Constantine Proving Its Power as Postseason Approaches
By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com
March 2, 2021
Excuses are not permitted inside the Constantine High School wrestling room.
Despite being 15-1 with wins over several top-10 teams in the state, the Falcons are not among the programs ranked in Division 3 as of March 2. Constantine has defeated three of the best teams (Bronson, Union City and Lawton) in Division 4 so far this year and boasts four returning Individual Finals qualifiers.
But because Constantine has been tripped up at Team Regionals since 2013, seventh-year head coach Dale Davidhizar believes his squad has more to prove before it gets the recognition it might deserve.
A shortened season due to COVID-19, which eliminated big weekend tournaments that best prepare athletes for the grueling postseason, won’t be used as a defense for individuals or the team coming up short this month.
“With our senior leadership that we have, I think the kids will be ready to go and rolling without a problem,” Davidhizar said. “We’ve filled our team schedule with some pretty good teams throughout the year.”
Two of those seniors, both captains, have endured plenty of adversity. Neither one of them has let it derail them. Due to various injuries over the years and waiting their turns behind talented upperclassmen, Gage Ensign (152 pounds) and Isaac Hall (189) finally reached 100 career victories in February as they eye returns to the Finals.
Ensign placed seventh in Division 3 in 2019 at 130 pounds and opted not to duck anyone the following year as a junior. In 2020, a stacked Division 3 Regional at 140 pounds resulted in four wrestlers eventually snagging the first, second, third and fifth podium positions at Ford Field at the championship. Ensign was not one of them.
“He wanted to stay in the toughest weight class in the state in any region,” Davidhizar said of Ensign’s competitiveness. “He took on the challenge and fell a little short. Those were some seriously tough kids he went after.”
At 12-1 this year, Ensign, who’s battling a nagging injury, hopes to finish out his career with a strong run at 152.
“This year I’m an underdog,” Ensign said. “I sort of embrace it, and I feel more relaxed in practice and in meets. I have nothing to lose now. I was pretty dang happy (to reach 100 wins) because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to wrestle this year. I’m just happy to be able to be on the mat.”
Hall stepped up as a freshman at 171 and finished around .500. He missed time as a sophomore due to an injury — about a third of the season — but accumulated more than 40 victories in 2020 at 189 en route to a fourth-place Finals finish. Hall dropped his opening match by fall in the first period but went on to win four consecutive bouts in the consolation rounds. He’s currently 16-0.
“I’m very happy that he got to that milestone (100 wins),” Davidhizar said. “For him to reach that milestone is a huge deal for him and his whole family. It really shows the work he has put in. Without putting too much pressure on him, I feel he should be in the Finals. He’s the only returning state placer at 189 in Division 3. He’s put in even more work this year. Troy Demas has really been able to push him past some barriers, and it’s going to show at the end of the year.”
Hall broke through with his 100th win against Vicksburg, bumping up to 215 to avoid a victory by forfeit.
“I was just excited to get back to wrestling and prove what I could do this year,” Hall said. “I wanted my 100th win to be a real match, not a void. It was pretty awesome. I wish I would have hit it sooner, but I’m glad I made it there.
“I’m confident we will make it to team state this year. I don’t know what it’s like to make it to state (as a team), and I’d like to experience that. Individually, I’d like to make it to the Finals and get that state championship.”
Boe Eckman has been dinged up this year, but he’s another Falcons senior leader with a wealth of Finals experience. At 215, Eckman was edged by two points in the Division 3 title match last year by Richmond’s Luke Davis. Eckman racked up three pins on his way to the championship bout.
While trying to get healthy this year, the Falcons have gotten a boost from freshman Bennett VandenBerg, who has bounced between 215 and 189 and has racked up double-digit wins already.
Senior Dylan Reiff made it to Ford Field last year at 130 and finished eighth. He’s 14-2 this season at the same weight class. Sophomore Troy Demas (171) and junior Eric Demas are both 14-2, and senior Chuck Taylor has a 15-1 record.
“Our practices, they go hard,” Davidhizar said. “It shows the level of skill those kids bring in and getting some of those freshmen and sophomores to the level of state qualifiers and state placers. Dylan Reiff hadn’t wrestled in three years and he came in last year for the first time and was a state placer. I attribute that to wrestling with Gage and Eric Demas. I attribute that to practice partners and how the guys practice in our room.
