By Dan Stickradt
Special for Second Half
DETROIT — Skyler Crespo reached Michigan wrestling immortality Saturday night.
The senior from Mendon became just the 28th wrestler in MHSAA history — and second on the day — to earn a fourth Individual Finals title.
Crespo posted an 11-0 major decision victory over Clinton sophomore Kent McCombs in the Division 4 145-pound championship match at Ford Field.
Crespo finished with a 53-1 record as a senior and more than 200 career wins. His only defeat this season came against an out-of-state opponent.
“This feels better than you can imagine,” smiled Crespo.
“One day in seventh grade my coach texted me and asked me, ‘What are your goals?’ I told him I wanted to go D-I,” added Crespo. “He said ‘that we have to have some other goals, too. He said why not go for it all?’ That’s what I did each year.”
McCombs finished his sophomore campaign with a 37-10 record and was part of Clinton’s team championship run. He also lost in the 2019 quarterfinals to Crespo, and wound up finishing fifth.
“I knew he was good on top, but I knew I could take him. I knew I was better. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I have confidence in myself and my training,” added Crespo. “There was no way I was going to lose today.”
Manus Bennett, Marlette, Fr. (45-2)
Decision, 6-4, over Isaiah Mullins, St. Charles, Soph. (36-5)
The top-seeded Bennett’s Finals debut ended in grand fashion.
“I came in as a freshman and just wanted to do well,” said Bennett. “I never really thought about winning a state title. I just wanted to do as best as I could. Once I got here, I went for it. I thought my opponent was great. It went all the way to the end, and I was able to pull it out.
“Now that I won a state championship as a freshman, I want to come back again next year and go for another (title),” added Bennett. “This is a great feeling. I can’t even explain it.”
Bronson Marry, Hudson, Soph. (38-6)
Fall, 1:46, over Shawn McGuire, Iron Mountain, Fr. (41-2)
After finishing as the runner-up at 103 last season, the top-seeded Marry picked up just one of a few pins in the finals Saturday.
“I came so close last year,” said Marry. “This was the goal since last season. It was disappointing last weekend (to lose in the Team Final to Clinton), so I really wanted to come back and win today.”
Ben Modert, Bronson, Sr. (54-2)
Decision, 9-4, over Zack Hall, Byron, Soph. (50-5)
Modert capped a fine career with his third Finals title, having previously won at 103 as a sophomore and 112 as a junior.
“It’s just crazy that it’s over,” said Modert . “I was nervous, not because of the kid but because it’s my last match ever. So I got too scared for it, I know I did. But I still went out there and got it done.”
Jaron Johnson, Carson City-Crystal, Jr. (42-0)
Decision, 6-2, over Andrew Krupp, New Lothrop, Jr. (39-10)
Johnson capped an unbeaten season after entering this weekend as the top seed at his weight. He was third at 125 a year ago.
“I never want to underestimate anyone. That’s when mistakes happen,” said Johnson. “It feels great right now. It’s been unreal the past couple of days, especially being a senior and No. 1 all year. I just wanted to go out there and do my stuff. If I worried about it, that’s when I won’t do my best.”
Caden Natale, Hudson, Jr. (40-5)
Decision, 2-1, over Jacob Shelby, Manchester, Sr. (51-2)
Natale had to stop three times due to a bloody nose. He eventually came back to the mat to down Shelby by wearing a taped-over mask that had a bit of a horror movie feel.
A year ago, Natale lost in double overtime in the 119-pound final.
“There was blood the whole time; it was crazy,” said Natale. “I just wanted to go back out there. It was really hard because I couldn’t breathe with that mask on. But I kept battling.”
Natale has had to overcome some adversity — even being sidelined for his entire seventh and eighth grade years from sports due to a serious health condition.
“I had a brain cyst that ruptured (before) my seventh grade year. I had to sit out the entire year, spent six months home in bed, and then my eighth grade year I had to sit out for precaution,” added Natale. “It feels so great to be out here, and that makes winning this so special knowing the adversity that I faced a couple of years ago.”
Jamison Ward, Carson City-Crystal, Sr. (53-0)
Decision, 5-1, over Mason Cantu, Hart, Soph. (53-3)
A perfect season was capped with a perfect feeling for Ward, who finished with a second-straight Finals championship.
