By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
AUBURN HILLS – At least for a couple of minutes Saturday evening, Logan Griffin’s left shoulder stopped hurting. Or, hopefully, hurt a little less.
He had separated it midway through this season, and didn’t return to the mat until the District tournament three weeks ago.
But amid sizable pain at the end, Griffin beat a two-time MHSAA champion Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills to win his first title
The Erie-Mason sophomore edged Carson City-Crystal senior Kenneth Dittenber 5-4 in overtime in the last match at 112 pounds. Dittenber had won the previous two Division 4 championships at 103, while Griffin was runner-up at 112 last season.
“It was my toughest match all season. … I didn’t think I’d make it this far,” Griffin said. "It was killing me. I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it through (OT).”
Griffin, who ended the season 27-0, had worn a shoulder brace throughout the weekend but decided it was best to shed it for the championship match.
He had never wrestled Dittenber, but certainly knew of him. “I just knew I had to be aggressive and keep attacking,” Griffin said.
Dittenber finished 53-5 this season. Click for full results and read below for recaps of every championship match and comments from all the winners.
Champion: Ryan Prescott, Whittemore-Prescott, Soph. (48-1)
Decision, 9-5, over Zach Rieger, Hudson, Sr. (53-2)
Prescott got a taste of an MHSAA championship match as a freshman. He fell one point shy of opening his high school career with a title, losing 4-3 in the Final.
He’s considered that every day since, and adopted a more aggressive style to help him achieve his goal this time.
“Every single day, I think about being a state champion. I think about the pleasure. I think about the exposure. I think about the greatness,” Prescott said.
“I’m a state champ. All the pressure’s off. Let’s go get two more.”
Champion: Roddy Hamdan, Hudson, Soph. (48-5)
Fall, 3:06, over Arthur Payne, Montrose, Soph. (46-6)
Hamdan got to play a significant part last weekend in Hudson becoming just the second school to win five straight MHSAA team championships.
This weekend, he earned the opportunity to finish with one more win. But it took a 10-8 triple-overtime victory over Dansville’s Clay Ragon two rounds earlier to keep that aspiration alive.
“After ... I knew I had to work harder. I was just saying I’ve got to get better and better as I go,” Hamdan said. “I’m very excited. I work hard every day, train hard. I just dream about this every day. It’s been in my mind since day one.”
Champion: Zack Yates, Hesperia, Jr. (53-1)
Fall, 0:59, over Isaac Dusseau, Hudson, Jr. (49-7)
A year ago, Yates also faced a Hudson wrestler in a championship match. Cole Weaver beat Yates 6-0 to win the title at 112 pounds.
But Yates learned plenty to bring back to Auburn Hills this weekend.
“I just needed to keep on my attacks,” he said. “I can’t take a break. I can’t stop wrestling the whole match.”
And it no doubt helped that he had some championship support in his corner – older brother Dan Yates, who won three titles from 2007-09.
“I love having him here. I’m glad he was here, cheering me on,” Zack Yates said.
Champion: Zach Mack, Mio, Sr. (45-1)
Fall, 3:42, Matthew Elliott, Fife Lake Forest Area, Jr. (47-6)
Mack had faced Elliott twice this season – pinning him during the final minute in their first match and then beating him 7-0 in the District final.
But that didn’t mean Mack was overly confident Saturday – just pleased when it was done and that he had a title on his last day as a high school wrestler.
There’s good and bad about seeing a familiar opponent in the final match of the season.
“There’s a lot of pressure on you. You’ve beaten him before, but you don’t know if you’re going to win,” Mack said. “(I was) a little nervous. But you can’t let that get to you.”
Champion: Cole Weaver, Hudson, Jr. (52-0)
Decision, 7-0, Richard Bentley, St. Ignace, Sr. (42-4)
It’s this simple. “I just don’t want to get beat,” Weaver said after winning his second-straight MHSAA title Saturday, in his third-straight Finals appearance.
It also finished his second-straight perfect season, making him 103-0 over the last two.
But what makes them perfect is the fact that he’s been part of three MHSAA team titles as well.
“Team is a lot better. Individual, it’s just something that goes along with it,” Weaver said. “We’re usually just team, team, team … is what we really care about.”
Champion: J.D. Waters, Hudson, Jr. (41-5)
Decision, 2-1, over Chase Siersema, Hesperia, Jr. (57-5)
Waters and Siersema didn’t face each other during last weekend’s Team Final.
But Waters knew what his Saturday opponent would bring, and he was ready for the attack from the moment he stepped on the mat.
