D2 Preview: The Champs are Here

March 4, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Eight wrestlers who have won a combined 12 MHSAA individual championships will take the mat during this weekend’s Individual Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Among the many finishing high school careers are two hoping to do so with third high school titles – Clio’s Mason Smith and St. Johns’ Logan Massa.

See below for 10 contenders to watch this weekend, plus others who enter the tournament undefeated or coming off runner-up finishes in 2014. 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.

Those listed below are only a handful of the numerous contenders for this weekend’s Division 2 championships. Come back to Second Half at the end of this weekend, when we’ll have post-match thoughts from all 14 title winners.

112: Dominic LaJoie, Gaylord sophomore (33-2) – LaJoie is 83-2 over his first two seasons after winning the championship at 103 last season, and he helped his team to the MHSAA Semifinals last weekend in Battle Creek.

119: Lucas Hall, Lowell junior (35-1) – Although his undefeated streak came to an end – Hall was perfect in winning 112 last winter – he’s 112-8 over three seasons and that lone 2013-14 loss came to two-time Division 3 champ Devin Schroder of Grand Rapids Catholic Central.

135: Mason Smith, Clio senior (44-0) – Smith hasn’t lost since his freshman season, claiming titles at 112 and 119 pounds and building a career record of 203-6; he also finished fourth at 103 as a freshman.

140: Austin Thompson, Marysville senior (46-1) – This weight class is loaded and Thompson might be the favorite after winning 130 last season; his only loss this winter came to GRCC two-time champ Nate Limmex.  

140: Austin Melton, DeWitt junior (38-4) – He’s another reigning champion wrestling this weekend at 140, having claimed the title at 135 last season after also making the MHSAA Finals at that weight as a freshman.

140: Noah Hanau, Stevensville Lakeshore senior (49-0, 140) – The lone undefeated wrestler at 140 has qualified for four MHSAA Finals and placed fourth at 130 pounds as a sophomore before finishing just outside the top eight last season at 135.

152: Connor Myers, St. Joseph senior (26-0) – The Bears’ standout has been building toward this final run with third-place finishes at this weight both of the last two seasons.

160: Logan Ritchie, New Boston Huron senior (54-1) – This is Ritchie’s third season at this weight; he finished fourth as a sophomore before winning the title last year, and also finished sixth at 145 as a freshman.

171: Logan Massa, St. Johns senior (33-0) – Only an overtime Finals loss to Ada Forest Hills Eastern standout Tim Lambert in 2012 is keeping Massa from wrestling for a fourth title this weekend – he won at 135 as a sophomore and 152 as a junior and hasn’t lost since his first season.

215: Josh Colegrove, Lowell senior (36-0) – The reigning champion at this weight has only one loss over the last two seasons and also finished third at this weight as a freshman.

Other 2014 runners-up: Ortonville-Brandon junior Bryan LaVearn (125, 40-2, 112 in 2014), Flint Kearsley senior Jakob Chapman (119, 44-3, 119 in 2014), Eaton Rapids senior Jaeden Sklapsky (135, 52-2, 130 in 2014).

Also undefeated: Stevensville Lakeshore freshman Austin Franco (46-0, 112), Farmington Hills Harrison senior Michael Volyanyuk (42-0, 119), Hastings senior Jason Slaughter (49-0, 152), Warren Lincoln sophomore Jelani Embree (41-0, 171), Dearborn Heights Annapolis senior Diallo Matsimela (50-0, 189).

More of note: Ionia sophomore Cameron Mahlich (35-2, 103), St. Johns junior Ian Parker (35-2, 125), Lowell junior Zeth Dean (34-3, 130), Riverview junior Brandon Garcia (52-3, 145), St. Johns senior Ty Wildmo (36-3, 189), Greenville senior Cole Antcliff (45-1, 285).

PHOTO: Clio’s Mason Smith grapples toward his second MHSAA championship at last season’s Individual Finals. (Click to see more at 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.)