“Boe Eckman and Isaac Hall have been practice partners since seventh grade. Isaac works his tail off to get where he is now, but Boe has helped him along tremendously. Boe had the higher skill when Isaac was just starting out, and now Isaac has gotten to that point. That’s teammates working hard together. Kids are pushing everyone in the room.”
With a seasoned group in the upper weights and some pieces falling into place in the lighter slots, Constantine continues to gain momentum as the season winds down.
“I thought, as a whole, we were probably going to be one of the best teams that I’ve coached in the seven years since I’ve taken over the high school (program),” Davidhizar said. “We’re pretty solid. With our senior leadership that we have with our five core seniors, I thought we were going to be pretty tough to handle for anybody in the state.”
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 wmorg[email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Constantine’s Gage Ensign faces off with an opponent this season. (Middle) Isaac Hall’s arm is raised in victory, one of more than 100 during his career. (Photos by Terena Reif.)
Bragging Rights for Both as Multi-Sport Sage Twins Shine at Ford Field
By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com
March 10, 2023
SOUTHGATE – The question of “Which child is your favorite?” is impossible for any parent to answer, but Shawn Sage has an additional question that’s impossible to answer regarding his son Jackson and daughter Brooklyn.
That question is, “Who would win a wrestling match between the two?”
“They are both raising their hands right now smiling about it,” Shawn Sage said with a laugh during a phone conversation.
It’s a good-natured question anybody can pose to Shawn Sage, given his son and daughter are not only twins by birth, but in wrestling achievements as sophomores at Southgate Anderson.
Last weekend at Ford Field, Jackson Sage competed in his second Individual Finals, where he finished fourth in Division 2 in the 157-pound weight class.
It was an improvement from last year’s event, when he qualified as a freshman but didn’t place.
“I was more used to it,” Jackson Sage said. “Last year was a different experience being at Ford Field the first time.”
Brooklyn Sage qualified for the Individual Finals this season as well, where she finished sixth in the Girls Division 155-pound weight class.
The winter was busy for both, but especially for Brooklyn. In addition to competing in wrestling, she was also a member of the school’s competitive cheer team.
“I knew that it would be a commitment,” she said. “But I was up for it. I was at the school for about 14 hours a day, but it was worth it at the end.”
Jackson and Brooklyn are each three-sport athletes. Jackson is the quarterback on the football team in the fall and a member of the track team (he competes in 300 hurdles and two relays) in the spring, while Brooklyn plays softball.
But it’s wrestling where the two share their greatest bond athletically.
Jackson started getting involved in the sport when was around elementary school age, and Brooklyn would tag along to practices.
Along the way, she became intrigued enough to try wrestling herself.
“I liked being able to know that I could defend myself and take care of myself in different ways,” she said. “To be able to stand up for myself.”
Brooklyn said she stopped wrestling competitively around sixth grade because there weren’t opportunities for girls to compete only against each other, but that changed when a girls-only division was added to the MHSAA Tournament with the 2021-22 season.
With both able to compete in high school, at-home workouts intensified. The two regularly train against each other on a mat in their basement, where technique is honed and toughness is sharpened.
“She pushes me a lot,” Jackson said.
Both also learn from each other’s experiences.
“I feel like watching him made me more motivated to do it,” Brooklyn said. “He’s taught me a lot of technique that I wouldn’t have known from his past experiences and coach.”
Added Jackson: “I’ve learned from her matches.”
This week has actually presented a rarity for both in that they’ve had time off.
With wrestling ending and spring sports not officially opening practice until Monday, the two haven’t had practices and competitions.
That’ll change next week when they go their separate ways with Jackson to track practice and Brooklyn joining the softball squad, and they’ll focus on those sports for the rest of the school year.
But with two more years of eligibility left and all-state finishes in wrestling already, the sky is the limit for the next two years in that sport for both.
With that in mind, the questions to Dad about who would win a match are likely only getting started.
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
PHOTO Southgate Anderson twins Brooklyn, left, and Jackson Sage both placed at this season’s Wrestling Individual Finals. (Photo courtesy of the Sage family.)