By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half
KALAMAZOO – They begin their wrestling careers as little wrestlers in superhero costumes.
A little over a decade later they are dressed in the wrestling singlet of the Lowell Red Arrows and making wrestling history in the state of Michigan.
On Saturday, for the fifth consecutive year, Lowell won the Division 2 team wrestling championship – this time 43-17 over Gaylord in the title match at the Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo.
Lowell became the first Division 2 team to win five consecutive team titles, and the Red Arrows joined Davison and Hudson as the only programs in MHSAA history, regardless of division or class, to earn the accomplishment.
“This is a major feat,” Lowell coach R.J. Boudro said. “People just expect we can win the state title every year. It’s a difficult thing to do just one year.
“Of all five of our titles we won, we faced the same team just once. So much goes into winning a state championship. I don’t think people realize everything that goes into winning a championship.”
In Lowell, the seeds for a MHSAA title are sewn every year at the youth level, with those athletes nurtured on the up the ladder as they point toward eventually competing for the varsity.
Lowell junior Avry Mutschler is one of the many Lowell wrestlers who grew up in the program.
“I was in the seventh grade when Lowell won the title five years ago,” said Mutschler, who won a decision at 140 pounds in Saturday’s Final. “I was sitting up there in the stands with all the other youth wrestling guys. Our youth program is just awesome.
“The very first youth league is the Mighty Arrows,” Mutschler added. “You start at age 4 or below. We wore Batman or Superman costumes and would learn to wrestle and play games at practice. I started in the Mighty Arrows with so many of my teammates, and we’ve all grown up together.”
Those little Mighty Arrows have grown up to be pretty strong Red Arrows. Not only was the title the fifth in a row for Lowell, but it was the eighth team title in school wrestling history.
Lowell senior Dave Kruse has been a part of the past four.
“Only two other teams have won five in a row,” Kruse said. “I am so happy to have been a part of these teams. As a senior, I’m also so thankful for the sport of wrestling and what it’s gave me.”
Kruse teamed up with fellow senior Austin Engle to win the final two matches of the dual. Lowell was up 34-17 when Engle battled back from a 5-2 deficit with 30 seconds remaining in the third period to claim a 7-5 win at 171 pounds. Kruse then won his match by injury default, giving the Red Arrows the 43-17 win.
“Our coaching staff tells us to never yield,” Engle said. “They tell us to go and wrestle hard at practice every day, and if we wrestle the Lowell way everything will be fine. In the third period when I was down by however much, I just kept hearing ‘never yield’ in my head.”
The Blue Devils (37-2) were making their first appearance in an MHSAA Team Finals championship match. The third seed entering the weekend, they upset second seed Warren Woods Tower in Saturday’s earlier Semifinal to advance.
But along with never yielding, Lowell never trailed in the match. The Red Arrows jumped out to a 13-0 lead as Keigan Yuhas opened the dual with a pin at 215 pounds. Tyler Deloof followed with a decision at heavyweight, and Nick Korhorn won a major decision at 103 pounds to put the Red Arrows up 13-0.
Gaylord rallied with wins in the next three matches to cut the Red Arrows’ lead to one point. Blue Devils sophomore Chayse LaJoie recorded a pin at 112 pounds, Derek Giallombardo followed with a decision at 119 pounds and John Henry Sosa added a decision at 125, cutting the margin to 13-12.
That was as close as Gaylord would get, as top-seeded Lowell (20-4) reeled off wins in the next five matches. Jeff Leach started the streak with a pin at 130 pounds, and freshman Doak Dean won a decision at 135. Mutschler picked up his decision at 140 pounds, followed by a major decision from James Fotis and a technical fall by sophomore and reigning Individual Finals champion Austin Boone at 152 pounds.
Kenny Smith of Gaylord picked up a technical fall at 160 pounds before Engle and Kruse closed out the dual for the Red Arrows.
“Each one of the five teams that won it are unique,” Boudro said. “When we went up there to take the team picture, that is the last time this group will all be together. This is pretty special.”
Click for full results of the weekend's Division 2 matches.
PHOTOS: (Top) Lowell coach R.J. Boudro and his team celebrate a match win during Saturday’s Division 2 Final. (Middle) Gaylord’s Chayse LaJoie works toward a pin at 112 pounds. (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.”
2023 Made In Michigan
July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18: Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12: Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5: Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read
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.)