Forget for a minute that Dundee on Tuesday will attempt to win a fourth-straight MHSAA Finals championship for the second time in the program’s illustrious history.
Consider first the relative strength of the Division 3 field as this season comes to a close.
Four of seven competing teams are undefeated or have lost only once during this abbreviated season. Combined those seven have 67 qualifiers for the Individual Finals – or nearly 10 per team.
Back to Dundee. The Vikings will travel to Kalamazoo looking to match the 1995-98 teams’ string of four Finals titles, the first of that of that run coming in Class C-D followed by three in Division 4.
Division 3 Quarterfinals – matchups below – begin at 12:30 p.m. at Wings Event Center’s Valley, with Semifinals at 3 p.m. and the championship match at 6.
Division 3 - 12:30 pm - The Valley
#1 Dundee - BYE - Mat 3
#4 Richmond vs. #5 Montrose - Mat 4
#3 Alma vs. #6 Freeland - Mat 1
#2 Whitehall vs. #7 Hart - Mat 2
(Constantine opted out.)
Spectator limits remain in effect, but all matches will be broadcast live and viewable with subscription on MHSAA.tv. Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 3, listed by seed.
Record/rank: 17-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Tim Roberts, 22nd season (555-76-1)
Championship history: Twelve MHSAA championships (most recent 2020), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Kade Kluce (12-2) fr., 112 Braeden Davis (21-0) soph., 119 Kaden Chinavare (18-0) soph., 119 Kyle Smith (12-2) jr., 125 Logan Sander (13-1) jr., 130 Trey Parker (14-3) fr., 135 Aiden Davis (21-1) soph., 140 Austin Fietz (20-2) sr., 145 Casey Swiderski (22-0) jr., 160 Tyler Swiderski (21-1) sr., 171 Nic Bellaire (7-4) sr., 171 Dominick Lomazzo (17-3) sr., 189 Stoney Buell (21-0) sr.
Outlook: Dundee is favored to extend its Division 3 championship streak to four, and returns with nine starters from last season’s lineup leading the way. Buell this weekend will attempt to become the 29th four-time Individual Finals champion in MHSAA history after winning at 160 a year ago. He’s one of six returning individual champions, along with Braeden Davis (103), Fietz (130), Casey Swiderski (135), Tyler Swiderski (145) and Lomazzo (152), while Chinavare (112) earned a third place and Aiden Davis (125) was a runner-up. Among Dundee’s dual wins this season were bouts over Division 4 top seed Clinton and Division 2 top seed Lowell.
Record/rank: 25-1, No. 3
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Co-coaches: Justin Zeerip, third season; Collin Zeerip, third season (72-6)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Ty Whalen (20-3) sr., 119 Matthew Goodrich (23-6) sr., 140 Max Brown (29-1) jr., 145 Marco Moore (28-3) sr., 152 Nicholas Blanchard (25-5) jr., 152 Alec Pruett (11-4) jr., 160 Jacob Haynes (25-4) sr., 171 Connor Young (25-5) sr., 189 Kris Dowdell (190-8) sr., 215 Ira Jenkins (31-0) jr., 285 Shane Cook (27-2) soph.
Outlook: After missing the Quarterfinals last season in Division 2, Whitehall is back in Division 3 and headed to the Quarterfinals for the fifth time in six years and seeking at least a fourth Semifinal berth during this run. The Vikings will bring an experienced lineup, with 12 of 14 expected starters upperclassmen. Brown finished third in Division 2 at 130 last season, and Jenkins was fifth at 171.
Record/rank: 21-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference
Coach: Randy Miniard, 10th season (233-98)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Dominic Anguiano (24-3) sr., 125 Gianni Tripp (24-6) soph., 140 Solomon Rosales (23-5) sr., Dametrius Castillo (24-4) sr., 160 Jacob Munger (22-4) jr., 171 Cole O’Boyle (22-4) fr.
Outlook: The Panthers earned the third seed of the second-straight season, and eliminated No. 7 Portland in the Regional Final to advance. Alma is graduating only three after this season and could another valuable building block with a nice run Tuesday. Castillo, the Division 3 champion at 119 as a freshman, also was runner-up last season at 135, while Rosales was fourth at 130 in 2020.
