Crespo Begins 'Chase' with 1st D4 Title

By Wes Morgan
Special for

March 8, 2017

Oftentimes a coaching change is accompanied by the need to restock talent in order to rebuild.

That certainly wasn’t the case for first-year Mendon wrestling coach Caleb Stephenson, who took over for his father, Art, this winter.

Not only were the raw materials in place for the Hornets, as it turned out, some of the newbies weren’t that raw at all.

Already polished after having competed in national tournaments since the third grade, Skyler Crespo ripped through his first varsity season with only one loss en route to an MHSAA Division 4 championship at 125 pounds this past weekend.

Entering the tournament seeded No. 1 in his weight class, he expected nothing less.

Becoming the first freshman in school history to win a Finals championship, Crespo crushed it in his first appearance at The Palace of Auburn Hills, finishing 4-0 and atop the all-state podium. His final record for his rookie season was an astonishing 52-1.

Just like he did in the Regional Finals, Crespo, one of only two freshmen in the bracket, edged reigning champion Robert LeFevre of Erie Mason in the championship bout, this time by a 3-1 decision.

A few scrambles between the two ate up most of the first period before Crespo snatched LeFevre’s leg and recorded a takedown. Crespo was called for stalling a second time in the third period to make it 2-1. He dodged a couple more shots and had an escape in the final minute.

Supremely confident all season, Crespo wasn’t distracted by all the hype surrounding the Palace atmosphere. His first-round match Thursday went off without a hitch — a pin in 1 minute, 58 seconds against Roscommon’s Deklin James.

In the championship Quarterfinals on Friday, Crespo earned a 13-7 decision against Jacob Brand from Burton Bentley.

“The biggest thing for me was just getting to the second weigh-in (after the Quarterfinals),” Crespo said. “Trying to watch my weight wasn’t the most fun. After that, I knew I was in really good shape.”

Crespo put on a show in the Semifinals, dominating Jacob Roberts of Leroy Pine River in an 18-3 technical fall to advance to the Finals. In the championship against LeFevre, both grapplers knew the other’s moves from the Regional match (a 2-0 Crespo win) and studying footage.

“I knew he was going to be tough; he’s a strong kid,” Crespo said. “I knew I was better than him on my feet and better than him on top. I knew he was going to try to ride me and turn me. I knew if I worked my hardest, I was better in every aspect of the match.”

Skyler wrestled a really great match from a match management standpoint, and controlled the situations he was in with composure,” Caleb Stephenson said. “LeFevre had a great game plan for us, but Sky stayed true to who he is and stayed confident in his offense and defense.

“Lots of people that see Skyler from afar don't understand the type of work that he has put in for years, both mentally and physically, that has prepared him for this moment. He has been all over the country pursuing great tournaments with his parents, who have dedicated so much to his success, so it may surprise some people, but it doesn't surprise those closest to him, because he's already chasing three more.”

It was a fantastic weekend for Mendon as a total of three grapplers were among the top-eight all-state finishers in Division 4.

Wyatt Cool defeated Hart’s Carlos Garza 6-1 in the fifth-place match at 160 pounds. The junior capped his season with a 48-4 record and second consecutive all-state finish.

Classmate Nik Andaverde also made it as far as the championship Semifinals before finishing fourth overall at 112 pounds. Andaverde ended the year with a 48-5 record.

Despite working on wrestling year round, Crespo competes in three sports at Mendon. He plays football and plans to tee it up for the golf team this spring.

“I always try to do something every day to get better (at wrestling),” he said. “It’s not always fun, but when you get rewarded like this, it feels good.”

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

PHOTO: (Top) Mendon's Skyler Crespo wrestles Erie Mason's Robert LeFevre during Saturday's Division 4 Final at 125 pounds. (Middle) Crespo celebrates his first MHSAA championship. (Click for more from

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

April 30, 2024

CONSTANTINE – Bennett VandenBerg has earned many accolades over the last four years as a three-sport athlete at Constantine.

Southwest CorridorBut the awards aren't what the 6-foot-3, 240-pound standout will remember most when reflecting on his memories as an all-state football player, state champion wrestler and record-breaking throwing specialist on the Falcons' track & field squad.

"I'll remember how I represented our school and pushed myself to be the best I could be in each sport that I played," said VandenBerg, who has earned 12 varsity letters.

VandenBerg has evolved into one of the most accomplished athletes in the state this school year as a senior, especially standing out among those from smaller communities.

This past fall he was named first-team Division 5-6 all-state at defensive end in football before winning the Division 3 Individual Finals wrestling title at 285 pounds in early March at Ford Field.

VandenBerg's final goal is to win the discus title at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals on Saturday, June 1, in Kent City to end his Constantine career all-state in all three sports.

He broke the school record in the discus his junior year with a throw of 158 feet, 1 inch; the previous mark of 156-6 had been held by Doug Polasek since 1986. VandenBerg has eclipsed his school record twice this spring, most recently with a personal-best toss of 170-9 in a Southwestern Athletic Conference double dual meet with Schoolcraft and Kalamazoo Christian. He ranks No. 4 statewide in the event regardless of enrollment division. Lawton junior Mason Mayne at 175-4 is the only Division 3 competitor with a better throw than VandenBerg.

