By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half
AUBURN HILLS – Warren Lincoln senior Jelani Embree is an explosive and powerful force on the wrestling mat, showing off his superb athleticism.
He showed he is also very smart on the mat, too.
Wrestling an unorthodox style by his standards, Embree won his second straight MHSAA championship by beating Dexter's Will Feldkamp 7-2 in their 189-pound championship match at the Division 2 Individual Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday.
Feldkamp did a solid job of slowing down the pace and explosiveness of Embree, and that was just fine with him.
"I knew going in that he would have a gameplan for me," said Embree, who completed his senior season with a 36-0 record. "I didn't know what it was, but when he decided to go 189, I knew he was training to beat me.
"I didn't take a lot of shots in that match where I usually do. But he was getting me in a front headlock situation. He was trying to slow me down."
It didn't work.
Champion: Chayse LaJoie, Gaylord, Fr. (52-3)
Decision, 3-2, over Riley Bettich, Stevensville-Lakeshore, Fr. (38-2)
LaJoie would have rather controlled his own destiny, but he did say he controlled the match.
LaJoie was awarded the 103-pound title when a stalling penalty point was awarded to him late.
"I felt like I brought the pressure most of the match," LaJoie said. "The stalling calls, that is a weird way to win, but I feel like it was definitely deserved. He was backing up and making sure I couldn't get into my offense. But I thought it was a good match."
Champion: Corey Gamet, Parma Western, Soph. (50-0)
Decision, 4-3, over Chaise Mayer, Warren Woods Tower, Soph. (51-2)
After winning an MHSAA title last season, it may have been a given that the bulls eye would have been on Gamet's back.
But he used reverse psychology in his match with Mayer.
"He was probably a little nervous, because he was the guy that beat me last year," Gamet said. "I'm positive he was saying to himself I can beat this guy, because I did it last year. It actually helped motivate me."
The psychology worked, as Gamet beat Mayer 4-3 in a tightly contested battle.
"I just kept following him and working his head, and eventually he got tired and gave up that late (two points)," Gamet said.
Champion: Branson Proudlock, Gibraltar Carlson, Jr. (53-0)
Decision, 6-3, over Austin Franco, Niles, Jr. (22-3)
An emotional Proudlock had a hard time catching his breath and calming his emotions after winning his first championship.
A lifetime of work and dedication was part of the emotion spilled out of him after his victory.
"There is no better feeling in the world than this," Proudlock said. "I have been training my whole life for this. Last year I took second, and I have been working the entire year to do this. This is the best feeling in life."
His runner-up finish in 2016 helped motivate him.
"This has been on my mind the last year," Proudlock said. "I worked hard for this."
Champion: Dominic LaJoie, Gaylord, Sr. (52-0)
Decision, 16-12, over Corbyn Munson, Chelsea, Jr. (52-3)
LaJoie won his third championship with an impressive offense that put up 16 points. But a less thrilled LaJoie reflected on the match that saw him give up 12 points to Munson.
"I felt like I dominated most of the match, but I kind of went for something at the end and then fell into a tilt and I was kind of mad," LaJoie said. "I have been really looking forward to this, and it was good to end my career with a state championship."
LaJoie said his loss in last year's Final helped get him ready for his senior season.
"That was disappointing at first; I shut down for two weeks," LaJoie said. "But then after that I used it as a motivating factor. I learned a lot about myself, and I used that to drive myself."
LaJoie won his third just three matches after his little brother won his first.
"I wasn't watching him because I was focusing on my match," LaJoie said. "But it's going to be pretty fun tonight with two brothers winning state championships."
Champion: Drew Marten, Tecumseh, Sr. (55-1)
Fall, 1:49, over Chris Fausen, Charlotte, Jr. (40-2)
Returning champion Marten found himself in an unfamiliar place at the start of his 130-pound match.
He was down 4-1.
But like any good champion, he gathered himself and went right after his opponent for a first-period pin and second title.
"I just got back on my offense after being down, got my shot in and turned him, which is what I do best," Marten said. "I threw in the chicken wing, that works in high school, but it won't work in college, so I have to fix that.”
Champion: Austin Boone, Lowell, Fr. (40-3)
Decision, 6-3, over Joshua Edmond, Orchard Lake St. Mary's, Fr. (53-1)
It was a battle of talented freshmen in the 135-pound Final, in a weight class that usually is dominated by upperclassmen.
But the two ninth graders put on a decent show, won by Boone over the previously undefeated Edmond.
