In the Long Run, Daniels Finishes On Top

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 2, 2019

DETROIT – DJ Daniels didn’t have many close calls this season, but the Caro senior 160-pounder had a couple on his way to a second straight Division 3 championship – one on the mat, and one off.

Daniels won a battle of undefeated wrestlers Saturday at Ford Field, defeating Seth Konynenbelt of Hudsonville Unity Christian 6-4 in the championship match.

To qualify for that final, Daniels not only had to win three matches Friday, he also had to take an impromptu 2-mile run through downtown Detroit to make it just in time for his semifinal match.

“My coach and I got stuck in the People Mover and they finally got it turned back on, but they shut it down when we got to the next stop, and we were about 2.1 miles away,” Daniels said. “So we just started jogging, hoping we’d get here in time. I was in the hole when we arrived, then I put my shoes on and got down here and I was on deck. My quads hurt a little bit, but other than that I was ready to go.”

Daniels won that semifinal match 7-1 against Trenton Blanchard of Whitehall. One day later, a more well-rested Daniels took the mat and completed his 56-0 season.

“It’s amazing,” Daniels said. “If this is the end of my career, it’s definitely how I wanted it to be.”

He had to hold off a valiant effort by Konynenbelt (48-1), who nearly turned Daniels to take a lead in the second period and came close to tying the match with a takedown in the final seconds on the edge of the mat. Daniels held him off, however, to get the win.

“I knew the situation, I knew we were right on the line,” Daniels said. “He had my leg, and I knew if I could just get his feet out of bounds, we would go back to neutral, and I’d be all right. That’s all I told myself.”


Champion: Mike Nykoriak, Algonac, Sr. (48-1)
Decision, 4-3, over Brock Kuhn, Michigan Center, Sr., (46-2)

Nykoriak became the first Finals champion for Algonac since 1999, getting a third-period takedown and holding on for the win.

“I knew he scored first points, and heavyweight matches go into triple overtime, so he would have had first choice,” Nykoriak said. “I knew I had to get a takedown for it to work.

“Just seeing every day at practice, the alumni coming to practice, all the old coaches who come every day to work with us because they believe in us, and they believe in me. I’m just happy I was able to make them proud.”


Champion: Casey Swiderski, Dundee, Fr. (46-2)
Technical Fall, 5:17 (23-7), over Hunter Keller, Richmond, Soph. (27-6)

Swiderski, ranked No. 9 in the country at 106 pounds according to FloWrestling, finished off a dominant season with a dominant performance in his first Finals.

The freshman won three of his matches by technical fall, including the final against Keller, who he had defeated a week earlier to help Dundee claim a second straight Division 3 team title.

“I felt good,” Swiderski said. “I had kind of a tough weight cut, but I got energy in me and I scored points; that’s what I wanted to do. It’s just more matches. It’s fun.”


Champion: Hunter Assenmacher, Ida, Jr. (50-3)
Decision, 6-2, over Jordan Rodriguez, Chesaning, Jr. (44-4)

Assenmacher won his second straight Division 3 title after winning a year ago at 103 pounds.

It was Rodriguez, however, who drew first blood, getting a first-period takedown and taking a 2-0 lead. Assenmacher regrouped, though, and scored the match’s final six points to come away with the victory.

“It felt good to get back out there again in the finals; it was a good atmosphere,” Assenmacher said. “This time I definitely felt more prepared and more calm. I kind of felt like I belonged there, so it kind of helped me to stay relaxed when I was wrestling.”


Champion: Jake Elasivich, Montrose, Soph. (50-7)
Decision, 10-4, over Brendan Connelly, Yale, Jr. (48-10)

Elasivich battled through a tough bracket, which saw the No. 1 seed and a returning champion fall before the semifinals.

The Montrose sophomore controlled his match against Connelly, winning the battles on his feet and allowing just four escape points against him. It was just 6-4 late, however, before he earned another takedown to seal the win.

“I felt confident because I’m always on my attacks, always getting a takedown,” Elasivich said. “I felt confident I could pull one more out for the win. I just wanted to keep doing the same things I had been doing – keep my energy high and my pace high, just work the kids and in the end get the win.”


Champion: Corey Gamet, Michigan Center, Sr. (47-0)
Decision, 10-4, over Macintyre Breece, Birch Run, Jr. (49-5)

Gamet finished a perfect senior season with the win against Breece, but he was disappointed an incredible run of not allowing an offensive point all season did come to an end.

“I’m not happy about being reversed or being scored on offensively,” Gamet said. “But once we got on our feet and I got that takedown, I knew there was nothing he could do – nobody can take me down. I felt like I was in a good spot.”

Gamet is now a three-time Finals champion, having won Division 2 titles in 2016 and 2017 while at Parma Western.


Champion: Josh Rankin, Michigan Center, Sr. (40-4)
Decision, 4-2, over Luke Mahaney, Williamston, Soph. (33-8)

After Gamet walked off the mat victorious, Michigan Center made it two in a row, as Rankin claimed his first Finals title.

