Repeat Reaffirms Clinton's Spot Among Annual Contenders

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 30, 2021

KALAMAZOO – The Clinton wrestling program took its place at the top of Division 4 a year ago, claiming the first Finals title in school history. 

On Tuesday, it emphatically announced that it’s here to stay.  

Clinton rolled through its competition throughout the day, topped off with a 55-9 win against New Lothrop at Wings Event Center, to claim its second-straight Division 4 title. 

“I think now people know that we’re the real deal,” Clinton co-coach Jeff Rolland said. “We solidified what we did last year. We’ve got a lot of young kids – there's only four guys in our lineup every day that aren’t going to be here next year. We did this without three all-staters in our lineup from last year. We have a lot of depth. We have more coming. I think people know that we’re for real now. It’s not a one-year deal or whatever.” 

Clinton was dominant throughout the postseason, and closed it out the same way, winning 76-6 in the Quarterfinal against Ravenna and 59-9 in the Semifinal against Leslie. That’s despite what Rolland said was a performance in the Semifinal that was less than the team’s best. But Clinton has reached the point where it can win even when it’s not at the top of its game. 

“Since my freshman year we were chasing it and we fell short, then we fell short again my sophomore year,” senior Landis Gillman said. “My junior year we really picked it up, and we got into the mindset that we wanted it. We became a family. We’ve just been striving and pushing ourselves to the limits to reach this point.” 

And in case there was any doubt remaining about the program’s status, Clinton has won its titles against the two programs that had dominated the division for more than a decade prior – Hudson (2020) and New Lothrop.  

“Last year was big because we had to go through both,” Rolland said. “New Lothrop, if they’re not the most storied program in the state, I don’t know who is. We’ve got nothing but respect for that team, those guys. It makes it special when you beat a team like that, for sure.” 

It was Gillman who started Clinton off with a bang in the Finals, as he bumped up to 140 pounds and won by major decision against New Lothrop’s Andrew Krupp in a matchup of wrestlers ranked in the top three.  

Clinton won the first six matches of the dual, five by major decision – by Gillman, Kent McCombs (145), AJ Baxter (152), Spencer Konz (160) and Logan Badge (189) – and one with a first-period pin from Brayden Randolph (171).  

“Landis had a day today,” Rolland said. “He went through some kids today. That was big. He’s up a weight class. He’s very, very good as you saw. But a major starting out, I think our kids fed off that. I’m so proud of that kid. He’s a senior, he spent two years on the bench, waited his turn, and now he’s got his shot.” 

Clinton wrestlingNew Lothrop picked up its two wins in the dual at 215 and 285, as Grayson Orr won a 4-3 decision, followed by a second-period fall from Isiah Pasik.  

Clinton closed the dual out with six straight wins, however, as Connor Younts (103) and Ethan Younts (135) each won by pin, Nik Shadley (125) won by technical fall, and Coy Perry (112) and Zak Shadley (130) won by decision. Connor Busz (119) won by forfeit.  

“We did what we needed to do; we wrestled those kids hard,” New Lothrop coach Jeff Campbell said. “They sent a kid out at every weight that was a very talented wrestler, a very experienced wrestler who was well-coached, and we had to compete hard against them, and every single kid did. We just didn’t have as much ammunition as they did today. But I was really, really proud of our effort. We made plenty of mistakes, but we definitely made every point get earned, and that’s all we can try to do.” 

The championship match appearance was the first since 2018 for the Hornets, who had made five straight starting in 2014 and have won 15 team titles. 

“It’s an expectation – from the youth level up, we try to put ourselves in a position to do well,” Campbell said. “I think it’s great for our younger guys, and those younger guys that got to step onto the mat. It’s another one of those years when we lose a good crop of seniors. I told them out here, ‘You seniors, your legacy isn’t whether or not you win or lose this last match or you win or lose a state title yourself. It’s what did you teach the kids along the way? Even when you didn’t know they were watching, what were you doing? How hard were you working? Were you cutting weight the right way? Did you compete in these matches when you were the underdog fearless and wrestle hard?’ They showed that today.” 

New Lothrop defeated Bark River-Harris 54-20 in the Quarterfinal, and received a bye in the Semifinal, as both Hudson and Schoolcraft were disqualified for putting in a wrestler at an ineligible weight in their Quarterfinal. 

Gillman, McCombs, Baxter, Randolph, Badge, Connor Younts, Perry, Busz and Zak Shadley each picked up three wins on the day for Clinton. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clinton’s Landis Gillman wrestles New Lothrop’s Andrew Krupp during Tuesday’s Division 4 Final. (Middle) Clinton celebrates its repeat championship. (Click for more from

After All-American Career, Rockford's Bennett Making Impact as Mat Mentor

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

July 25, 2023

ROCKFORD – Ben Bennett knew from an early age what he wanted his career path to be.

Made in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard.“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.

Bennett wrestles Clarkston’s Adam Lauzun for the Division 1 title at 171 pounds that season.“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.)