D1 Preview: DCC Ready for Challengers

February 22, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

For nearly two seasons, no high school team in Michigan has been able to take down reigning Division 1 champion Detroit Catholic Central.

This weekend’s MHSAA Finals at Kalamazoo’s Wings Events Center would be the time and place for aspiring challengers to emerge.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 1, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 2:15 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 9:30 a.m. Saturday and the championship match that afternoon at 3:30 p.m. All matches this weekend will be viewable live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.

#1 Detroit Catholic Central

Record/rank: 26-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League
Coach: Mitch Hancock, 11th season (244-44)
Championship history: Twelve MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Benyamin Kamali (28-1) sr., 125 Stone Moscovic (31-7) sr., Dominick Lomazzo (31-9) fr., 130 Joshua Edmond (17-0) soph., 135 Derek Gilcher (32-5) soph., 140 Logan Sanom (37-7) soph., 145 Kevon Davenport (35-2) jr., 145 Joseph Urso (32-9) jr., 152 Cameron Amine (37-2) jr., 171 Aidan Wagh (33-8) sr., 189 Brendin Yatooma (31-9) soph., 189 Rory Cox (35-5) sr., 215 Easton Turner (32-1) jr., 285 Steven Kolcheff (31-7) soph.
Outlook: DCC is seeking its fifth team championship in seven seasons and second straight season with only one loss; those lone defeats have come against Ohio power Lakewood St. Edward. The Shamrocks pulled off the rare accomplishment of qualifying 14 for the Individual Finals, although only 12 will compete at once this weekend because of multiples at two weights. Kamali, Davenport and Amine all are going for their third individual titles next weekend, while Gilcher, senior Devon Johnson (112, 20-8) and junior Rhett Newton (135, 14-3) also placed in 2017.

#2 Brighton

Record/rank: 31-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold
Coach: Tony Greathouse, fifth season (120-27)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2015.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Mason Shrader (34-3) fr., 112 Ben Manly (34-9) fr., 125 Eddie Homrock (41-7) soph., 125 Zach Johnson (42-7) fr., 135 Aiden Brown (28-14) soph., 140 Dane Donabedian (35-5) soph., 145 Nick Bleise (40-9) sr., 145 Victor Grabowski (36-10) jr., 160 Harley Berne (35-12) soph., 189 Greyson Stevens (42-6) soph., 215 Luke Stanton (36-9) soph.
Outlook: Brighton’s young lineup is rising fast, as it’s moved up to the second seed from eighth a year ago and with nine underclassmen among 11 individual qualifiers. Total only two seniors start, and Bleise was one of the team’s two Individual Finals placers a year ago. Brighton also won the overall KLAA title this winter ahead of fourth seed Westland John Glenn and seventh seed Hartland.

#3 Macomb Dakota

Record/rank: 29-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Ed Skowneski, sixth season (177-38)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Brendan Ferretti (47-4) fr., 103 Brock Prater (45-3) soph., 112 Nick Alayan (44-1) jr., 119 Justin Tiburcio (46-5) jr., 125 Connor Casey (35-9) sr., 125 Andrew Barrett (32-16) jr., 135 Brandon Alkazir (33-14) jr., 140 Tommy Gawlowski (25-5) sr., 160 Dustin Solomon (29-3) jr.,
171 Layne Malczewski (50-0) sr., 171 Eli Andary (35-15) jr., 285 Rahmi Khalil (45-5) sr.
Outlook: Dakota enters the Quarterfinals for the fifth time under Skowneski and as the third seed for the second straight year. The Cougars gave up a total of 34 points over four matches in the District and Regional and have upped their total number of Individual Finals qualifiers for the second straight season. Alayan was an individual runner-up last year, while Tiburcio, Solomon, Malczewski and Khalil all placed as well. 

