D1 Preview: Champions March Again

March 1, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

This weekend’s Division 1 Individual Finals field is arguably the deepest in championship experience in a number of years.

A total of 12 reigning title winners will be back on the mat starting Thursday at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Five more 2016 runners-up also return, including one who won it all in 2015. Walled Lake Central senior Ben Freeman is seeking to become the 22nd in MHSAA history to win Finals titles all four years of high school.

Below is a brief look at all of those returning champions, plus a number of others to watch over the three-day event. Follow all the matches beginning with Thursday's first round on a subscription basis live on MHSAA.tv, and click here for results at MHSAA.com. And come back to Second Half this weekend as we’ll interview all 14 title winners.

The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard. College choices below are based on reporting by Michigan Grappler.

112: Benyamin Kamali, Detroit Catholic Central junior (37-3) – Last season’s champion at 103 needed overtime to claim his first title, but he enters this time coming off his team’s championship last weekend and as the top seed with the fewest losses in Division 1 at this weight.

119: Mikey Mars, Westland John Glenn junior (53-3) – Mars is the second seed at this weight coming off championships at 103 as a freshman and 112 last winter; he’s 156-7 during his high school career but coming off a sudden-victory loss at the Team Quarterfinals.

130: Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central sophomore (33-3) – One of the most highly-regarded freshman last season is now a top sophomore, looking to add a second title after winning last season at 119.

135: Noah Schoenherr, Bay City Western senior (45-3) – He’s made two straight championship matches, winning at 130 pounds last season, and enters as the top seed at a weight he’ll share with his sophomore brother Victor.

140: Ben Freeman, Walled Lake Central senior (30-0) – As noted above, Freeman is seeking his fourth straight championship with previous wins at 103, 125 and 130, and to finish a third straight perfect season after suffering his only loss as a freshman. He’s signed with Michigan.

145: Cameron Amine, Detroit Catholic Central sophomore (41-3) – Last season’s champion at 125 joins Davenport as another strong sophomore, and enters as the second seed at this weight.

145: Reese Hughes, Hartland senior (37-2) – The reigning champion at 140 is seeded fourth at this weight after leaving his Regional Final against this weekend’s top seed Danny Pfeffer with an injury; Hughes didn’t wrestle in last weekend’s Team Quarterfinal and Semifinal. He will continue next season at Michigan.  

152: Nathan Atienza, Livonia Franklin senior (54-1) – The champion at 145 in 2016 is seeking to reach his third straight Final and has lost only one match over the last two seasons; he’s seeded second to Grandville’s Kameron Bush (below) and has signed with Michigan State.

152: Kameron Bush, Grandville senior (36-1) – After claiming last season’s title at 152 with a 7-6 decision, Bush enters as the top seed at this weight and with an 80-3 record over the last two seasons.

171: Tyler Morland, Detroit Catholic Central senior (33-0) – Morland has only one loss over the last two seasons and avenged it in last season’s Final at this weight; he can cap his career with a second straight individual title to go with last weekend’s team win on the way to continuing at Northwestern.

189: Brendan McRill, Davison senior (37-2) – Last season’s champion at this weight enters as only the second seed this time, but seeking a second title and fourth top-five finish before heading to West Virginia.

285: Nicholas Jenkins, Detroit Catholic Central senior (42-1) – If Jenkins was a bit of a surprise last season, he hasn’t been able to hide this winter coming off the 2016 title at this weight and heading to Central Michigan to continue his career.

2016 runners-up: Ann Arbor Pioneer senior Rayvon Foley (119, 50-3, 103 in 2016), Davison junior A.J. Facundo (125, 32-5, 119 in 2016, 112 champ in 2015), Southgate Anderson senior Donte Rivera-Garcia (125, 46-1), Macomb Dakota junior Tyler Sanders (130, 38-3), Westland John Glenn senior John Siemasz (145, 48-6, 135 in 2016).

Also undefeated: Fraser senior Danny Pfeffer (145, 54-0), Portage Northern senior Matthew Heaps (171, 47-0), Flushing junior Ben Cushman (215, 52-0).

No. 1 seeds: Detroit Catholic Central freshman Devon Johnsen (103, 32-10), DCC’s Kamali (112), New Baltimore Anchor Bay’s Jack Medley (119, 51-2), Southgate Anderson’s Rivera-Garcia (125), Brownstown Woodhaven senior Xavier Graham (130, 52-1), Bay City Western’s Noah Schoenherr (135), Walled Lake Central’s Freeman (140), Fraser’s Pfeffer (145), Grandville’s Bush (152), Holt senior Kolin Leyrer (160, 37-2), DCC’s Morland (171), Grandville senior Ryan Vasbinder (189, 18-2), Flushing’s Cushman (215), DCC’s Jenkins (285).  

PHOTO: Detroit Catholic Central's Benyamin Kamali (right) prepares to face Hartland's Corey Cavanaugh during a Team Semifinal on Saturday. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)