DETROIT – A change in divisions couldn’t slow Sean Spidle down.
The Flint Powers Catholic junior claimed his third straight MHSAA individual wrestling championship Saturday, defeating Tecumseh’s Joshua Hilton 9-6 in the Division 2 112-pound final. Spidle won titles in Division 3 the previous two years, at 103 in 2017 and 112 in 2018.
“It feels amazing,” Spidle said. “This is what I train for. I thought about this every single night. I have to give a lot of credit to my parents and coaches; they pushed me to be better every single day.”
Spidle took a 6-2 lead in the match and held off a late charge from Hilton, who scored a pair of takedowns in the final period. Spidle ran into the stands following his win, celebrating with family and friends as he has now given himself a chance to join the ranks of four-time champions.
“It’s time to train and get ready for it,” he said. “It’s awesome. It makes it even better that my friends and parents came to support. This is everything I wanted.”
Champion: Donovan King, Farmington, Sr. (51-2)
Fall, 4:39, over Jaren Johnson, Warren Lincoln, Sr. (37-2)
After missing his entire junior season with a torn knee ligament, King made up for lost time and rolled to his first Finals title.
He racked up three pins in his four matches, including in the final, to become Farmington’s first MHSAA champion since 1995.
“It feels great to come back to win this and be the third person to win states from Farmington High School,” King said. “It was very hard. I had to overcome a lot of pain during the season, my knee shifting out of place during a match. It’s just a mindset. I’m just glad I got through that this whole season.”
Champion: Jacob Brya, St. Johns, Fr. (42-2)
Decision, 9-2, over Jamison Zimmerman, Niles, Jr. (37-7)
In his first high school season, Brya showed that his youth success was no fluke.
The former MYWAY state champion’s run to an MHSAA championship included two pins and a four-takedown performance in the title match.
“I just kind of wanted to be conservative so I could win the match,” Brya said. “I didn’t want to do anything dumb so I could blow a lead, so I just kind of wrestled conservative and beat him off my feet.”
Champion: Vincent Perez, Tecumseh, Sr. (53-0)
Major Decision, 18-8, over Joe Haynes, Warren Woods-Tower, Soph. (34-8)
After finishing second his junior season, Perez wasn’t going to leave anything to chance Saturday night.
He scored nine points in the third period to turn a close match into a major decision and put an exclamation point on a perfect season.
“I didn’t come here just to win, I came here to dominate,” Perez said. “Third period, it was still a decision, and I wasn’t content with that. I wanted to dominate. I’ve been working all year to control, be aggressive and dominate. Last year, it didn’t work out so well, came up a little short. But this year, it’s a better taste leaving.”
Champion: Chaise Mayer, Warren Woods-Tower, Sr. (44-3)
Decision, 3-2, over Chayse Lajoie, Gaylord, Jr. (48-2)
After finishing as a Division 2 runner-up in 2016 and 2017, Mayer made it to the top of the podium, knocking off a two-time returning champion in Lajoie.
The two wrestlers traded a takedown and a reversal in the first period, and a Mayer escape in the second proved to be the difference as he rode Lajoie out for the entirety of the third period.
“It’s much deserved and well-earned,” Mayer said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this. To come so close so many times and not get it, I couldn’t let that happen again. It was just about being gritty and knowing I could do it. Knowing how to win.”
Champion: Kaleob Whitford, St. Johns, Sr. (42-2)
Decision, 6-0, over Nate Young, Holly, Jr. (51-7)
A dominant display in the top position capped a dominant overall tournament for Whitford, who had racked up a pair of pins and a major decision prior to the final.
He scored a takedown late in the first period of his match against Young, and rode him out through the end of the second.
“I feel accomplished,” Whitford said. “My dad was a state champion his senior year, my brother was a four-time state champ, so I had to keep the generation going. I didn’t really think about it. I tried to keep my mind clear. I don’t think about anything when I’m about to wrestle.”
Champion: Christopher Lilly, Croswell-Lexington, Jr. (52-7)
Decision, 6-3, over Matthew Tomsett, Madison Heights Lamphere, Sr. (52-3)
After watching his dad coach a pair of Finals champions in previous years, Lilly was determined to create a father-son moment at Ford Field.
Thanks to a three-takedown performance against Tomsett, he was able to do just that. Lilly was a Regional runner-up, and won each of his matches by three points or fewer, not making it easy on his dad, Cros-Lex coach Joe Lilly, and fans. But in the end, it was well worth it.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Christopher Lilly said. “I wanted to do that since I was little when I watched Donnie Corby win a state title and then I watched Collin Lieber win a state title. I wanted him to be in my corner, then (watch) me win a state title.”
