Lowell senior – Wrestling
Together with his teammates, Boone continued to contribute to a historic streak Saturday by helping the Red Arrows to their record seventh-straight MHSAA Team Finals championship, posting a pin and two major decisions to earn the MHSAA “Performance of the Week.” He also put himself on the cusp of another legendary achievement – this weekend at Ford Field, Boone can become the 27th in Michigan high school history to win four Individual Finals championships, and join Davison great Brent Metcalf as the only wrestlers to win four individual titles and be part of four team titles as well.
Lowell defeated Croswell-Lexington in Friday’s Quarterfinal, 63-10, then Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 58-9 in the Saturday morning Semifinal and Gaylord 53-4 in the afternoon championship match – another dominant run, especially impressive considering the Red Arrows lost a ranked wrestler to a knee injury and saw another wrestle through a slightly lesser one. In the finale, Boone scored an 11-3 decision at 145 pounds over two-time individual champion Chayse LaJoie, who entered the match unbeaten. Boone will bring a 37-0 record into Friday’s first round, and he’s 152-8 over his career with his previous championships coming at 135, 145 and 152 pounds.
Boone – who also played football his first three years of high school – has signed to continue his academic and wrestling careers at national powerhouse Penn State, which has won eight of the last nine NCAA Division I championships. Boone’s father is a dentist, and Austin intends to eventually study dentistry as well and follow his dad into the family practices.
Coach R.J. Boudro said: “First of all, it’s always nice when you send somebody out and you’re pretty sure they’re going win, every time, and probably get you bonus points. So within wrestling, that’s a luxury that we’re sure going to miss. And as far as him in the practice room … I don’t know that Austin’s ever missed a wrestling practice. (Boone confirmed he missed one this season for a college visit.) And within that wrestling practice, there’s guys that you’re in practice and you have to go sit out or whatever because you’re hurt. I don’t know that Austin’s ever taken a second off of a practice. So his toughness, I think this year, has been really contagious. I think we’ve been able to use that as an example and kinda show kids what toughness is. Because it’s hard to do that when you don’t have it; when you have it, you’ve got to make an example of it, and Austin definitely has that. I don’t think he’s every come close to missing weight. I don’t think he’s ever just missed a match. He’s just the most dependable kid I think I’ve ever had, and dependable for a lot of reasons. Over the course of four years he’s grown up a lot, and I think this year has been easily his best year – not just performance-wise, but just helping our team, being another coach in our room.”
Performance Point: “I just think that the team performed really well. We went into that kinda motivating guys to put up as many team points as you could, especially if the person knew they were supposed to win,” Boone said of Saturday’s victory over Gaylord. “We started out with Nick Korhorn; he was kinda on edge a little bit, and we told him to just go and get as many bonus points as he could and he started off good, he put up five team points and we just fed off that. Will Link had a big win; we felt like that was another turning point. We (took) it up another gear. I feel like everyone wrestled better after we got to see those guys win some big matches. … I really didn’t think about (the magnitude of my match) all that much. I try not to think about it at all. The more you think about your opponent, the less you focus on yourself.”
Four for four, and seven in a row: “It’s been fantastic. Honestly, it’s weird to think about. You almost want to say that you think it’s going to happen, but there’s so much work that goes into each title. You almost forget about it. Every year you come back and you think it’s going to happen again, and you put in so much work over and over and over again, and then it’s over and you have to start again.”
Tournament tested: “(This weekend is) just another match. Honestly, I’m more worried about what I’m eating for dinner tonight than I am for this weekend. … (I’ve) just wrestled in so many big matches over the years, it’s all the same.”
Memories made: “It’s just the experience of high school. You get to know what it’s like to be part of a team. Fortunately for me, I got to be part of a really good team. I got to wrestle some really good matches against other really good teams. It was just a good experience to have before I head off to college. It’s different than wrestling with either yourself, or I’ve wrestled with my brothers over the summer – it’s not really a team. So I like (high school).”
Full house: “I have five siblings – four younger brothers and a younger sister. The household’s fairly loud. We’ve learned to live with each other. It’s not as hectic as it used to be. And then weekends, we just spend at wrestling tournaments. … They’re all wrestlers. I’ve tried to show them just the occasional goofy move. But they’ve got to figure it out for themselves, and I think that’s better for them. One of my younger brothers actually just showed me a new move last week, and then he showed it to the team because it was just goofy – it was fun.”
– Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
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PHOTOS: (Top) Lowell's Austin Boone works toward a win over Gaylord's Chayse LaJoie during Saturday's Division 2 Team Final at Wings Event Center. (Middle) Boone's arm is raised in victory during Friday's Quarterfinal against Croswell-Lexington. (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.)