Boone, who is used to wrestling on a big stage with a full offseason national schedule, said he was calm throughout his match.
"I think I have wrestled him before this, and it was a great match," Boone said. "I have great coaching. They told me what I had to do, and I went out and did that. Keep it close, because he likes to tie up and go for the outside double leg. And he almost got me with it a couple of times."
Champion: Luke Raczkowski, Parma Western, Sr. (56-3)
Major decision, 22-9, over Trent Lashuay, St. Johns, Sr. (32-7)
Raczkowski was expecting a little tighter match.
But he definitely will take what he earned.
Raczkowski put on an offensive display, winning his first Finals championship.
"That was crazy," Raczkowski said. "I did not expect to put 22 points on the board; I thought I would put about six. But my gameplan going into it, stop his little roll, which I did and he didn't have anything else for me so I kept going."
Champion: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids, Jr. (48-3)
Decision, 3-2 (2 OT), over Alec Rees, Sparta, Soph. (48-1)
O'Hearon proved that wrestling to the last second of every period is very important in his 145-pound championship match.
At the end of regulation, O'Hearon forced a penalty point on a stalling call, and then came back and reversed Rees in the second ride-out overtime for the win and championship.
"I have to thank my coaches for pushing me so hard in practice," O'Hearon said. "Without them, I wouldn't have been able to do that. And I have to thank my mom and my family; they are the reason I do this."
Champion: Bret Fedewa, St. Johns, Sr. (53-0)
Decision, 7-4, over Dustin Gross, Dearborn Heights Annapolis, Jr. (56-1)
Somebody had to lose.
A pair of undefeated wrestlers went at it for the 152-pound title Saturday night, and Fedewa came out on top.
That title kept a St. Johns streak alive, as now it has been nine straight years that the Redwings have had a champion.
"I wanted to continue the tradition at St. Johns," Fedewa said. "We have to have a state champ every year, at least one. And I wanted to continue that and keep it going."
Champion: Lucas McFarland, DeWitt, Sr. (54-2)
Decision 6-5, over Dylan Terrence, Flint Kearsley, Sr. (44-2)
McFarland had no idea he had just won a championship.
"I thought I only got the (two near-fall count) and we were going to go into overtime," McFarland said.
But he was awarded a three near-fall count, capping a comeback that saw him down 5-0 but walk off the mat victorious, 6-5.
"I had no idea I won," McFarland said. "I just kept pushing the pace, and I knew that he couldn't hang in there."
Champion: Nino Bastianelli, Marysville, Sr. (53-4)
Decision, 5-2, over Kane Williams, Clio, Sr. (20-5)
It's been a solid postseason for the Marysville wrestling team.
The Vikings made it through the regular season undefeated, advanced all the way to the Team Semifinals, and then on Saturday saw a champion crowned as Bastianelli beat Clio's Williams 5-2.
"This feels awesome, I just wrestled as hard as I could for all six minutes," Bastianelli said. "I was just trying to up the match, and see whatever happens, happens, and just have fun with it."
Champion: Nick Humphrey, Monroe Jefferson, Sr. (51-2)
Decision 3-2, over Elijah Boulton, Lowell, Sr. (40-4)
Humphrey rushed off the mat and jumped into his father Mike Humphrey's arms after winning the 215-pound championship with a tough 3-2 win.
"I have been waiting for that leap in my dad's arms for 14 years," Humphrey said.
And thanks to a late takedown, he earned the opportunity.
"I knew he wasn't going to do anything flashy," Humphrey said. "He is a solid wrestler, but he does a lot on defense and that made it hard to work my shot in that I was getting in my earlier matches. I got one, though, and that was enough."
Champion: Chase Beard, Allegan, Sr. (48-3)
Decision, 2-1, over Patrick DePiazza, Cedar Springs, Sr. (47-1)
Beard he knew he had to do something different.
Two weeks ago at Regionals, he lost a tight decision to DePiazza. And Saturday night, those two found themselves wresting for a heavyweight championship.
This time Beard got the best thanks to a stalling penalty point awarded to him late.
"I had to push the pace, because I didn't do it last time," Beard said. "At Regionals I stood up the whole match, didn't move. I knew I had to move this match, and I had to move him, because he wasn't doing anything on his feet. I knew he wasn't going to do anything, so I had to push him around."
PHOTO: Warren Lincoln’s Jelani Embree (right) takes on Dexter's Will Feldkamp in a Division 2 Final at 189 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.”
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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.)