DETROIT – Brandon Whitman and Jarrett Trombley will both be headed to the state of North Carolina this fall.
Before leaving, however, they put on one more show Saturday night for wrestling fans at the MHSAA Individual Championships.
Lake Fenton’s Trombley and Dundee’s Whitman became the 23rd and 24th wrestlers in state history to win four Individual Finals titles, claiming their final Division 3 crowns in the end zone at Ford Field.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Whitman, who will wrestle at the University of North Carolina next year. “Ever since you were little you were watching some of these (four-time state champions). I watched Lincoln Olson (Davison) and I watched Ben Freeman (Walled Lake Central) last year, I was on a bunch of teams with Ben, so it was nice to be up there with those people and know that your work was paying off.”
Whitman (47-0) defeated Richmond senior Colton McKiernan (40-3) at 215 pounds 6-0 in a rematch of last season’s 189-pound final. He also won at 189 as a sophomore and 171 as a freshman, and accumulated 202 victories in his Dundee career, adding two Team Finals championships as well.
On the weekend, Whitman was dominant, winning by forfeit in his first match before pinning his quarterfinal and semifinal opponents in 20 and 7 seconds, respectively.
“It just shows that the work I put in is more than the people that I compete with,” Whitman said. “I put in hours upon hours of work, and it shows. When you put in the work, good things will come.”
Trombley (59-0), who is headed to North Carolina State, was dominant as well at 130 pounds, winning by technical fall in each of his first three matches before defeating Dundee sophomore Christian Killion (34-9) 8-2 in the title match.
“It’s just amazing to get this accomplishment and be here with my friends and family and just celebrate,” he said. “Not many people have been here before.”
Trombley won titles at 112, 119 and 130 pounds his previous three seasons, and admitted there were some nerves before he headed out on the mat.
“I tried not to (put pressure on himself) but toward the start time of my match, I got a little bit more nervous and more nervous,” he said. “But it was definitely all worth it now.”
Champion: Hunter Assenmacher, Ida, Soph. (53-0)
Decision, 7-2 over Robbie Altland, Hart, Jr. (51-1)
Assenmacher said he’d been waiting for his MHSAA championship moment since he first stepped on a mat at 4 years old.
A year ago, he came up one match short. This year, however, nothing was able to slow him down as he rolled to an unbeaten season.
“I’m just so thankful for everybody who pushed me through the season and helped me get to where I am right now,” said Assenmacher, who jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first period.
“I knew I had to keep pushing the pace, but I didn’t want to give up something stupid, so I just kind of played it safe but made sure I wasn’t taking anything off of him.”
Champion: Sean Spidle, Flint Powers, Soph. (40-3)
Major decision, 12-3, over Tyler Swiderski, Dundee, Fr. (33-11)
With two titles in two seasons, Spidle knows the four-timer talk is going to start following him around. But he’s not ready to focus on that quite yet.
“I’m not going to really think about that,” Spidle said. “I’m just going to try to take it one match at a time. Sure the goal is to win states each year, but I’m just going to try to not think about that and take it one match at a time.”
Last year’s 103-pound champion jumped out to an early lead against Swiderski, and had a confident look on his face following a big move in the first period.
“I think the turning point was when I took him down and got back points,” Spidle said. “I felt pretty good throughout the match, but that really gave me a huge confidence booster.”
Champion: Dametrius Castillo, Alma, Fr. (38-6)
Decision, 3-2, over Kyle Schaaf, Clare, Jr. (52-3)
After helping Alma reach the Team Quarterfinals for the first time in school history, Castillo came up with some more history in the individual tournament, claiming the Panthers’ first title since 1993.
“It means that it doesn’t matter how big your school is or how small your school is, if you come out here to wrestle and work for it, you can come out here and win,” Castillo said. “I think now that we’ve shown everybody that we’re here to wrestle and we’re coming up big and bringing up a lot of people, it shows them they have a chance and makes them want work harder every day in practice.”
Castillo took a 3-2 lead late in the match, and held off a late headlock attempt by Schaaf.
“I knew he was going to try and throw it,” Castillo said. “I was just waiting for it to lock him up and hold on so I didn’t get a stalling call. I just knew I had go out there and still be offensive and not get a stalling call to win.”
Champion: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County, Sr. (43-2)
Decision, 9-2, over Reese Wallis, Montrose, Sr. (49-2)
After finishing off his third championship and a marvelous high school career, one could forgive Greer for taking some extra time behind the mat following his 9-2 win against Wallis.
“Right now, I’m just resting,” he said. “Trying to get my breath, trying to take it all in.”
Greer didn’t rest much on the mat, controlling his match from start to finish and adding to the 119-pound title he won a year ago and the 103-pound title he won in 2015.
“It was just a matter of figuring him out,” Greer said. “He was more of a defensive wrestler that was staying away from me, so it was more of just once I kind of figured it out and felt comfortable out there, I was in control for sure.”
Champion: Stoney Buell, Dundee, Fr. (43-4)
Decision, 6-1, over Trevor Robinson, Shepherd, Jr. (42-4)
On the night his teammate won a fourth Finals title, Buell took his first step toward accomplishing the feat as well.
“Brandon (Whitman) just told me don’t wrestle the crowd, just wrestle the opponent,” Buell said of the pre-match advice he received. “‘You’re not facing the crowd, you’re facing your opponent. And just have fun. Be thankful.’”
Buell took control of the match with near-fall points in the second period.