Waters scored his points right before the end of the second period. And as the seconds ticked away in the third, he knew he had to do everything to withstand Siersema’s final shots – which he did to claim his first individual championship.
“I knew what he had coming,” Waters said. “So I just had to stop that, and work myself.”
Champion: Jacob Perrin, New Lothrop, Sr. (63-2)
Decision, 7-6, over Chad Decker, Grass Lake, Jr. (51-3)
Perrin joined brothers Zach and Russell this season with 200 career wins, and finished his high school career Saturday ahead of both with 222.
But if he’d fallen in his final match? He doesn’t even want to consider that – although it came close to fruition before Perrin scored his go-ahead points during the final seconds.
“That’s why you practice hard. To go out there and do it at the state finals,” he said. “It came down to 14 seconds left, and I was just thinking I gotta get it if I want to win it. We’ve drilled that 100 times in practice, and it worked for me.”
Perrin’s 63 wins this season tied for 20th most in the MHSAA record book. He won the 130-pound championship as a junior.
Champion: Josh Wendling, New Lothrop, Jr. (49-5)
Decision, 4-2, over Austin Hughes, Saginaw Nouvel, Jr. (46-2)
Hughes was going for the first individual championship in Nouvel history and had pinned Wendling in their only other meeting this winter.
But this time, Wendling was able to get away for the win despite the dogged pursuit of his opponent – and notch the highlight of his wrestling career.
“I placed as a freshman and sophomore, but it wasn’t like this,” Wendling said. “I’ve been wrestling a long time, but I feel like this year I just stuck it out.”
Champion: Jared Bruner, Addison, Sr. (51-3)
Decision, 9-4, over Spencer Reterstoff, Hart, Jr. (53-5)
Winning an MHSAA championship was “the best thing ever,” and Bruner did that last season at 145 pounds.
Winning two? Even better.
“I just look at this one as just another blessing. I went out and wrestled my match, and did as much as I could to win,” Bruner said. “It’s just what you have to do to be on top of the podium.”
Bruner said he's still considering either wrestling or playing football at the collegiate level.
Champion: Jacob Cooper, Springport, Soph. (46-2)
Decision, 7-5 OT, over Taylor Krupp, New Lothrop, Jr. (53-4)
Cooper finished runner-up last season at 145, falling in a 4-2 decision.
And after making it all the way back to the championship match, he was in danger of falling in another close one to end Saturday.
But he’d thought a lot about last season’s Finals defeat, and hit another gear when he needed it most.
“I really wanted this, so I pushed it hard,” Cooper said. “I needed to redeem myself, I thought.”
Champion: Galloway Thurston, St. Ignace, Sr. (52-2)
Decision, 5-0, over Pat Brown, Sandusky, Jr. (40-4)
Wrestling in MHSAA Finals became a habit for Thurston. He was a runner-up in 2011 and won a championship a year ago.
And all season long, he looked forward to adding one more title to finish his high school career.
For the second season in a row, he joined teammate Joe Ostman to give the Saints two MHSAA champions and the entire Upper Peninsula a dose of wrestling pride.
“I just tried to follow Joe’s footsteps. We just push each other to get better,” Galloway said.
“People were saying the U.P. is never going to have placers, never going to have champions. So it’s an honor to represent the U.P. well.”
Champion: Steven Malloy, Morley-Stanwood, Sr. (45-2)
Decision, 7-5, over James Snider, East Jackson, Sr. (36-2)
The last minute of Malloy’s high school career was certainly one of the best.
It's then that he scored the points that earned him a second-straight MHSAA title.
“I was just waiting for him to make a mistake,” Malloy said, still catching his breath. “And capitalize.”
Malloy was the 189 champion in Division 3 last season, winning by a similarly-close 7-6. But this win meant a little bit more. This one added the finishing touch to his senior year.
Champion: Joe Ostman, St. Ignace, Sr. (54-0)
Technical Fall, 17-1, over Kevin Koenig, Laingsburg, Fr. (59-4)
Ostman held up three fingers, as it often done when someone wins three MHSAA championships.
He added this to the one he claimed at 215 last season and his first at 189 in 2011.
“I won it a little earlier than I thought, and I came back and won a couple more,” Ostman said. “Being from the U.P., I think it just sets a goal for other wrestlers to reach in the future.”
Ostman will not wrestle collegiately, but instead will play football at Central Michigan next season.
“Obviously, I don’t want it to end,” he said. “But if it’s going to end, it’s a great way to end it.”
PHOTO: Erie-Mason's Logan Griffin (right) wrestles Carson City-Crystal's Kenneth Dittenber during Saturday's Division 4 Final at The Palace of Auburn Hills. (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.)