D2 Preview: Contenders Line Up as Lowell Hopes to Run Streak to 9

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

February 24, 2022

Two other contenders are undefeated this season. Two more are past MHSAA Finals champions.

But until defeated, Lowell will be the team leading the Division 2 title chase – in this weekend’s case, with the hope of adding to its record eight-season Finals championship streak.

That quest begins with Friday’s 6:45 p.m. Quarterfinals at Kalamazoo’s Wings Event Center – see matchups below. Semifinals will start at noon Saturday, with the championship match later that day at 3:45 p.m.

#1 Lowell (20-3) vs. #8 Birmingham Brother Rice (19-5)
#4 Gaylord (27-0) vs. #5 Monroe Jefferson (18-3)
#3 Goodrich (29-2) vs. #6 Mason (32-3)
#2 Whitehall (26-0) vs. #7 St. Joseph (23-8)

Tickets for Quarterfinals, Semifinals and Finals will be sold by the Wings Event Center box office. All matches for all three rounds also will be viewable on MHSAA.tv with subscription.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed. (Girls Finals qualifiers are noted with “G” with weight class, as those classes differ from the other Individual Finals brackets.)

20-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: R.J. Boudro, eighth season (159-24)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA championships (most recent 2021), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Carter Cichocki (28-3) fr., 103 Landon Musgrave (20-5) fr., 112 Jackson Blum (31-3) fr., 119 Easton Lyons (18-15) jr., 125 Owen Segorski (22-11) fr., 130 Ramsy Mutschler (26-5) sr., 135 James Link (32-5) sr., 140 Landon Miller (24-7) jr., 140 Jared Boone (25-9) soph., 145 Nate Cleaver (28-11) sr., 152 Tacho Gonzales (18-13) soph., Carson Crace (21-9) jr., 215 Carter Blough (31-2) sr., 285 Bryson Vandermeulen (23-13) sr.
Outlook: The Lowell championship machine keeps churning even after graduating four individual champs from last year’s team title winner. Crace is the reigning runner-up at 160 (after losing to graduated teammate Doak Dean in his 2021 title match), with Blough, Mutschler, Miller, Gonzales and Link also returning Individual Finals placers. The Red Arrows own wins over the other three 2021 team champions – Davison, Dundee and Clinton – plus victories over Grandville and Rockford, among others, and with their losses only to Detroit Catholic Central and two out-of-state powers.

26-0, No. 2
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Co-coaches: Justin Zeerip and Collin Zeerip, fourth seasons (100-7)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2021, Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Riley Buys (34-10) sr., 145 Max Brown (37-5) sr., 152 Alec Pruett (36-10) sr., 160 Wyatt Jenkins (37-8) fr., 171 Nicholas Blanchard (43-2) sr., 215 Shane Cook (43-2) jr., 285 Ira Jenkins (45-0) sr.
Outlook: For the second season in a row, Whitehall is entering Finals weekend as a second seed, and last year’s run to the Division 3 Final was its fourth making at least the Semifinals over the last six seasons. Jenkins hasn’t lost a match since his sophomore season and won the Division 3 title at 215 last winter, and Brown was last season’s D3 title winner at 140. Blanchard and Pruett also are returning individual placers; those four are among eight seniors in the starting lineup.

29-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Flint Metro League
Coach: Kenneth Sirignano, 12th season (record N/A)
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2009), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jaden Davis (27-2) fr., 119 Brody Orcutt (33-9) soph., 125 Ryan Angelo (35-6) sr., 125 Heremias Cheff (17-6) jr., 140 Carsen Richards (39-2) sr., 152 Max Macklem (27-9) fr., 160 Easton Phipps (25-6) soph., 171 Cameron Macklem (39-3) sr., 215 James Mahon (33-10) fr.; 115-G Kendra Vickory (7-6) soph., 125-G Ryen Allen (3-0) soph.
Outlook: Goodrich is another regular at Finals weekend, making the trip for the fifth time in seven seasons, and the Martians have finished Division 2 runners-up two of the last three years. This team has only three senior starters and nine underclassmen in the lineup, but the group is plenty accomplished already. Nine starters are back from last season’s championship match, with six repeat Individual Finals qualifiers.

