D2 Preview: Chasing Lowell's Record Reign

February 27, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Significant change will spark this season’s Division 2 Wrestling Quarterfinals at Wings Event Center, as five teams will be competing in Friday’s round that did not a year ago – including two programs wrestling for the first time at this level of the tournament.

Yet amid the buzz, a constant in Michigan high school wrestling will be standing tall.

Lowell is back and the top seed in Division 2 after winning its record sixth-straight MHSAA Finals championship in Kalamazoo a year ago. In fact, the Red Arrows are the only team among the top five seeds in this division that has won a Finals title.

But extending the streak won’t come easily – especially considering the second and third-seeded teams are led by two of the most successful and longest-serving coaches in MHSAA wrestling history.

The Division 2 Quarterfinals will be wrestled at 6:45 p.m. Friday. Top seed Lowell will wrestle Croswell-Lexington, No. 2 Gaylord will take on New Boston Huron, No. 3 Stevensville Lakeshore will face Mason and No. 4 Warren Woods-Tower will match up with Muskegon Reeths-Puffer. Semifinals are noon Saturday, with the championship match that afternoon at 3:45 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.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed.

#1 Lowell

Record/rank: 12-4, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
R.J. Boudro, sixth season (117-18)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2019), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Nick Kohorn (24-11) sr., 112 Ramsy Mutchler (26-17) soph., 125 James Link (27-14) jr., 130 Zeth Strejc (22-12) jr., 135 Dawson Jankowski (26-10) sr., 140 William Link (25-10) jr., 145 Austin Boone (34-0) sr., 152 James Fotis (23-5) sr., 160 Doak Dean (27-8) jr., 171 Jacob Lee (30-9) jr., 215 Jacob Hough (27-9) sr., 215 Keegan Nugent (32-6) jr., 285 Tyler Deloof (18-5) sr., 285 Grant Pratt (26-11) sr.
 Add to the Red Arrows’ record run that they qualified a full 14 for next week’s Individual Finals, and that alone tells a pretty good story of the team’s continued dominance this winter. Some lineup maneuvering allows Lowell to get 13 of its 14 individual qualifiers into a team match, with freshman Landon Miller (103/19-8) joining the star-loaded group. Boone will wrestle for his fourth individual championship next weekend, and Korhorn was a Finals runner-up in 2018. Deloof, Mutschler, Fotis, Dean and Lee were individual placers last season.  

#2 Gaylord

Record/rank: 30-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Big North Conference
Jerry LaJoie, 26th season (729-135-2)
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2018.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Brendan Smith (34-9) fr., 112 Gabe Thompson (30-8) soph., 125 John Sosa (35-2) sr., 125 Will Sides (38-5) sr., 130 Rico Brown (30-1) sr., 145 Chayse LaJoie (33-0) sr., 160 Jacob McKnight (38-2) sr.  
Outlook: Gaylord fell by only 10 to Lowell in last season’s Semifinal match and hasn’t lost since, reaching this weekend with a 33-30 Regional Final win over No. 3 DeWitt. Chayse LaJoie just missed on a third individual title in 2019, falling in a 3-2 decision in the 125 championship match, and he too hasn’t lost again. Sosa and McKnight also were Finals placers last season, and junior Quinn Schultz (189/40-8) was a qualifier a year ago although he did not make the final weekend this season. Two freshmen also have broken 40 wins – Gus James (119/40-7) and Brayden Gautreau (152/43-6).

#3 Stevensville Lakeshore

Record/rank: 19-1, No. 6
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Bruce Bittenbender, 50th season (939-264-2)
Championship history: Class B runner-up in 1986 and 1994. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Cameron Litaker (26-6) soph., 119 Aaron Lucio (34-5) fr., 130 Micah Hanau (36-3) soph., 135 Shane Williams (38-2) sr., 160 Case Rohl (18-6) sr., 215 Zeke Rohl (34-5) sr.
Outlook: Bittenbender – the state’s winningest coach by more than 100 matches – will lead Lakeshore to the Quarterfinals for the 11th time in the 32-year history of the team format and after the Lancers missed a year ago. They advanced this time with Regional wins over No. 9 Niles and Battle Creek Harper Creek. Litaker, Hanau, Williams and Zeke Rohl all were Finals placers last season, and junior James Harris (145/35-7) has been another big winner this winter.  

