DETROIT – It was fitting that Josh Barr versus Manuel Rojas was the last bout of the night at Saturday’s Division 1 Individual Wrestling Finals, because that’s the match everyone was most excited to see.
Two of the best in the country at 171 pounds, with a combined four state titles between them, Davison’s Barr emerged victorious with a 5-2 win over Detroit Catholic Central’s Rojas, with all eyes on them.
“This is what I’ve been talking about for a long time. I couldn’t wait to be part of something like this. Practically main eventing the state championships against one of the best wrestlers in the state, it’s amazing,” Barr said. “Having all these people around watching, it was awesome.”
Barr (28-1), a junior, set the tone right away with a takedown in the first period to lead 2-0.
Rojas (37-3) managed an escape in the first and another in the second to even the match at 2-2. Barr would answer with an escape to start the third and then drive home the win with a takedown in the final minute to earn his third title.
“It means a lot,” Barr said of his third championship. “It means what we’re doing is right, it’s working. Going to bed early, waking up early, eating clean. It all adds up.”
Rojas had just two losses in-state during his senior season, both coming to Barr over the last eight days. Barr edged Rojas 4-3 in last weekend’s Division 1 Team Final while leading Davison to a 29-21 victory.
“I think it just shows my character. I got right back to it last week. Winning that team state title was cool, but as soon as I got in my car, it was over,” Barr said. “I started training again right away. I knew (Rojas) was going to be sitting here waiting for me, so I got right back to it.”
Champion: Conor McAlary, Hudsonville, Fr. (45-1)
Decision, 4-2 (OT), over Ozia Wilson, Macomb Dakota, Fr. (47-1)
In a thrilling finish, McAlary scored a takedown in sudden victory to hand Wilson his only loss of the season.
“I knew going into this match that I had to take (Wilson) into deep waters to win this match,” McAlary said. “Heading into overtime, my coach told me this is right where we wanted to be. I knew I had it.”
The first two periods were scoreless, but McAlary got a takedown in the third to counter a pair of escapes from Wilson. It then came down to a quick takedown from McAlary in OT to earn the state title.
“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “The goal is always to win, but sometimes you can’t really wrap your head around it even after you win. I don’t really know what to feel. It’s wild.”
Champion: Caleb Weiand, Macomb Dakota, Jr. (48-0)
Decision, 3-1, over Mariano Lopez, Holt, Jr. (35-5)
After suffering his only loss of the 2021 season in a championship match, Weiand was determined not to suffer the same fate this year.
“Losing in the state finals was the worst feeling I ever had. I didn’t want to experience that again,” Weiand said.
His takedown in the first period proved to be the difference, as he held off a game Lopez over the final minutes.
“I just had to stay tough,” Weiand said. “I knew I could ride him out for most of the period. I feel very confident on top.”
Champion: Drew Heethuis, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (32-3)
Decision, 4-1, over Justin Gates, Davison, Soph. (30-4)
In a match that featured a pair of 2021 champions, Heethuis scored a takedown in the first period and a reversal in the second to secure his second title.
“It’s awesome. I had a couple of bumps in the road earlier in the year, and I wasn’t in the right mindset,” Heethuis said. “Over the past couple of months, because of my coaches, I was able to dial it in for the last half of the year. It feels great.”
The two met in last week’s Division 1 Team Final, with Heethuis grinding out a 2-1 victory over Gates.
“We wrestled last weekend and I knew it would be a tough match this time, too,” Heethuis said. “I knew that if I was able to get into a good attack in the first, it would be key.”
Champion: Cade Horwath, Davison, Jr. (30-0)
Decision, 10-5, over Fritz Mueller, Macomb Dakota, Sr. (40-7)
Horvath earned his 100th career win and locked up his third championship while also capping his second-consecutive undefeated season.
“This one means a little more,” Horwath said of his third title. “We had some team adversity this year, so it took a lot of hard work by the team to get everyone at their best.”
Horwath scored two takedowns early in the first period to set the tone and never trailed in the match.
“Honestly, I just wanted to have fun and score some points,” Horwath said. “It was a nice environment, being able to wrestle in front of my family and fans.”
Champion: Clayton Jones, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (36-3)
Decision, 9-2, over Elijah Bunn, Rockford, Jr. (42-2)
Jones secured his first championship with a dominant effort at 130 pounds, earning a 9-2 win over the top-seeded Bunn.
“I’m just thinking that all the hard work that we’ve been putting in got (me) the state championship,” Jones said.
Jones came out aggressive with an early takedown in the first and added two more in the second to keep in control.
“I made sure to get the first takedown,” Jones said. “I came out the gates and just kept going at him, going at him.”
Champion: Aidan Smith, Brighton, Sr. (44-1)
Decision, 8-4, over Caleb Youngblood, Romeo, Sr. (26-4)
Smith added his name to Brighton’s championship history with a hard-fought win.
“I have waited for this for a very long time,” Smith said. “I had previous teammates ahead of me that won state titles, and that was a lot of pressure on me. I just feel like all of that pressure has been lifted.”
Smith never trailed, as he scored the opening takedown and sprinkled in a few more throughout the bout.