Record/rank: 9-0, No. 4
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Co-coaches: Brandon Day, 17th season (487-99), Preston Treend, fifth season (105-15)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), eight runner-up finishes
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Emmet Kettel (10-1) sr., 112 Noah Harris (11-1) soph., 119 Hunter Keller (10-1) sr., 140 Austin Bergeon (7-3) jr., 160 Gavin Resk (5-1) sr., 171 Kevin McKiernan (8-1) jr., 189 Regan Rewalt (5-2) sr., 189 Wesley Peters (11-1) jr., 215 Eddie Olson (22-2) soph., 285 Dan McKiernan (10-0) sr.
Outlook: Richmond has wrestled in 10 of the last 11 Division 3 Finals and finished runner-up the last three seasons. The Blue Devils have more freshman (five) than seniors (four) in Tuesday’s expected starting lineup, but have continued to roll including downing No. 8 Algonac during this postseason run. Keller is a two-time individual runner-up, including at 112 last season. Also placing last season were Harris (eighth at 103), Peters (third at 171) and McKiernan (fifth at 285).
Record/rank: 12-1, No. 5
League finish: No league title awarded this season.
Coach: Jason Perrin, fourth season (62-35)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2005), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Thor Robbins (11-3) jr., 112 Hunter Coxon (14-4) soph., 119 Seth Coffin (13-3) jr., 125 Aidan Bernard (14-1) jr., 130 Jake Elasivich (15-1) sr., 145 Blake Greenman (14-4) jr., 152 Ty Emmendorfer (15-4) jr., 189 Cody Smith (14-3) jr., 285 Levi Harber (15-1) jr., 285 Aden Viar (7-2) jr.
Outlook: After what had been more than a decade away from the Quarterfinals, Montrose these days is making a third-straight trip and reached the Semifinals a year ago. A young lineup last season now boasts 11 upperclassmen among the expected 14 starters. Harber was third at 215 last season, while Bernard was third at 125 and senior Bobby Skinner (135, 14-2) was seventh at 152.
Record/rank: 19-3, unranked
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference
Coach: Ryan Fournier, first season (19-3)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Noah Graham (19-2) fr., 112 Gibby Shepard (16-6) fr., 130 Tyler Tomasek (21-4) sr., 135 Wilson Longnecker (15-5) jr., 135 Cayden Remainder (15-6) soph., 140 Cole Fourier (21-3) jr., 160 Nolan VanLoo (22-4) sr.
Outlook: Freeland is making its second appearance at the Quarterfinals – the first was in 2004 – and possibly setting itself up for a quicker return next time with seven freshmen and only two seniors among Tuesday’s projected starters. Another noticeable stride for the program will be noticed more this weekend; VanLoo was Freeland’s only Individual Finals qualifier in 2020 but will be joined by six teammates this time. The Falcons downed No. 10 Remus Chippewa Hills in the Regional Final.
Record/rank: 26-4, No. 6
League finish: Second in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Brad Altland, ninth season (247-90)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Bryce Jorissen (22-12) soph., 112 Trenton Swihart (29-7) soph., 119 Trayce Tate (23-4) soph., 125 Austin Martinez (18-11) fr., 130 Spencer Vanderzwaaag (29-3) sr., 135 Chance Alvesteffer (30-4) jr., 145 Mason Cantu (30-2) jr., 160 Thomas Tanner (29-5) sr., 189 Leo Guadarrama (32-2) jr., 285 Braeden Carskadon (26-10) sr.
Outlook: After making the Quarterfinals last season for just the second time, in Division 4, Hart has equaled the feat despite facing larger opponents in Division 3. The Pirates defeated No. 9 Kingsley in the Regional Semifinal to highlight this trip. Cantu finished individual runner-up at 135 in Division 4 last season, while Tate was fourth at 112, Alvesteffer was fifth at 130 and Tanner was eighth at 152.
PHOTO: Dundee’s Aiden Davis (right) and Montrose’s Aidan Bernard face off during last season’s Division 3 Semifinals. (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.)