#4 Westland John Glenn

Record/rank: 25-3, No. 4
League finish: First in KLAA Black
Coach: Bill Polk, 20th season (384-118)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Caleb Meekins (44-8) jr., 125 Michael Mars (48-0) sr., 130 Isaac Lefler (43-6) sr., 140 Anthony Gibson (46-3) sr., 145 Brenten Polk (37-13) jr.
Outlook: After repeating as a KLAA division champion, John Glenn will return to the Finals for the second straight season. Mars will compete for his third individual championship next weekend after finishing as a runner-up in 2017, and Gibson and junior Kyle Borthwell (125, 37-4) also placed last year. Although all of the Individual Finals qualifiers this time fill the lighter half of the lineup, the heavier half features seven upperclassmen including five seniors.

#5 Davison

Record/rank: 24-5, No. 5
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League.
Coach: Roy Hall, 20th season (519-94-1)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2006), five runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Steven Garty (32-8) jr., 112 Andrew Chambal (29-1) soph., 125 James Johnston (24-11) fr., 130 Raymond Cole (15-11) jr., 135 Marc Shaeffer (33-6) soph., 152 Brian Case (38-7) jr., 152 Alex Facundo (25-0) fr., 160 Jay Nivison (29-4) soph. 171 Cal Stefanko (35-0) jr., 189 Trevor McGowan (32-10) jr., 285 Aaron Gilmore (33-6) jr.
Outlook: After two straight runner-up finishes (and four in five years), Davison is the fifth seed this weekend – but a dangerous one with 11 individual qualifiers. Case placed at the Individual Finals the last two years and was joined last season by Garty, Chambal, Stefanko, Gilmore and now-sophomore Jaron Wilson (119, 15-9). And this isn’t it for this group – there are no seniors in the starting lineup and only one who has competed this season.

#6 Oxford

Record/rank: 20-7, No. 7
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Ron Wingert, first season (20-7)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2011, two runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Matthew Oxford (33-12) jr., 112 Ashton Anderson (38-12) fr., 119 Liam Hillary (35-13) jr., 135 Sergio Borg (43-5) sr., 145 Ryan Miller (38-7) sr., 152 Trent Myre (30-6) jr., 160 Caleb Tabert (35-7) jr., 189 Austin Schlicht (42-11) jr.
Outlook: After building a championship-filled legacy under retired coach Paul McDevitt, Oxford has continued under Wingert with an 11th straight league title and 13th District championship over the last 14 seasons. Borg, Miller and junior Devin Trevino (171, 40-6) were individual placers last season, Borg for his second straight. He and Miller are two of only four seniors, which should make Oxford an intriguing contender next season as well.

#7 Hartland

Record/rank: 32-4, No. 6
League finish: Tied for second in KLAA Gold
Coach: Todd Cheney, 26th season (732-105-2)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2016, five MHSAA runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Wyatt Nault (39-6) soph., 119 Corey Cavanaugh (47-4) jr., 125 Kyle Kantola (51-1) jr., 130 Carter Hankins (44-7) sr., 135 Greg Pietila (36-16) sr., 152 Tanner Culver (33-2) jr., 160 Reece Potter (30-4) jr., 160 River Shettler (40-2) jr.
Outlook: Hartland is back at the Quarterfinals for the 17th straight season, an incredible feat – especially for a team with just three senior starters. The Eagles gave up only 12 points total over their first three postseason matches before edging Walled Lake Central by eight to advance last week. Culver, Shettler, Nault and Kantola were Individual Finals placers last season, Kantola for the second straight.

#8 Hudsonville

Record/rank: 29-7, No. 9
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Coach: Mike Rottier, 11th season (195-121)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Kameron Kempker (41-3) sr., 135 Jack Samuels (44-1) jr., 145 James Samuels (29-10) jr., 152 Chase Mol (22-16) jr., 285 Seth Hoonhorst (44-2) sr.
Outlook: After missing the Quarterfinals last year, Hudsonville is back for the second time in three seasons and third time this decade. The Eagles emerged from close Regional wins over Grand Haven and Rockford paced by a veteran lineup expected to include three seniors and eight juniors this weekend. Jack Samuels and James Samuels both were individual placers in 2017.

PHOTO: Detroit Catholic Central’s Kevon Davenport (top) works against Brighton’s Victor Grabowski during last year's Finals weekend; their teams have the top two seeds in Division 1. (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.)