Champion: Avry Mutschler, Lowell, Sr. (37-2)
Decision, 5-2, over Nick Matusko, Chelsea, Jr. (45-1)
Mutschler felt that at previous MHSAA Finals he hadn’t wrestled at his best through the end of matches. This time, he finished the job.
The Lowell senior capped off a career that already included four team Finals championships with his first individual title, securing a takedown with nine seconds left to seal the match.
“Those last 30 seconds, every year that I’m here I tend to quit wrestling and I start hanging on and that’s when bad things happen,” Mutschler said. “I kept trying to remind myself, ‘You have to keep going forward, you have to keep moving your feet, you have to keep hand fighting when you’re trying to score, 0-0 in the first.’ That’s what I did, I got a takedown and I iced it.”
Champion: Caleb Fish, Eaton Rapids, Jr. (44-1)
Major Decision, 17-5, over Nick Gates, Marysville, Sr. (40-4)
Fish closed out a dominant tournament performance, earning his third major decision of the weekend and first championship.
A year ago, Fish was the runner-up at 135 pounds, and this year he wasn’t going to let anything get in his way.
“I felt pretty great,” Fish said. “I felt that I had control in my hands. He was not shooting his shot and I shot mine.
“It feels pretty darn great. I’ve worked hard. I took second last year and that really hurt, so I went even a step further and worked harder and finally got my success that I was working for.”
Champion: Austin Boone, Lowell, Jr. (31-4)
Fall, 2:57, over Devin Spears, Melvindale, Sr. (47-6)
Nobody bothered to send out a wrestler against Boone a week ago at the Team Finals as Lowell picked up its sixth straight championship. This is why.
The Lowell junior earned his third individual title in three tries, putting an exclamation point on his season with a second-period pin against Spears.
“It was a fun season,” Boone said. “I definitely think we had more fun in the room than we have in the past. Obviously it’s still working. It’s a great feeling to know that the team can celebrate along with you.”
Champion: Omari Embree, Warren Woods-Tower, Fr. (37-5)
Decision, 5-2, over Nelson Poet, New Boston Huron, Jr. (35-10)
Embree was tired after winning his first championship. But he found one more burst of energy to pull off a flawless backflip.
“At the time I was really tired, so it was hard,” he said. “But it just played out well. Everybody was yelling.”
Embree took an early lead in the match, and led 3-2 late in the third before another takedown sealed it.
“I felt in control,” Embree said. “I knew it was going to be close because obviously it’s the state finals, and we wrestled before in the Regional Semifinal, so he knew what I was going to do. I just knew I had to manage the match, and I managed the match really well.”
Champion: Ryan Ringler, Cedar Springs, Sr. (48-0)
Decision, 4-2, over James Penfold, Goodrich, Sr. (46-4)
Penfold was one of the few wrestlers to push Ringler this season, as this was a rematch of Ringler’s 3-2 win at the Goodrich Tournament of Champions.
Ringler was again able to come out on top Saturday, getting a takedown with 11 seconds remaining to claim his second straight title.
“I had a plan coming into it,” Ringler said. “I knew he was going to be a little more defensive. ... I just had to push the pace and get to my stuff.
“I love wrestling the great guys. It only makes you better, too. It’s great to have that rivalry between two guys.”
Champion: Sage Serbenta, Cedar Springs, Jr. (46-1)
Decision, 3-2, over John Shelton, East Grand Rapids, Jr. (46-2)
Neither wrestler had to go a full six minutes to get to the final, but it took every second to decide this Regional Final rematch.
Like he did in that Regional, Serbenta came out on top, getting in on a leg late and holding on to keep Shelton off the board.
“I knew what he was going to do. I knew he was going to switch his style up on me,” Serbenta said. “Last time, he didn’t take a single shot, so I knew he was going to start coming in, and he did. I knew he liked those underhooks, so I was trying to avoid those. I feel like I deserve (the title) with how much I work. … You realize that those last 30 minutes of practice when you don’t feel like practicing, those are when you practice.”
Champion: Taye Ghadiali, Warren Fitzgerald, Sr. (45-0)
Decision, 11-4, over Honour Kline, Goodrich, Sr. (52-2)
A dominant weekend for Ghadiali ended with a championship and an unbeaten season.
Ghadiali won by first-period pin in each of his first three matches, and used a pair of first-period takedowns to take control of his match with Kline.
“All the work that I’ve been doing through MYWAY – I wasn’t always good in MYWAY – I just kept working and working, I always wanted to be a state champ, and now today I am,” Ghadiali said. “My mindset was, after that semifinal match (a year ago), I just felt like I wasn’t setting up my shots, I was just shooting to shoot. I was always wrestling just to win and now my wrestling style, I wanted to dominate. I wrestled to score the most points I can.”
PHOTO: Flint Powers Catholic’s Sean Spidle works to gain control during his Division 2 championship match at 112 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.”
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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.)