DETROIT – Ja'Marcus Smith felt an immense sense of pride Saturday after becoming the first wrestler from a Detroit Public School to win an Individual Wrestling Finals title.
But he doesn’t plan to be the last to do it.
“It means so much to me,” the Detroit Mumford senior said. “Everything I worked for my freshman year, my 10th-grade year, my 11th-grade year, it’s finally paying off. There’s going to be more than me. There’s going to be a whole ’nother generation.”
Smith defeated Lowell freshman Carter Cichocki (32-5) by pinfall in the 103-pound Division 2 final at Ford Field. Smith was leading 10-1 before getting the pin with two seconds remaining in the third period.
As the referee's hand slapped the mat, the crowd roared. Suddenly, a collection of wrestling fans from all parts of the state joined together in cheering the achievement.
Smith placed fifth at 112 pounds a year ago, and admitted that he felt some pressure to accomplish the feat for his school and city.
“Everybody was on my back about it,” Smith said with a laugh.
Champion: Jackson Blum, Lowell, Fr. (37-3)
Fall, 3:02 over Connor Greer, Bay City John Glenn, Fr. (40-1)
Blum was dominant before finishing off his freshman year with a pinfall victory.
“I don’t think I surprised myself,” Blum said. “Obviously, he’s a really good wrestler, undefeated this year and only a freshman. But, just the way that we’ve trained all year and our schedule, I’ve been the most prepared I’ve ever been for this match.”
Blum attacked early and often in the match, and had amassed enough points for the technical fall prior to getting the pin.
Champion: Nolan Wertanen, St. Joseph, Sr. (53-0)
Decision, 7-3, over Tee Ward, Fremont, Soph. (49-3)
It took a couple shots to the nose, and a wrap that covered most of his face to get it done, but Wertanen left Ford Field as a three-time champion.
“Going into this match, I knew I was going to have a tough match, as always. It’s the state finals,” Wertanen said. “I wanted to make a point that I’m dominant. Unfortunately, I’ve never wrestled not being able to breathe entirely, so that was tough. But I got the job done.”
Wertanen won at 112 pounds in 2021 and 103 in 2020.
“If you would have told me a long time ago when I would get in every MYWA tournament, when I would get pinned and I was hiding under the bleachers, that I would be a three-time state champion, I would have been stoked,” he said.
Champion: Owen Segorski, Lowell, Fr. (28-11)
Decision, 6-1, over Bryce Shingleton, Linden, Jr. (45-3)
Despite wrestling in his first Individual Finals and falling behind, Segorski was unfazed.
“I felt good the whole time,” Segorski said. “I was never scared. I knew he was going to back up and keep diving in, so I just wanted to keep going forward and stay in my stance.”
He trailed 1-0 heading into the third period, but an escape, takedown and nearfall secured the victory and an individual title to go along with Lowell’s team championship won last weekend.
Champion: Louden Stradling, Gaylord, Jr. (24-1)
Decision, 3-2 (2OT), over Ramsy Mutschler, Lowell, Sr. (31-6)
Stradling avenged a loss from the week before, and needed to hold on into the final seconds of the second ultimate tiebreaker period.
“Last week I wrestled Ramsy, and it was a really close one,” Stradling said. “I couldn’t open up on him because his defense is amazing. This week, I took it slow, I focused on how to get out on bottom from him, and me getting out on bottom changed the match.”
Mutschler scored an escape early in the first ultimate tiebreaker period, and entered the second with a 2-1 lead. Stradling scored a reversal midway through the second, and held on for his first title.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Stradling said. “I plan on doing it again, but this year meant a lot to me.”
Champion: Aaron Lucio, Stevensville Lakeshore, Jr. (54-0)
Decision, 7-4, over James Link, Lowell, Sr. (38-6)
A year after finishing second in the Finals, Lucio broke through, finishing off an unbeaten season with his first title.
“It means a lot,” Lucio said. “I knew I put the work in. I knew I could get it done. I knew that my coaches told me to stay tough in close matches, and if that would happen, I would win.”
Lucio scored an early takedown in the match, and never trailed, but he used a three-point third period to give himself some space before Link scored an escape in the final minute.
“More points were on the board than I thought,” Lucio said. “But as I opened up and I got to feel him and he could feel me, I knew I could get to his legs a lot easier.”
Champion: Jacob Brya, St. Johns, Sr. (42-0)
Decision, 1-0, over Carsen Richards, Goodrich, Sr. (45-3)
After a positive COVID-19 test ended his junior season and a potential run at four individual titles, Brya came into his senior season with something to prove – after a nudge from his dad.
“I was sitting around for a while, then my dad started yelling at me,” Brya said. “Ever since then I’ve been doing two-a-days and lifting all the time. I just feel like I have more motivation than I’ve ever had.”