“I knew the match was going to be tough. I just had to wrestle all six minutes hard,” he said. “I felt like I was getting into my attacks really well, and I just kept chain wrestling. I was really happy with my performance.”
Champion: Dylan Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (39-0)
Decision, 7-1, over Evan Herriman, Davison, Jr. (20-4)
A quiet and composed Gilcher won his third championship at a third different weight class Saturday.
After winning at 112 pounds in 2020 and 135 pounds in 2021, Gilcher controlled his match from start-to-finish to earn the 140-pound crown.
This Finals matchup was a rematch from the 135-pound final in 2021. Gilcher won that 3-0. These two also met in last weekend’s D1 Team Final, a 7-5 victory for Gilcher.
“I had him last week and last year. I’ve been wrestling him since we were little, growing up. He was always kind of bigger than me, so he could beat me up a little bit,” Gilcher said. “It feels good.”
Champion: Nathan Jerore, Brownstown Woodhaven, Sr. (38-1)
Decision, 8-4, over Owen Payne, Davison, Sr. (15-2)
After seeing previous title bids ended prematurely by injuries and the pandemic, Jerore now can call himself a Finals champion.
“I literally can’t believe it. I wanted it so bad. It’s been taken from me for so long,” Jerore said. “Injuries and COVID, it’s been crazy, but I just kept working toward this goal.”
Jerore scored four takedowns in the match and was relentless on his feet against Payne.
“I knew he was going to be tough, but I knew that if I was as tough as I can be, anyone that I wrestled I could break,” Jerore said. “That’s what happened.”
Champion: Darius Marines, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (35-4)
Decision, 1-0, over Tatum Bunn, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (25-12)
For the second consecutive season, Marines had to face a teammate in a championship match.
For the second consecutive season, Marines came out victorious.
“It’s unfortunate, but it had to happen,” Marines said of facing a teammate in the final again. “(Bunn) was one of my best friends on the team. It kind of hurt. But, I had to set all that stuff aside.”
The match didn’t have much action. Marines rode out Bunn in the second period and then earned an escape in the third for the lone point.
“I felt pretty good (after the second period),” Marines said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this, so it feels pretty good (to win).”
Champion: Rollie Denker, Temperance Bedford, Sr. (55-2)
Decision, 3-1, over Brayden Mirjavadi, Romeo, Jr. (41-4)
A takedown in the closing second of the third period broke a 1-1 tie and gave Denker his first championship.
Mirjavadi got an escape in the second to take a 1-0 lead, and Denker answered with an escape of his own to start the third. He then turned up the heat late in the match to earn his title.
“I knew late in matches, we all get tired, but I knew (Mirjavadi) would be the exception, so I had to keep going and eventually I just got him,” Denker said.
Champion: Remey Cotton, Davison, Jr. (27-3)
Decision, 7-4, over Aidan Wardell, Midland Dow, Sr. (44-4)
Cotton got a takedown early in the bout and built a 5-1 lead in the second period before hanging on for the victory.
“I’ve trained for this my whole life,” Cotton said of the win. “Being able to come out here and get it done just feels amazing.”
Along with his first championship, Cotton also avenged a prior loss to Wardell to cap off his season.
“I practice every day to win every match,” Cotton said. “If I lose one match, I just look forward to the next one to be able to move that to the past.”
Champion: Jimmy Colley, Davison, Sr. (32-2)
Decision, 14-7, over Avery Dickerson, Hartland, Sr. (45-2)
Colley collected his second consecutive championship at 215 pounds in a wild scramble of a match.
“It feels great to come back here and end your career as a state champ two times in a row, as well as a team champ two times in a row,” Colley said. “It shows you are one of the best.”
The two contenders traded position often, but it was Colley who found himself with the advantage more consistently. He led 8-5 after two periods and then handled his business in the third.
“We both had that same funky style, and we always put on an exciting match,” Colley said. “You never know what (Dickerson) is going to do. It looks like we are just rolling around sometimes.”
Champion: Joshua Terrill, Holt, Sr. (43-2)
Decision, 6-2, over Giulian Bodiu, Canton, Sr. (28-1)
After finishing runner-up in 2021, Terrill grinded his way to a championship.
“I just kept telling myself to not be content. I wasn’t content, and I just won a state title,” Terrill said.
After a scoreless opening period, Terrill turned up the aggression and scored a pair of takedowns in the second period to take control. He credited his coaches for his strong finish.
“This means a whole lot to me, but this really goes to my coaches,” Terrill said. “None of this is about me, it’s about the coaches that got me here.”
PHOTOS (Top) Davison’s Josh Barr (right) and Detroit Catholic Central’s Manuel Rojas contend for the 171-pound title Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) Woodhaven’s Nathan Jerore, left, works toward a win at 145 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.”
2023 Made In Michigan
July 20: Oakridge 3-Sport Star Potts Applying Lessons to 'Second Chapter' in Sales - Read
July 18: Frankfort Hoops Staff Bolstered by Past Stars Giving Back in Banktson, Kreski - Read
July 12: Championship Memories, High School Tennis' Impact Stick with Hackett Pair - Read
July 6: Brother Rice Finals Hero Aiming to Ace Family Life, Financial World - Read
July 5: Lapeer West 4-Time Finals Winner Set to Build Champions at Oklahoma - Read
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.)