“We’ve been talking about it all season that we had two (champions) last year and we could have two this year,” said Ward, who finished a combined 101-1 over the past two years. “We did it. (Teammate) Jaron Johnson is an awesome kid and a great practice partner. He did his part, and I did mine. This is a great feeling and even better having two of us win titles on the same day.”
Landyn VanWyk, Lawton, Sr. (52-4)
Decision, 8-5, over Reyden Rognow, Athens, Sr. (40-6)
VanWyk was not the No. 1 seed. But the Lawton senior still persevered and finished on top.
VanWyk posted an 8-5 decision to win his first title. He lost in the blood round at 135 last year.
“I wanted this more than anything,” smiled VanWyk. “I don’t think it settled in until the ref raised my hand. All of that hard work paid off. I still can’t believe it.”
Thomas Potter, Springport, Sr. (46-1)
Decision, 5-1, over Bryce Cheney, New Lothrop, Jr. (33-4)
Potter was not going down in his final match.
“This is what I was working for,” said Potter. “I wanted this more than you know. I knew that I had a chance this year, and I went out there and won the state championship.”
Trenton Holden, Grass Lake, Jr. (46-1)
Decision, 7-2, over Nick Phillips, Manchester, Sr. (35-10)
After not even qualifying for the Finals in 2019, Holden took a quantum leap toward the podium this year.
“I knew what he was going to do. I had (a feeling I) could get in one of my shots,” said Holden. “I never count anyone out. Don’t think, just go out and wrestle hard.
“This means everything,” continued Holden. “Last year I got knocked out at the Regional qualifiers in the blood rounds. This year I changed my whole mentality. I slimmed down a little bit, got in (better) shape and I was able to win it.”
Brock Nelson, LeRoy Pine River, Sr. (23-0)
Decision, 3-2, over Brayden Randolph, Clinton, Jr. (54-5)
Nelson and his teammates have faced plenty of adversity this school year — especially losing Nelson’s best friend Tim Rizor in a car crash four months ago. But Nelson battled through the devastating loss to post a perfect 23-0 season.
“I have been wrestling since I was a little kid, and since I was little I’ve dreamt of winning a state title,” said Nelson. “This year I’ve had some bad things happen to me in my life. What means the most to me is I won the state title for Tim Rizor. He was my buddy that died in a car accident last November. He took second at state two years in a row, and I know he would have taken it this year if he had the chance. This was for him.”
Logan Badge, Clinton, Soph. (37-0)
Decision, 6-4, over Justin Camahan, New Lothrop, Sr. (46-2)
One week after helping Clinton capture its first team title, Badge was back at it again winning an individual crown.
He won the Division 4 title at 215 last year, but dropped down a weight and still repeated.
“I just felt better about my performance (being down at 189),” said Badge of his weight loss. “I feel better. I am eating cleaner, not eating junk food and stuff like that. I cut everything out.
“This feels just as good as the first time,” continued Badge, who is 72-2 over the past two seasons. “Now I want to go after a couple of more.”
Camden Orr, New Lothrop, Jr. (44-3)
Fall, 4:40, over Shane Osantowski, Ubly, Sr. (35-7)
Seconds after winning, Orr nearly grabbed a few more takedown points by leaping onto his coaches in celebration and nearly forcing them onto the next mat.
Orr, the top seed, more than earned his celebratory rights.
“I did almost knock Coach over,” smiled Orr.
“There’s nothing quite like it, to be honest,” continued Orr, who was sixth at 189 last year. “I went for the reversal and I spun him around and got him on his back. I got in front and was able to take him down. It’s exciting. This is what I’ve been working for all year. When you get it — it’s awesome — and you don’t know what to do but celebrate. That’s why I ran over to my coaches.”
Simon Lato, Manchester, Sr. (53-2)
Decision, 5-4 (OT), over Emmett Bingaman, Mendon, Sr. (49-3)
Holding a slim 4-3 lead late in the third period, Lato was penalized for locking his hands.
That didn’t deter the senior and top seed.
Lato came back with an overtime point and captured his first championship.
“(The penalty) doesn’t matter. I got him (in overtime),” noted Lato, who was seventh at 285 last season. “That was my goal, and I was not going to let that bother me and take me away from winning.”
PHOTO: Mendon’s Skyler Crespo locks up Clinton’s Kent McCombs on the way to winning his fourth Individual Finals title. (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.)