Brya won at 112 pounds in 2020 and 103 in 2019. He held a slim 1-0 advantage in Saturday’s final, but rode Richards out to get the victory.
It was the third time the two had wrestled this season, and while each match was close, Brya was able to win the battle while on top, giving him the confidence to do it again.
Champion: Zamuel Thompson, Stevensville Lakeshore, Sr. (51-3)
Decision, 8-6, over Timmy Simons, Gibraltar Carlson, Jr. (37-4)
Thompson joined his sister, Sydney, of Eaton Rapids in winning a Finals title (110 pounds), becoming the first brother-sister combination to win MHSAA wrestling titles in the same season.
“It’s amazing,” Zamuel Thompson said. “I didn’t even know she was going to do it until three or four weeks ago. That made my day.”
In his own match, Thompson needed a third-period takedown to hold off Simons.
“I knew I shouldn’t have let him take me down in the first place,” Thompson said. “I was wrestling sloppy. Just conditioning we’re doing, I knew that in the end I would get him, there was no doubt in my mind. It was just a matter of when.”
Champion: Micah Hanau, Stevensville Lakeshore, Sr. (52-2)
Decision, 3-2, over Julius Polk, Pontiac, Sr. (36-2)
Hanau felt he was too reckless his junior season, which didn’t allow him to repeat as an individual champion.
But he was well under control Saturday as he was able to wrap up a second title.
“I feel great,” Hanau said. “I wrestled the match I wanted to. Last year, I didn’t do how I wanted because of how (out-of-control) my wrestling style was. I took time to control that, and I feel like I won the match I planned on winning.”
Hanau was the champion at 130 pounds in 2020.
Champion: Jacob Gonzales, Holly, Sr. (49-0)
Decision, 7-3, over William Bradley, Paw Paw, Sr. (51-2)
Gonzales became a three-time individual champion with his victory. The Holly senior won at 152 pounds in 2021 and 2020.
“It’s everything I wanted,” Gonzales said. “I wanted four, I had to settle for three, but history isn’t easy.”
Gonzales was in control for most of the match, but Bradley was able to put a little scare into the Holly fans near the end. Gonzales was less scared.
“I knew he was a funky wrestler,” Gonzales said. “I knew I was going to have to be flexible and ready for everything he threw at me, and I was.”
Champion: Brayden Gatreau, Gaylord, Jr. (42-1)
Major decision, 10-2, over Derek Badgley, Mason, Soph. (49-3)
Gatreau turned up the heat in the third period, making what was a tight match a major decision.
“I felt great,” he said. “I worked towards my cardio all season. I knew that, no matter what, I’m working harder than anybody else. At the end of the day, it comes down to who wants it more, and I want it more than anyone else in this state. No matter what time, I’m going to close out the match and I’m going to win it.”
Gatreau scored six points in the third period, including a takedown and nearfall during the final 20 seconds.
Champion: Adam Haselius, Jackson Northwest, Jr. (45-1)
Decision, 7-2, over Kael Wisler, New Boston Huron, Sr. (54-2)
Haselius won the match on his feet, getting three takedowns to Wisler’s zero. And as the match was ending, he was still pushing for a pin, despite having it wrapped up.
“Can’t let up, that’s letting the other guy into the match,” Haselius said. “I have to keep grinding no matter what the score is. It’s the feeling of accomplishment.
“This right here is what you work for. It feels so good to finally complete that goal. To finally reach that high point. I just wrestled my match; it’s a great feeling.”
Champion: Carter Blough, Lowell, Sr. (37-2)
Decision, 4-0, over James Campbell, Mattawan, Sr. (36-1)
As Blough walked off the mat following his first individual title, he was mobbed by his family.
“That’s crazy,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this since I was like 6. It couldn’t be any better. This is what I’ve been wanting since I started wrestling. This is the best moment of my life right here.”
Blough got an early takedown in the first period, and while there wasn’t much scoring afterward, he appeared to be in control throughout.
“I just had to be careful, cautious,” Blough said. “I was just being stingy on top. Just keeping my hips up so he couldn’t hit any big moves, and I knew the match was mine.”
Champion: Ira Jenkins, Whitehall, Sr. (51-0)
Fall 0:38, over Joshua Cook, Ferndale, Sr. (52-1)
Jenkins had a dominant run through the tournament, pinning each of his opponents, including the final three in the opening minute.
“I just knew I had to go out there and do what I do,” Jenkins said. “I was just taking it one thing at a time, and I guess that’s what it ended up being.”
It was the second-straight individual title for Jenkins, who pinned through the 285-pound bracket in Division 3 a year ago.
“Being able to pin through the state tournament two years in a row, that’s pretty cool, I think,” Jenkins said.
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Mumford’s Jamarcus Smith works toward a pin in his 103-pound championship match Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) St. Johns’ Jacob Brya maintains a hold on his way to winning at 140. (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.)