D2 Preview: Arrows Target Title 4-Peat

February 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Over the first 29 years the MHSAA has sponsored Team Wrestling Finals, only four schools have won at least four straight championships. 

This weekend, Lowell can become the fifth. 

The top-seeded Red Arrows, after battling through St. Johns' four straight titles from 2010-13, have won the last three and come to Central Michigan University as the favorite again, albeit ahead of a field that includes two undefeated teams and two more that have lost only once this winter.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 6:45 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and the championship match at 6 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.

The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard

#1 Lowell

Record/rank: 18-2, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: RJ Boudro, third season (69-7) 
Championship history: 
Six MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nick Korhorn (33-7) fr., 112 Dawson Jankowski (25-8) fr., 119 Jeff Leach (31-9) soph., 119 James Fotis (25-7) fr., 135 Austin Boone (33-3) fr., 140 Avry Mutschler (34-5) soph., 140 Sam Russell (18-12) sr., 152 Bryce Dempsey (30-5) sr., 160 Keigan Yuhas (23-6) jr., 171 Austin Engle (27-11) jr., 189 Dave Kruse (29-4) jr., 215 Elijah Boulton (34-3) sr., 215 Connor Nugent (31-11) jr.
 Lowell is seeking its fourth straight Division 2 title, and after graduating four Individual Finals placers last spring reloaded with four freshmen who have qualified for next week’s tournament. Six of the seven lightest weights are occupied by underclassmen, while veterans man the upper classes. Boulton is the reigning runner-up at 215 and Kruse, Mutschler and Dempsey also placed last year.

#2 Warren Woods Tower

Record/rank: 26-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Greg Mayer, 17th season (328-232)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 David Stepanian (34-1) soph., 112 Chaise Mayer (45-1) soph., 119 Elijuh Weaver (49-3) sr., 135 Joe Schindler (45-3) sr., 140 Jack Pehote (40-11) jr., 140 Nico Martini (38-11) sr., 145 Keff O’Connell (34-13) soph., 152 Austin Frederick (28-9) jr., 160 Jajuan Lovejoy (41-12) jr., 171 Trey Barbour (38-1) jr., 215 Joel Radvansky (35-2) soph.
 The Titans continued to rise last season, entering as a sixth seed and nearly upsetting third seed Gaylord in the Quarterfinals. For the second straight winter, Woods Tower has won its most matches under Mayer, and it gave up only 39 points over four postseason victories to get back to CMU. Weaver won the individual title at 112 last season and Mayer was runner-up at 103; together they lead a group of 11 Finals qualifiers, nearly double last season’s total.

#3 St. Johns

Record/rank: 25-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Coach: Derek Phillips, fifth season (112-14)
Championship history: 
Four MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Brendon Smith (19-10) soph., 112 Brendan Zelenka (27-4) jr., 119 Emilio Sanchez (25-8) sr., 125 Kaleob Whitford (12-3) soph., 135 James Whitaker (32-5) soph., 140 Trent Lashuay (28-6) sr., 145 Cross Gonzalez (28-8) jr., 152 Bret Fedewa (39-0) sr.
 The Redwings emerged as the favorite from among four top-10 teams from the Lansing area including three from their league, plus beat No. 5 Gaylord by two points in the Regional Final. Lashuay was runner-up last season at 135 and Fedewa also was a Finals placer; they are two of six seniors and 10 upperclassmen total expected to start this weekend.

#4 Marysville

Record/rank: 26-0, unranked
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference White
Coach: Rocky Palazzolo, seventh season (111-46)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Kyle French (44-2) sr., 145 Doug Ferrier (46-4) jr., 160 Tyler Gates (33-18) sr., 171 Nino Bastianelli (47-4) sr.
 Marysville snuck under the state rankings radar, but emerged with a District Final win over No. 9 Goodrich and two 30-plus point wins at the Regional. The Vikings have won five league and four District titles under Palazzolo, but this is their first Quarterfinal trip in program history. French, Ferrier, Bastianelli and senior Austin Keeley (46-5, 215) all were individual placers in 2016.

#5 Allendale

Record/rank: 34-3, No. 6
League finish: First in O-K Blue
Coach: Duane Watson, 29th season (571-227)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Asher Meekhof (40-2) jr., 125 Jared Dankowski (36-8) sr., 130 Angel Perez (38-6) sr., 135 Nathan Wynsma (39-5) soph., 140 Ryan Wynsma (36-11) sr.
 Allendale is headed back to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2011 after winning all four of its postseason matches by at least 36 points. The Falcons have won 10 straight District titles and 13 league titles over the last 14 seasons, and have advanced to the Semifinals three of their last four trips to championship weekend. Meekoff was an individual placer last season, and he’s one of 10 upperclassmen anchoring the lineup.

#6 Niles

Record/rank: 15-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West
Coach: Todd Hesson, 10th season (220-78) 
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Ryan Franco (13-7) fr., 119 Austin Franco (17-2) jr., 119 Cade Stephenson (25-10) sr., 125 Andrew Flick (34-2) sr., 145 Mitchell Findeisen (32-2) sr., 160 Davin Simpson (27-11) jr.
 Niles is making its fourth Quarterfinal appearance in five seasons, vanquishing its toughest postseason foe, rival Stevensville Lakeshore, by 10 in the District Final. Flick and Findeisen both were individual placers last season and could be primed to lead the Vikings into upset territory; they’d made the Semifinals all three other times they’ve advanced this far.

#7 DeWitt

Record/rank: 30-4, No. 7
League finish: Second in CAAC Red
Coach: Brian Byars, 17th season (401-187)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Ronald Slater (38-16) soph., 130 Quenten Hall (46-8) soph., 135 Jackson Severns (34-7) jr., 140 Kilian Southworth (43-11) jr., 152 Sam York (50-2) jr., 160 Lucas McFarland (49-2) sr., 171 Gabe Larner (47-1) sr.
 The Panthers are coming off their first Regional title after being ranked as high as No. 2 this season. They beat No. 10 Mason by 31 points in the Regional Final after finishing second to St. Johns in the league all three share. There are only three seniors in the expected starting lineup, but all three have 38 or more wins – and Larner was an individual placer last season. Total, seven starters have won at least 35 matches this winter.

#8 Tecumseh

Record/rank: 24-6, unranked
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Coach: AJ Marry, second season (38-21)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Vincent Perez (45-6) soph., 112 Joshua Hilton (37-13) soph., 119 Kellen Patton (39-12) soph., 130 Drew Marten (50-1) sr., 140 Kyle Yuhas (33-19) fr., 145 Gabe Bechtol (41-10) jr.
 Tecumseh is back for its sixth Quarterfinal berth in seven seasons, and made the Semifinals as recently as 2014. All three of the team’s seniors start, and the roster includes 18 underclassmen – a good sign for the future as well. Marten was last season’s champion at 125, and Patton also placed individually.

PHOTO: A Lowell wrestler takes control during a match at his Division 2 Individual District. (Photo courtesy of the Lowell athletic department.)

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.)