some wind sprints on field.
With none of his matches making it to the third period, and his final match ending in the first, he may have needed the extra work.
“I’ve done this before, I’ve been to these big tournaments, and it’s just another tournament to me,” he said. “I just went out there trying to do whatever he gave me, and he gave me a bunch of tilts. I never use a plan; whatever they give me, I use.”
Champion: Jordan Rodriguez, Chesaning, Sr. (41-1)
Decision, 7-1, over Hunter Keller, Richmond, Jr. (37-5)
Rodriguez and Keller were both a match away from a Finals title a year ago, but it was Rodriguez who was able to climb to the top of the podium this year.
He used a pair of first-period takedowns to take control of the match and never looked back.
“I wanted to score as many points as I could and not give any opportunities up,” Rodriguez said. “I kind of had a feeling he was going to keep his distance and make me come in close.
“(Last year) made me want to dominate. It sucks losing in the finals, so I just used that to say it’s not going to happen again.”
Champion: Ryker Johnecheck, Williamston, Soph. (44-2)
Decision, 3-2 (UTB), over Aiden Davis, Dundee, Fr. (42-5)
With five seconds on the clock in the second ultimate tiebreaker, Johnecheck found himself down one point and with few options.
He went big and it paid off, as his last-second takedown wrapped up his first Finals title.
“This is what I’ve been looking forward to,” he said. “I just thrive off the atmosphere, and this year I looked at it a lot differently. I wasn’t as scared of all the people.
“I really don’t know what happened. He got out and I was like, ‘He’s ahead by a point, I need to get a takedown. I need to get something.’ So I just ran at him and did what I could.”
Champion: Austin Fietz, Dundee, Jr. (41-6)
Decision, 5-3, over Brock Holek, Durand, Jr. (45-1)
Fietz started a run of six straight Dundee championships.
With a pair of takedowns in the third period, he was able to overcome a small, early deficit and claim his title.
“This one feels good,” he said. “Going from fourth (place) to fifth to now winning it, this just feels awesome. I knew he had a good dump, just off the scouting report and watching him throughout the tournament. I knew he had a good fireman’s dump, so I knew if I could stay inside and I could get to a move that I like from there, I would be good. That’s how I scored most of my points.”
Champion: Casey Swiderski, Dundee, Soph. (39-1)
Major decision, 16-7, over Dametrius Castillo, Alma, Jr. (38-8)
Swiderski came out on top in a matchup of former Finals champions.
He had won at 103 pounds a year ago and had made a big jump throughout the season by wrestling at 125. He jumped up even further for the postseason.
“I was ranked No. 1 at 125 all year, but I’ve got two good teammates that had the possibility to win it at 125 and 130, so I went to 135 weighing 130 maybe,” he said. “We had a state finalist at 125 and a state champ at 130, so I’m just proud of my teammates that they got it done. … My big goal is to get eight (titles) total – four as a team and four individual. That would mean the most to me.”
Castillo had won his individual championship in 2018.
Champion: Christian Killion, Dundee, Sr. (46-6)
Decision, 5-3, over William Bradley, Paw Paw, Soph. (49-5)
After finishing second at each of the past two Finals, Killion was able to finish his career on top.
He went up 5-0 in this match, and was able to hold Bradley off down the stretch.
“It’s outstanding – to be a two-time runner-up and finally win one,” he said. “I’m thankful to even be where I am today. When I was coming into high school out of eighth grade, I didn’t know how serious I was going to be in this sport. My buddy Zach Bellaire whipped me into shape and got me to love this sport again. To think I’d even make it this far, to do this good at a tournament is just outstanding to me.”
Champion: Tyler Swiderski, Dundee, Jr. (47-3)
Decision, 6-2, over Kael Bunce, Stockbridge, Sr. (33-2)
Like his teammate, Killion, Swiderski finished the past two seasons one step short of the top of the podium.
He used a strong performance on his feet to make sure that wouldn’t happen again, earning a takedown in each period to claim his first Finals title.
“It’s a lot better than sitting on the ground crying – a lot better,” Swiderski said. “I was like, ‘I can’t be a three-time runner-up. That can’t happen.’ So, I was just more free and let my mind take care of things and wrestle.”