27-0, No. 4
League finish: First in Big North Conference
Coach: Jerry LaJoie, 28th season (775-136-2)
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2020 and 2018.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Louden Stradling (19-0) jr., 135 Gabe Thompson (31-2) sr., 140 Gus James (36-8) jr., 160 Ty Bensinger (38-3) soph., 171 Brayden Gautreau (37-1) jr., 189 Riley Hush (32-5) soph.; 105-G Sunni LaFond (29-8) fr., 120-G Hanna Blyveis (14-1) fr.
Outlook: Few programs can match Gaylord’s record over the last many seasons – the Blue Devils are 106-3 over the last four and a combined 282-10 over the last nine. They also are seeking to make the Semifinals for the sixth time over the last eight seasons. Gaylord edged No. 10 Bay City John Glenn 34-29 in the Regional Final to secure this trip.

18-3, No. 6
League finish: First in Huron League
Coach: Mike Humphrey, 19th season (368-158)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Issac Masserant (25-6) soph., 130 Dylan Garcia (32-6) sr., 135 Caleb Smiley (26-10) sr., 140 Noah White (29-11) sr., 145 Carter Simota (18-10) soph., 189 Anthony Cousino (20-17) soph., 215 Nathan Masserant (36-5) jr.
Outlook: After returning to the Quarterfinals last season for the first time since 1995, Jefferson is making a repeat trip and has been considered among the top 10 teams in Division 2 all season. Senior Cody Richards (28-6 at 103) was last season’s runner-up at that weight, and Garcia and junior Seth Minney (31-7 at 160) were both individual placers as well.

32-3, No. 7
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Coach: Brian Martel, 19th season (544-113)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2006), one runner-up finish.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Matt Ausel (43-2) fr., 125 Tayden Miller (32-0) jr., 171 Derek Badgley (45-2) soph., 189 Landon Peiffer (29-6) sr., 285 David Fancher (40-8) sr.  
Outlook: Mason is headed back to Finals weekend for the second time in three seasons and with its most team wins since 2013-14. The Bulldogs also have been considered among the division’s top 10 all season, with Badgley, Miller and sophomore AJ Martel (27-1 at 160) all returning Finals placers.

23-8, No. 9
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Taylor Misel, seventh season (83-97)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Marcus Lowry (30-17) fr., 112 Noah Dahlke (33-14) fr., 119 Nolan Wertanen (46-0) sr.; 125 Landon Thomas (48-6) fr., 130 Jack Sherman (43-10) sr., 171 Jacob Halsey (46-1) sr., 189 Matthew Morris (36-12) sr., 130-G Maya Milletics (10-7) fr.
Outlook: The Bears are making their first trip to Finals weekend, with the key victory 35-34 over No. 5 Stevensville Lakeshore in the District Final. Eight senior starters are leading the charge, with Wertanen the reigning champion at 112 and Halsey last season’s runner-up at 152.

19-5, unranked
League finish: Seventh in Detroit Catholic League
Coach: Scott Kolesky, third season (41-25)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Jace Morgan (46-6) fr., 119 Ricardo Saenz (46-0) fr., 125 Luke Nelson (36-13) jr., 152 Brennan Parent (37-11) jr.
Outlook: Brother Rice has earned its second trip to Finals weekend and first since 1988, winning all four of its postseason matches so far by at least 45 points. Kolesky formerly was the head coach at Clinton Township Chippewa Valley and Troy Athens and has a 293-210 record over 17 seasons total. This team has taken major strides after going 6-11 a year ago, and nearly half the roster is freshmen – with five of the team’s eight starting.

PHOTO Lowell celebrates a match win during last season’s Division 2 Final. (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.)