Lowell's Boone Ends as 2nd 8-Time Champion

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

March 7, 2020

DETROIT – Brent Metcalf. Austin Boone. 

That’s it. That’s the list. 

Boone, a senior at Lowell, became the second wrestler in MHSAA history Saturday to win four individual titles while being part of four team titles, as he defeated Gaylord’s Chase LaJoie 4-3 at 145 pounds during the Division 2 Individual Finals at Ford Field.

Metcalf, who eventually became an NCAA champion and competed on the international stage, was the first to accomplish the feat, achieving his at Davison from 2002-05. 

“It’s cool,” Boone said. “Like I’ve been telling everybody else, I’m not really thinking about it too much. It’s kind of cool, but I don’t pay attention to stuff like that.” 

He and Mendon’s Skyler Crespo became the 27th and 28th four-time individual champions in MHSAA history, nearly simultaneously. 

Boone (41-0), who had defeated LaJoie by major decision a week earlier in the Team Finals, had to stave off a late reversal attempt Saturday.  

It was a matchup of multiple-time champions, as LaJoie (38-2) had won as a freshman and sophomore. It was also a matchup of Division I talents, as Boone has signed with Penn State, and LaJoie will continue his career at Cornell. 

“It’s a great match; it’s my closest finals match I’ve had,” Boone said. “He’s a great wrestler. He’s going to do great things in college. Today I got him.” 


Champion: Nolan Wertanen, St. Joseph, Soph. (46-2) 
Decision, 4-3, over Grant Stahl, Mount Pleasant, Fr. (39-3) 

Wertanen couldn’t compete a year ago in the Finals, as he fractured his wrist shortly before the postseason started. He made up for lost time Saturday. 

“I’ve been waiting my entire life to do something like this, ever since I started wrestling when I was 4,” Wertanen said. “To go out there and do something my dad could never do – I've just always wanted to win a state championship, and last year it sucked because I couldn’t, because I was hurt. Coming out here and winning it like this, especially after having a few losses that I shouldn’t have earlier in the year, it just feels great.” 


Champion: Jacob Brya, St. Johns, Soph. (41-0) 
Major decision, 19-7, over Jack Parker, Spring Lake, Jr. (44-3) 

For the second straight year, Brya put on a dominant display at the Individual Finals. After winning the title at 103 a year ago, Brya had a pair of first-period falls and a technical fall on his way to Saturday’s final, which he dominated from the beginning. 

“I wasn’t as nervous this year,” Brya said. “It wasn’t that much different, but I still wasn’t as nervous this year.” 

Brya is already thinking of the possibility of joining the growing list of four-time champs. 

“I want to be a four-timer,” he said. “That’s why I train two-a-days four days a week.” 


Champion: Joe Haynes, Warren Woods Tower, Jr. (49-3) 
Major decision, 11-2, over Trevor Marsman, Cedar Springs, Jr. (52-2) 

Haynes came up one match short of a Finals title a year ago, but he wasn’t about to be denied again.  

He wasn’t scored on in his first three matches of the tournament, and dominated the final, allowing only two escapes. 

“I just needed to stay in good position and score when the opportunities came,” Haynes said. “I felt like I didn’t want to repeat last year, that was more of the pressure. I didn’t feel like I was the No. 1 kid – rankings don’t matter. I just go in every match thinking everyone’s the same.” 


Champion: Andrew Hughes, Charlotte, Sr. (50-1) 
Decision, 9-5, over John Henry Sosa, Gaylord, Sr. (41-3) 

Hughes became Charlotte’s first Finals champion since 1997, knocking off the weight’s top-ranked wrestler. 

He was dominant on his feet, setting the tone with a first-period takedown, and adding three more throughout the match. 

“I’ve worked my whole season, my whole life for this,” Hughes said. “It just feels huge. I tried to get as early of a lead as I could and keep building on it, really break him. … I feel like I did it for my city, so this is big.” 


Champion: Micah Hanau, Stevensville Lakeshore, Soph. (41-4) 
Decision, 4-1 (OT), over Zeth Strejc, Lowell, Jr. (27-14) 

Hanau was very nearly rolled early in overtime, but he was able to not only counter the move and stay alive but fight for the winning takedown. 

“I just couldn’t control his hand-fighting – it was hard to keep him off my legs,” Hanau said. “I was able to keep him down and score. It’s fun. There's a lot of pressure, but it’s great to win.” 


Champion: Shane Williams, Stevensville Lakeshore, Sr. (44-2) 
Decision, 6-3, over Nick Matusko, Chelsea, Sr. (48-1) 

Two weeks ago, Matusko knocked off Williams in the Regional final.  

This time, the Lakeshore senior had a plan to turn things around. 

