White Pigeon Emerging as D4 Hopeful

January 10, 2017

Ten years removed from a Regional Finals appearance, the White Pigeon wrestling program has awakened from its hibernation.

The Chiefs’ 18-7 overall record isn’t particularly astonishing. But given that several losses were to bigger schools outside of the state of Michigan, including three to Indiana squads this past weekend, it’s a solid mark so far.

A victory over third-ranked (in Division 4) Decatur earlier this year opened White Pigeon’s eyes as to how good it could be this winter.

“The kids’ resiliency and perseverance,” 14th-year head coach Jay Sosinski said when asked what has stood out to him this season. “It doesn’t matter to them who they’re going up against. Big or small, good or bad, they go out there and wrestle hard and give it their best. That’s all I’ve ever asked of any of my teams. They do it probably better than any team I’ve had before on a consistent basis.”

To put that statement in context, Sosinski hypes his team as often as most people stick to their New Year’s resolutions.

There’s no denying that confidence has trickled down to the individual wrestlers, four of whom are among the top-10 ranked athletes in their respective weight classes in Division 4 by MichiganGrappler.com.

Ranked No. 3 at 130 pounds, sophomore Kyle Black is 22-2 on the year and eyeing a return trip to the MHSAA Finals. He’ll likely drop down to 125 to do so. Classmate Evan Atherton is ranked No. 10 at 130 but has since moved to 125.

“It makes us feel good,” Atherton, who is 20-3, said of the high praise from Sosinski, “because they used to talk about how there used to only be three kids on the team. “I’m pretty excited about it. It pushes me harder.”

Junior Nate Weber is 21-4 and ranked No. 6 at 135. He, too, will probably move down a class by the end of the year in order to try to get back to the Palace of Auburn Hills. Meanwhile, senior Hunter Rummler, ranked No. 7 at 171, just eclipsed the 100-victory mark for his career over the weekend and is pushing toward his first Individual Finals appearance.

Especially for the young men in the lower weights, stiffer competition is rarely found outside their own practices this year.

“We do a lot of live wrestling in the room, and it sure helps to have those guys around with all the variety it brings,” Weber said. “Me, Evan and Kyle all wrestle different styles. We see all these different techniques, and it sets us up to wrestle all these other teams.”

Black had just one word to describe practice sessions: “Intense.”

The other word that came up frequently was inspiration. The source? Sosinski.

“I would never have guessed that is the answer they would have given,” Sosinski said with a laugh. “As a wrestler myself and growing up in the sport, when people get beat, either as an individual or a team, I know how that feels. They beat themselves up and are upset. Me being upset with them or screaming and yelling at them doesn’t make them feel any better.

“I believe it probably makes them feel worse and can have a negative effect. My goal is to help them reach their goals. I’m happiest when I see them reach their goals and their potential. If being more soft-spoken and more of a fatherly type figure and voice does that, and it has worked so far, that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

With only two seniors on the varsity roster, the Chiefs are undefeated in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference. Rummler, who said reaching the century mark “hasn’t really hit me yet,” knows the strength of the team is in the lower and middle weights, which includes stalwarts Hunter Jourdan, Sebastian Castro and Carlos Castro, and feels a responsibility to hold up his end of the bargain.

For Rummler, a gifted running back and sprinter, most of the battle is mental — a fight he admits struggling with last season. Sosinski believes the senior is primed for a noteworthy finish to his career.

“He is confident,” Sosinski said. “I believe he has high goals and expectations of himself. He is confident he will meet those goals. Sometimes you need that swag, I guess. If I had to take a guess at (what’s different this year), just from knowing him for four years, it’s just his mentality.”

The same can be said for the rest of the wrestlers on the team, many of whom have sacrificed for the betterment of the squad.

“They want to be good as a team, and that’s first and foremost,” Sosinski said. “They have their own individual goals in their head, but they’re finding a way to do both.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) White Pigeon’s Kyle Black works to gain control during a match against Berrien Springs. (Middle) Evan Atherton, here working from the top, also powers the Chiefs’ strong lower weights. (Photos courtesy of Wes Morgan.)

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)