#4 Warren Woods-Tower

Record/rank: 17-6, No. 5
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Greg Mayer and Russell Correll, 20th seasons (389-249)
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2017.
Individual Finals qualifiers:  103 Tyler Daniel (33-11) soph., 119 Joe Haynes (44-3) jr., 119 Gavin Shoobridge (24-12) jr., 125 Josh Howey (34-7) soph., 130 Dru Wilson (39-7) jr., 135 Mathew Booth (31-14) jr., 152 Tim Lewis (30-14) sr., 160 Ryan Radvansky (35-12) fr., 171 Omari Embree (24-2) soph.
Outlook: Tower has become a regular at the Quarterfinals with this its fifth-straight trip and sixth in seven seasons. The Titans again made the Semifinals last season and are seeded to do the same with a lineup including five seniors but eight Finals qualifiers who are juniors or younger. Embree was last season’s champion at 160 as a freshman, while Haynes was runner-up at 119 and Howey also placed at the Individual Finals. Wilson joined Haynes as a placer in 2018.

#5 Muskegon Reeths-Puffer

Record/rank: 25-1, No. 7
League finish: First in O-K Black
Coach: Matt Brink, 14th season (269-117)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Jacob Blawat (40-7) jr., 152 James Rozycki (42-4) jr., 189 Colby Stephenson (45-2) sr., 215 Hunter McCall (41-1) sr.
Outlook: Brink, a three-time individual champion at Fruitport, has led Reeths-Puffer to its first Regional championship to go with six straight District and league titles. The Rockets opened the postseason with a four-point District win over No. 8 Whitehall and also got past Allendale by nine in the Regional Final to earn this first-time opportunity. McCall brings experience on the big stage; he finished third at 215 last season. Nine starters total have at least 30 wins – junior Thade Radosa (145/42-3) just missed qualifying for the Individual Finals but is another top contributor.

#6 Mason

Record/rank: 23-2, unranked
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Coach: Brian Martel, 17th season (486-110)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2006), one runner-up finish.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Tayden Miller (39-5) fr., 130 Tanner Miller (41-1) sr., 285 Jack Gilchrist (40-2) sr.
Outlook: A three-time Division 2 champion during the first decade of the 2000s, Mason is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2013. The Bulldogs have won 11 straight District titles but frequently have run into state-ranked competition at the Regional level – and this time they advanced with a 33-27 upset of No. 4 Eaton Rapids in the Regional Final. Tanner Miller finished fifth at 130 last season and is one of seven senior starters finishing their careers memorably.

#7 New Boston Huron

Record/rank: 21-4, No.10
League finish: First in Huron League
Jack Shulaw, 17th season (371-117)
Championship history: Class B champion 1978 and 1981.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Dylan Carr (36-11) sr., 160 Nelson Poet (37-4) sr., 171 Cody Brenner (44-2) jr., 171 Kael Wisler (32-5) soph., 189 Braden Damiani (37-5) sr., 215 Brendan Damiani (37-6) sr., 285 Tyler Short (35-9) jr.
Outlook: New Boston Huron won its first Regional title since 2003, with a 38-37 win over Gibraltar Carlson sending the Chiefs to Kalamazoo. Like Mason, Huron has had plenty of success in earlier rounds, following up nine league titles over the last decade with their eighth District championship during that time two weeks ago. Poet was the individual runner-up last season at 160, and Brenner, Braden Damiani, Carr and senior Kaleb Rosen (145/36-4) also were Finals placers.

#8 Croswell-Lexington

Record/rank: 31-9, unranked
League finish: Third in Blue Water Area Conference
Coach: Joe Lilly, 22nd season (449-183)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Christopher Lilly (49-1) sr., 135 Xzavier Suess (43-3) jr., 171 Vincent Scaramuzzino (46-4) jr.
Outlook: Croswell-Lexington also celebrated its first Regional title last week after winning its sixth District title over the last seven seasons and emerging from a BWAC that includes Division 3 second seed Richmond. Christopher Lilly is the reigning individual champion at 135 and Scaramuzzino was fourth at 152 last season.

PHOTO: A Mason wrestler works toward a pin during Individual District competition Feb. 15. (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.)