“I think I needed to escape on bottom, because he rode me out for two periods,” said Williams, who picked up his 150th career win. “He would just stop my leg when I stood up, so I worked on that the past two weeks. It helped me out a bit that I got out right away.”  


Champion: Nate Young, Holly, Sr. (49-1) 
Decision, 4-2, over Chris Haynes, Eaton Rapids, Sr. (45-2) 

After coming up one match shy of winning a Finals title a year ago, Young was thrilled to get to the top of the podium this year. 

Even if the match didn’t feature the amount of points he is accustomed to racking up. 

“Last year I came up a little bit short, and it always hurt knowing I was right there but didn’t quite get it done,” Young said. “So, it feels great to come back and finish what I started. I come into every match thinking that I just want to have fun and score points. Obviously, I didn’t score many points, but I still had fun.” 


Champion: Jacob Gonzales, Holly, Soph. (55-0) 
Fall, 5:52, over James Fotis, Lowell, Sr. (29-6) 

Gonzales’ unbeaten season and Finals championship dreams were on the ropes in the third period, but the Holly sophomore came up big when it counted most. 

Trailing 6-2 late in the match, Gonzales took Fotis to his back and was able to get the pin to claim his title. 

“It was pretty amazing,” Gonzales said. “Throughout the whole match, I was thinking about how I was going to score points. I knew I needed a big move, so I went for it. I saw his legs were too close together and he wasn’t moving as he should have, and I capitalized.” 


Champion: Caleb Fish, Eaton Rapids, Sr. (46-0) 
Decision, 2-1 (UTB), over Colton Blaha, Owosso, Sr. (54-2) 

After cruising through his first three matches with pins, Fish found himself in a battle against Blaha. 

Fish exploded for an escape from the bottom position in the first period of ultimate tie-breaker, and held on in the second to claim his second straight title. 

“In my head I was thinking, ‘I ain’t letting him up,’” Fish said. “Holding him down was my train of thought. I knew he wasn’t going to be ready for me to blow off the bottom as fast as I did. It just comes from the heart. Eaton Rapids has only had a few two-timers, so that was my dream.” 


Champion: Omari Embree, Warren Woods-Tower, Soph. (29-2) 
Decision, 3-2, over Cody Brenner, New Boston Huron, Jr. (48-3) 

Embree didn’t think he wrestled his best in the Regional final when he lost to Brenner.  

He made sure that wouldn’t be the case Saturday as he claimed his second Finals title in as many tries.  

“I knew he wasn’t a better athlete than me – a better wrestler than me,” Embree said. “I didn’t wrestle my match when I wrestled him in Regionals. I wrestled my match, now I’m the champ when it mattered. I wanted to just stay low and focus on me.”  


Champion: Tristan Vance, Clio, Sr. (19-3) 
Decision, 8-6, over John Shelton, East Grand Rapids, Sr. (50-1) 

Vance held off a late headlock attempt from Shelton, but it was close.  

The Clio senior, who missed most of the season with a back injury, was able to stay off his back and not give up a takedown as the final seconds ticked off the clock.  

“I gotta get my hips down; I gotta stay flat,” Vance said of what was going through his head. “I wasn’t giving up any back points, no way. I knew I had to get to my offense and not play his game. Do what I do best, and that’s how it goes.” 


Champion: Hunter McCall, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, Sr. (47-1) 
Major decision, 9-1, over Keegan Nugent, Lowell, Jr. (35-8) 

McCall put an exclamation point on a year-long quest to getting to the top of the podium with a dominant Finals performance. 

He was third a year ago, which motivated him to take the next step this season. 

“This is something I’ve been working for ever since I started,” McCall said. “I always wanted to be the best, always wanted to be on top. I fell short – I fell real short the last few years. I had five coaches telling me, ‘Hunter, you can be the best. You can go out there and win it.’ I just bought into what they said day in and day out. I haven’t stopped wrestling. I’ve been wrestling for 365 days straight since I lost last year.” 


Champion: Jack Gilchrist, Mason, Sr. (45-2) 
Decision, 8-2, over Joe Harper, Imlay City, Sr. (46-2) 

Gilchrist said the beatings he took early in his career in the Mason wrestling room paved the way for Saturday’s triumph.  

He spent time in practices with 2018 Finals champion Riley Smith, who helped shape his career. 

“It’s amazing to follow my best friend Riley who was a state champ two years ago,” Gilchrist said. “He worked with me every day. He was way better than me, he would pin me in 30 seconds, but he would work with me every day. I get to work with all these guys, I’m just fortunate. (Harper) is a Greco guy, so he was trying to throw me or toss me, but it did not work.” 

Click for the full bracket.

PHOTO: Austin Boone’s arm is raised Saturday after he became the second wrestler in MHSAA history to win four individual and four team Finals championships. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)