"It's really cool to have your name up on the school record board, but I'd like to make that mark more untouchable before I'm done," VandenBerg said. "My goal is to be a state discus champion. I've put in the necessary work for it. It would be nice to end my career that way."

Kyle Rimer, Constantine's veteran boys track & field coach, is most impressed with VandenBerg's leadership and presence in working with the Falcons' younger athletes.

VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. "Bennett loves to compete. Ever since he was a freshman, we've also had him on our 400-meter relay team. That's something he really enjoys doing. He's not just a thrower, but a good overall athlete with lots of drive,” Rimer said. “There's a lot of individuality in track & field, but I think he does a great job of leading the younger kids. He has the drive, accountability and technique to achieve his goal of being a state champion in his throwing events.”

VandenBerg is already a two-time Finals placer in the discus, earning sixth as a junior and seventh his sophomore year. He admits being a little disappointed with his distance at the 2023 state meet.

"In that particular event (discus) you need lots of focus and determination because there are a ton of tiny things you can mess up on that affect your throw. To become better you need to be consistent, show up every day and be willing to put in the work," VandenBerg said. "Right now I'm working on my speed in the circle and quickness in my follow-through."

VandenBerg also has been pleased with his improvement this spring in the shot put. He's increased his distance by over five feet and hopes to break the school record in that event as well. John Kampars (1967) holds Constantine's shot put record at 54-8¼, and VandenBerg's personal best is 48-10 in a double-dual meet this season against Parchment and Centreville.

"Shot put is a difficult event. You need power, but your form has to be top-notch – otherwise it's tough to move that 12-pound ball," VandenBerg said. "I would love to qualify for state in both the discus and shot put and be all-state in each. That would be amazing if I could be a state champion in either of those events."

VandenBerg has put in extra work in the offseason with special instruction from Bill Griffey of Next Throw in Plainwell, along with working with Constantine assistant track & field and head football coach Shawn Griffith.

"Bennett puts a lot of time into working on his throwing. He spends a lot of time in the weight room, and he's a bigger kid who is not afraid to be coached and listens to what other people tell him," Griffith said. "We're excited to see what he can do now that we've had warmer weather recently."

VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft.VandenBerg's motivation this spring follows a tremendous wrestling season that saw him finish 54-0 and capture the 285 championship with a 3-0 win in the title match over Reed City junior Wyatt Spalo.

"I gained 20 pounds of muscle and did everything you need to do to become a better athlete to wrestle the heavyweight division. Winning the title was overwhelming. It was everything I ever wanted, and the first 20 minutes after winning it was relief, especially after losing in the Finals as a junior. I just went into that last match and wrestled smart and confident," VandenBerg said. "My speed and strength gave me an advantage over the bigger heavyweights I faced this year."

Vandenberg, 188-22 with 104 career pins, became the 10th Finals champion in Constantine wrestling history and the first to achieve the feat since Kevin Watkins won a 152-pound crown in 2000.

VandenBerg competed at 189 as a freshman and sophomore. He was a Regional qualifier as a freshman and finished sixth in Division 3 as a sophomore before ending his junior campaign as the Finals runner-up at 215. 

"Bennett is a competitor who hates to lose, and if he does he learns from it. He had a lot of good practice partners on the team his first three years, and he wasn't going to be denied after losing in the Finals as a junior," said Constantine wrestling coach Dale Davidhizar Jr.

VandenBerg played on Constantine's varsity football team for four years. He got a lot of extra playing time as a freshman when Constantine reached the Division 6 Semifinals during in the COVID-shortened season. He led the Falcons in rushing as a sophomore before switching to tight end as a junior. Out of necessity, VandenBerg returned to lead Constantine in rushing and scoring again as a senior.

"Bennett learned a great deal from the older guys on the team his first three varsity seasons. He learned leadership qualities and is a very unselfish kid who is willing to do what's best for his team," Griffith said.

VandenBerg is most proud of Constantine winning a District crown last fall, especially after his senior class went 0-5-1 as eighth graders. VandenBerg posted 164 solo tackles at defensive end during his final high school season and was Constantine's main offensive weapon with 1,354 yards and 16 touchdowns rushing on 186 carries.

"Winning Districts as seniors in football was a special moment. As eighth graders, we weren't exactly the most athletic team, but we put in the work as we got older to become successful," VandenBerg said.

VandenBerg has been invited to play for the West team at the annual Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's East-West All-Star Game this summer.

College coaches have shown interest in VandenBerg in all three sports, especially football and wrestling. VandenBerg, who carries a cumulative GPA of 3.989 and scored 1110 on his SAT, is weighing his options in athletics but knows he wants to study either ecology or forestry in college.

"I love being outdoors and doing what I love to do," VandenBerg said.

Scott HassingerScott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Constantine’s Bennett VandenBerg competes in the discus during a home meet his junior season. (Middle) VandenBerg, top position, battles Wyatt Spalo in their Division championship wrestling match at 285 pounds in March at Ford Field. (Below) VandenBerg (34) carries the football during a 2023 regular-season home game against Schoolcraft. (Photos by Brandon Watson/Sturgis Journal.)