By Connor Chaney
Special for Second Half
AUBURN HILLS – On a night when the MHSAA paid tribute to its previous 19 four-time Wrestling Finals champions with a video played on the giant Palace scoreboard, Devin Skatzka remembers a couple shown giving him inspiration to accomplish the incredible feat himself.
Skatzka became No. 21 on that storied list, as he won by technical fall over Ida’s Alex Phillips in their 160-pound match in Division 3.
Earlier Saturday evening, Davison’s Lincoln Olson was No. 20, as he won his fourth title in Division 1, at 135 pounds.
“Freshman year is when I definitely thought I could do this (become a four- time champion),” Skatzka said. “It was a dream of mine to do this after watching (Davison’s) Brent Metcalf and (Fowlerville’s) Adam Coon and all the other guys do this.”
Skatzka had special company up close to watch him do it, as Richmond assistant coach, and more importantly his dad, Dennis Skatzka was on the side of the mat guiding him with former head coach and Richmond legend George Hamblin.
“Getting to enjoy this with my dad is pretty awesome,” Skatzka said.
Champion: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County, Jr. (40-1)
Decision, 9-6, over Emilio Campos, Corunna, Jr. (11-2)
In building a champion, it always takes help from many. From parents to coaches to teachers, the effort is several layers in the making.
But to many wrestlers, that most important component may be their teammates and workout partners.
That was the case for Greer.
“I wouldn’t be here without him (referring to Tri-County 112-pounder Nick McGhan),” Greer said, “We have been wrestling since we were 3 years old”.
Champion: Jarrett Trombley, Corunna, Fr. (47-1)
Decision, 4-3, over Tristian Serbus, Corunna, Jr. (40-8)
It is never easy when teammates wrestle each other in a match during a tournament.
But when it’s the MHSAA Final, that’s even harder on all involved.
Trombley, a freshman, beat junior teammate Serbus, by a one-point decision.
“It was a great experience wrestling a teammate in the Finals,” Trombley said. “Being a four time state champion has always been the goal of mine, and this is just the beginning of that.”
Champion: Devin Schroder, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Jr. (47-1)
Decision, 3-0, over Aaron Kilburn, Richmond, Jr. (43-7)
Grand Rapids Catholic Central junior Devin Schroder took one step closer to history Saturday night, when he won his third straight MHSAA title.
It was the second straight year Schroder had to beat a returning champ to win; last year he beat Leslie’s Kanen Storr.
Kilburn won at 112 in 2014.
“It’s the great thing about this sport, you can be a state champion, a nation champion, but there is always going to be people coming at you with a target on your back,” Schroder said. “So all you have to do is just go knock them down. “
Champion: Reiley Brown, of Whitehall, Jr. (48-2)
Decision, 3-0, over Jerry Fenner, Birch Run, Sr. (52-4)
Brown willed himself to a championship. And sometimes that’s all it takes.
He had all the self-confidence in the world as he was battling a tough foe in Fenner, a champion two seasons ago. But positive thinking pushed Brown to the win.
“I am going to be a state champion,” Brown said. “That is what was going through my head as I secured that last-second takedown to win the match.”
Champion: Matt Santos, of Saginaw Swan Valley, Jr. (58-1)
Decision 3-1 over Kole Krauss, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Jr. (42-4)
Santos makes no apologies for the way he wrestles.
He admittedly is a defensive wrestler, and it worked again in a tough 3-1 win for his first MHSAA title. Santos was a runner-up two seasons ago.
“Wrestle my match, the whole time every tournament, it doesn’t matter who it is or what tournament it is,” Santos said. “States, Regionals it doesn’t matter. I go out and wrestle my match. That was my gameplan going into the Finals match, and I was sticking to this plan.”
Champion: Kanen Storr, Leslie, Jr. (54-1)
Decision, 9-4, over Zach Blevins, Dundee, Jr. (54-2)
Sometimes there is nothing better than a tough loss to motivate.