“That’s the best feeling in the world – it means that much more,” Rankin said. “Having your best friend out there before you, then you win it right after. We even hit the same celebration.”

Rankin said Mahaney did a good job of countering his go-to moves, something he had to react to in the moment.

“I felt pretty good – you could definitely tell they prepared for me a little bit more,” Rankin said. “I try to be as versatile as I can, but there are some things that you just do that people figure out. I think they definitely figured some of my stuff out and prepared for it a little bit better.”


Champion: Jonathon White, Dundee, Sr. (39-9)
Decision, 1-0, over Tyler Swiderski, Dundee, Soph. (28-11)

White and Swiderski have seen a lot of each other in the Dundee wrestling room over the past two years, and it showed on the mat as the only point scored was a White escape.

“Throughout the year we were battling at tournaments,” White said. “I had a hunch at the beginning of this tournament that I would wrestle him in the finals. It was awkward, but I just tried to stay calm and do what I had to do to win.”

The victory capped off a great postseason for White, who also clinched Dundee’s team championship victory against Richmond the week prior.

“It’s not a bad two weekends,” he said. “To be back-to-back team state champs then finally come home with my individual, it means the world. I’ve worked so hard to become a state champ, and my dream came true.”


Champion: Hayden Bastian, Richmond, Sr. (32-5)
Decision, 6-2 (2OT), over Christian Killion, Dundee, Jr. (44-6)

With the chance to choose bottom in the ultimate tiebreaker, Bastian felt confident. But before he could get there, he saw an opening.

Bastian caught Killion on a shot and took him to his back, breaking a 2-all tie and claiming his first Finals championship.

“Ultimate overtime, I felt I would have had that as well, but the (back points) just helped and it worked out really well,” Bastian said. “I played through the whole campaign, and I feel like I did well against the final boss.”


Champion: Trevor Robinson, Shepherd, Sr. (45-2)
Fall, 4:42, over Max Halstead, Grayling, Jr. (41-4)

With a pair of runner-up finishes already under his belt (2016 and 2018), Robinson was determined to finish his career on top of the podium.

He was in control of his finals match, and put it to rest in the third period with a pin. It was the most dominant performance of the weekend for the top-seeded wrestler.

“Honestly, I didn’t have any pressure, I just felt I was better than everyone and I had enough tools to win it all,” Robinson said. “It feels amazing. It’s crazy. I was just a little freshman a few years ago, and it just flies by. It feels amazing – the best feeling ever.”


Champion: Stoney Buell, Dundee, Soph. (45-8)
Decision, 1-0, over Sean Trombley, Lake Fenton, Sr. (50-2)

Buell continued his perfect Finals record, claiming a second straight title in a hard-fought match.

The only point scored was an escape, and Buell, who won at 135 a year ago, had been expecting that it wouldn’t be easy.

“He’s a three-time finalist, so I knew he was really good, really strong,” Buell said. “I really like my single, and I knew he wasn’t going to let me get that, so I really had to get two hands to it. I couldn’t finish one, and I had that stalling call, so I just had to keep going and going and going.”


Champion: Owen Guilford, Portland, Sr. (48-0)
Fall, 2:22, over Dillon Kroening, Gladwin, Jr. (50-2)

Guilford had a dominant weekend, racking up two falls and two major decisions. He capped it off with an early-second period pin to claim his second straight title and finish a perfect season.

A year ago, he became Portland’s first champion since 2000, and now he is the school’s first two-time champion.

“It feels pretty good,” Guilford said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my coaches, the support staff, my family and friends. And a big shoutout to Kyle Hines for, ever since second grade, being my practice partner all the way through. I can’t take any of this credit.”


Champion: Kendel Taylor, Madison Heights Bishop Foley, Sr. (37-4)
Decision, 9-3, over Kayleb Venema, Whitehall, Jr. (45-3)

After taking fourth in his region, Taylor wasn’t on many people’s radar heading into this weekend. But he pulled off more than one upset to defy the odds and claim the title.

With his victory, Taylor became Foley’s third Finals champion and first since 1971.

“It feels absolutely amazing,” Taylor said. “I can’t believe it. Coming in as a freshman trying to wrestle, then coming in as a senior and winning a state title, it’s like night and day. It’s amazing. I love it.”


Champion: Brockton Cook, Birch Run, Sr. (54-3)
Decision, 3-0, over Luke Davis, Richmond, Jr. (43-6)

In a Regional Final rematch, it was once again Cook coming out on top.

A single escape was the difference in the match late into the third period, but Cook was able to get a takedown and seal the win.

“I got that stalling call, and I was like, ‘If I’m going to get stalling, I might as well shoot now,’” Cook said. “I wasn’t going to get another stalling call to tie up the match. I took my shot and it worked, I guess.”

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PHOTO: Caro’s DJ Daniels has his arm raised in victory after finishing an undefeated season with a Division 3 title. (Click for more from

After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

July 25, 2023

ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.“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.

Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season.“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.)