Champion: Dominic Lomazzo, Dundee, Jr. (24-4)
Decision, 8-5, over Peyton Brooks, Midland Bullock Creek, Soph. (48-6)
A year ago, Lomazzo watched his teammates from the Ford Field stands.
This year, he was able to join in on the fun and claim a Finals title of his own.
“I saw all my friends win last year, and I was so proud of them,” Lomazzo said. “But it just burned that I couldn’t compete. It feels great to win it this year. It feels amazing. It’s dominance – we set that in the beginning of the year, that we’re working for dominance. We have great talent on this team and I’m proud of all these guys, everyone. Even the kids that weren’t in the finals, they did their part this year.”
Champion: Stony Buell, Dundee, Jr. (45-3)
Major decision, 12-4, over Randy Pyrzewski, Gladwin, Soph. (47-6)
Buell’s title was the sixth straight for Dundee, and seventh on the night, tying an MHSAA record (set by Detroit Catholic Central in 2019 and St. Johns in 2013).
It also gave Buell his third title in as many tries, putting him on track to become a four-timer next season.
“Ever since I was a child, it’s been one of my biggest goals to be a four-time state champ,” Buell said. “So, really I’m just going to reset the board next year and still be hungry for that next title.”
Champion: Dillon Kroening, Gladwin, Sr. (52-1)
Decision, 7-5, over Jaxon Guinn, Dundee, Sr. (36-10)
A year ago, Kroening was a match away from bringing a title back to Gladwin for the first time since 1989. This time, he accomplished the feat.
Kroening came back from an early deficit with a nearfall in the second period, and a reversal and a takedown in the third to wrap up the victory.
“Adversity, I’ve learned to fight through adversity my whole life,” Kroening said. “I started out with my coach from the Pittbulls (club); he’s pushed me hard and never let me quit, and that’s what I showed right there. It just means so much to me. This is for Gladwin.”
Champion: Jonathan Clack, Lake Odessa Lakewood, Sr. (52-0)
Decision, 6-4, over Noah Montanari, Richmond, Sr. (35-4)
Clack finished his unbeaten season with his 200th career victory.
He took a 6-1 lead into the third period and held off a late charge from Montanari.
“It feels awesome; I trained my whole life for this,” Clack said. “Every day. I trained harder than anyone in the room, I trained as hard as I could, pushed myself to the limit, did extra practices, extra work and it all paid off. I trained my whole life for this. It’s awesome.”
Champion: Luke Davis, Richmond, Sr. (42-2)
Decision, 11-9, over Boe Eckman, Constantine, Jr. (38-4)
Davis spent the year atop the rankings in this weight class, and was dominant on the weekend.
But Eckman put a scare into him, putting him to his back late in the second period. The Richmond senior was able to regroup, however, and grab his first Finals title.
“It’s a big stress relief,” Davis said. “Being a senior and everything, it feels like there’s a giant load off my shoulders. You’re carrying that weight the whole year of being ranked first, to have a close match like that and have some quick scares – I got rolled over to my back there and I was like, ‘No. I could cower up and be a coward and let myself get pinned, make excuses for myself. Or I can fight my way out of it.’ Not to toot my horn, but that’s why I’ve been ranked No. 1 all year. Everyone believes that I can do it, but I believe that I can do it.”
Champion: Grant Clarkson, Lake Odessa Lakewood, Sr. (40-0)
Decision, 5-2, over Terrance Watson, Birch Run, Sr. (44-2)
Clarkson was the only heavyweight in the state to finish the season unbeaten, as he capped off his perfect year with a Finals title.
He led 3-2 late in the match, and sealed the victory with a late takedown.
“I’m on cloud nine. I’m ecstatic,” Clarkson said. “I’ve worked at it for four years. After my freshman year watching the state finals, I said I wanted to win a state title. Here we are, four years later. (Going unbeaten) was a goal I set, and I like to achieve my goals. I had to push myself every day to get better, and that’s what I did all year.”
PHOTO: Ida’s Hunter Assenmacher (left) and Flint Powers Catholic’s Sean Spidle face off in the Division 3 119-pound championship match Saturday at Ford Field. (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.)