“I felt more comfortable, but I probably should have attacked more,” Buell said. “Just to separate the match and let him know that I’m the best in the state right now.”
Champion: Mason Breece, Birch Run, Sr. (57-3)
Decision, 2-1, over Nick Felt, Shelby, Jr. (50-5)
For 5 minutes and 58 seconds, Breece couldn’t break through Felt’s defense. But in those final seconds, the Birch Run senior saw an opening and took it.
“I knew I was running out of time, and I just had to score,” Breece said. “He put himself in a bad position and I capitalized. As soon as I got that lock locked up and I was ready for it, he just made a mistake and I caught it.”
Breece’s late takedown finished off a strong career that, up until Saturday night, was missing one key piece.
“I’ve been a contender for a couple years now,” he said. “And it feels great to finally get what was coming my way.”
Champion: Alex Roberts, Richmond, Sr. (36-5)
Decision, 5-3, over Sean Trombley, Lake Fenton, Jr. (48-2)
Alex Roberts doesn’t give up many points, so when a five-point move opened some breathing room for him, he knew the title was his to lose.
“I felt comfortable,” Roberts said. “I know that I’m hard to score on, and if I was going to give up anything, it wouldn’t be enough for him.”
Roberts finished sixth a year ago and fourth as a sophomore. After Saturday’s win, his post-match emotion was palpable.
“I can’t even describe it,” he said. “I wanted to be a state champ since I was a little kid, and finally the hard work paid off.”
Champion: DJ Daniels, Caro, Jr. (58-2)
Fall, 3:45, over Zachary Bellaire, Dundee, Sr. (42-8)
Daniels didn’t have the opportunity to stop Bellaire from winning the 140-pound title a year ago, but he was still plenty motivated to take on the guy who took home the bracket he wanted in 2017.
“He won my chart last year, so there was a little bit of vengeance there,” Daniels said. “I knew the match would be won on our feet, and apparently it was.”
Daniels took advantage of a Bellaire shot attempt, catching the returning champion and taking him to his back late in the second period where he finished off the match with a pin.
“It felt great,” Daniels said. “There’s nothing like it. You don’t even think about it until it’s over.”
Champion: Jackson Nevadomski, Lake Fenton, Sr. (43-2)
Fall, 2:59, over Tylor Orrison, Dundee, Sr. (44-4)
Nevadomski made a B-line to the Lake Fenton cheering section to celebrate with his family after claiming his first championship.
“They’ve done everything for me to get to this point – parents, coaches and friends,” Nevadomski said. “I just figured they should be the first to celebrate for me.”
Nevadomski had defeated Orrison, the 2017 145-pound champion, in the Regional Final two weeks ago, and took some notes while he did, which led to the second-period pin.
“When I was on top I got a couple wings in, so I knew if I could get on top and get those wings in, then I just needed to switch them up a little, so we worked on that in practice the last couple weeks,” he said. “We worked on running the chicken wing and coming over with a half. I guess it worked out for me.”
Champion: Owen Guilford, Portland, Jr. (40-1)
Major decision, 10-1, over Robert Granberry, Remus Chippewa Hills, Sr. (45-6)
Guilford said there wasn’t a special strategy heading into his title match. But when you’ve had as much success as he has this season, it’s best to not stray too much from what’s worked.
“Just trust your training,” Guilford said. “That’s what Coach has instilled in me. We knew we could win that match, so just trusted our training, stuck together and pulled it off in the end.”
Guilford had a big lead heading into the final period, and remained calm to claim his school’s first title since 2000.
“Maybe if anything, stay cautious, don’t try anything stupid,” he said. “It only takes one move to lose in wrestling.”
Champion: Ethan Weatherspoon, Napoleon, Jr. (54-0)
Decision, 6-4 (SV), over Brockton Cook, Birch Run, Jr. (56-5)
Weatherspoon hasn’t been in many tight matches this season, but when he found himself in a dogfight against Cook on the state’s biggest stage, he dug deep enough to pull out the win.
“It was just all in my head for a second,” Weatherspoon said. “Being in a big championship match, you just have to relax. That’s what I started to do, and that’s when I started getting my rhythm.”
Weatherspoon was able to get a takedown early in the sudden-victory overtime, but Cook led early, putting a scare into the unbeaten wrestler.
“I just told myself, ‘Hey, you gotta do it,’” he said. “’All that work you put in, I’m getting what I put out.’ I was not about to stop right there.”
Champion: Tyler Marino, Richmond, Sr. (31-5)
Decision, 5-1, over Tyden Ferris, Delton Kellogg, Sr. (45-2)
Marino was one match short of his championship goal a year ago, but the motivation that created helped push him over the top in his final season.
“It feels great, coming from being second last year to winning it this year; it’s all I’ve been training for and it feels amazing,” Marino said. “You just have to make yourself calm before the match. I just listen to music, keep myself calm and do what I do.”
Marino won four low-scoring matches on the weekend, something he’s excelled at all year.
“I’m always attacking and trying to draw the stalling calls,” he said. “I do active stalling. Active stalling is a huge part of wrestling. You’re moving, but you’re really not trying to score, you’re just showing the ref that you’re doing what you’ve got to do.”
PHOTOS: Dundee's Brandon Whitman (left) and Lake Fenton's Jarrett Trombley receive salutes from the Ford Field crowd after becoming the latest four-time MHSAA Finals champions Saturday. (Middle) Whitman and Trombley take a quick photo together during a quieter moment. (Top photos by HighSchoolSportsScene.com, middle photo by Michelle Campbell.)
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.)