It worked for Storr, who lost out on winning his second MHSAA title last year when he was defeated by Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s Schroder at 119 pounds.
Storr got that second title Saturday with an impressive 9-4 win.
“Every day when I am in the wrestling room, I remember last year’s State Finals,” Storr said. “I just remember the memory of losing, and it was so painful. But it’s what pushed me to work harder every single day.”
Champion: Nate Limmex, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Sr. (44-0)
Decision, 9-3, over Dakota Ball, Ida, Sr. (46-5)
Limmex hasn’t lost at The Palace since his freshman year.
He was at Lowell High School at the time, and took fourth in Division 2.
A move to Grand Rapids Catholic Central and three undefeated seasons and three Finals championships later, Limmex reflected
“No, I don’t think I have a favorite (championship); they have all been all pretty good,” Limmex said. “This was a good way to end the career, on top – it’s always good to go out with a win.”
Champion: Foster Karmon, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Jr. (30-0)
Major decision, 13-2, over Logan Merrick, Scottville Mason County Central, Jr. (47-9)
The Grand Rapids Catholic Central brigade continued at The Palace, as Karmon took to the mat to try and win his second straight Finals title.
Last year he won the 125-pound bout while wrestling at Allegan High School. But a family move to Grand Rapids and a jump in weight classes changed little, as he won this time by major decision.
“My strategy is more of my mindset with me. I just had to look at it as one more match,” Karmon said.
Champion: Hunter Gasper, Standish-Sterling, Soph. (52-1)
Decision, 6-0, over Brandon Dyke, Allendale, Sr. (43-4)
Gasper had a strategy to dominate.
He held to that plan in claiming his first MHSAA championship and finishing this season with only one loss.
“Just take control of the match and dominate the whole match,” Gasper said. “That’s what I did, and it feels great to win as a sophomore.”
Champion: Brandon Whitman, Dundee, Fr. (57-2)
Decision 8-2, over Kevin Curby, Hillsdale, Sr. (47-7)
It’s not often when a freshman comes into high school wrestling and wins on a consistent basis at one of the heavier weight classes.
But that’s exactly what Whitman did this winter, as he won 57 matches and then a title Saturday night.
“I was super excited, and I was a little bit nervous,” Whitman said. “I didn’t know how big (MHSAA Finals) was and what was going to be happening, but when I started wrestling I felt more confident.”
It was fifth time Whitman wrested Curby this year; Whitman won all five times.
Champion: Jared Roehl, Millington, Soph. (49-0)
Decision 5-2, over Chase Beard, Allegan, Soph. (54-3)
Sticking with impressive underclassmen, a pair of super sophomores wrestled for the 189-pound title.
Millington’s Jared Roehl stayed undefeated with a close decision to close his second trip to the Finals.
“After taking sixth as a freshman last year and hurting my shoulder and eventually having to get shoulder surgery, this feels a lot better, that for sure,” Roehl said. “Finally being able to take the top of the podium healthy is all I can ask for.”
Champion: Trent Hillger, Lake Fenton, Soph. (58-0)
Decision, 6-0, over Grant Tennihill, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Sr. (40-4)
Division 3 looks highly competitive for years to come, as another sophomore shined at 215 pounds.
Hillger won 6-0 to cap a perfect 58-0 season.
“I have been working toward this my whole life,” Hillger said. “This feels great.”
Champion: Maddox Maki, Williamston, Jr. (53-6)
Decision, 2-0, over Tim Smith, Benzie Central, Sr. (35-4)
Sometimes winning an MHSAA title when you are a freshman can seem like an unrealistic goal.
That’s how Williamston junior Maddox Maki felt. But as a junior, that dream became reality.
“As a freshman I kind of joked around saying I could win a state title, and as the years went on it became more and more realistic and finally it came,” Maki said. “Now I did it and it feels great.”
PHOTO: Richmond’s Devin Skatzka is saluted by the crowd after becoming the 21st in MHSAA history to win a fourth Finals championship. (Click to see more at 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.)