D2 Preview: Hall of Fame

February 26, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

For the second time in three seasons, a St. Johns wrestler can finish his career as one of the MHSAA’s all-time greats.

Redwings senior Zac Hall will compete this weekend for his fourth MHSAA individual championship. Succeeding would make him the 18th ever to do so, joining recent additions to the list Adam Coon of Fowlerville in 2013 and former teammate Taylor Massa in 2012.

Win or lose, his run this weekend is sure to make headlines. But the Division 2 field appears wide open in terms of who might join him. Bay City Western’s Christian Schoenherr is back from an injury and shining again. Lowell’s Lucas Hall, Kanon Dean and Josh Colegrove are coming off helping the Red Arrows to a team title, and St. Clair’s Colton Pfaendtner and Eaton Rapids' Jaedin Slapsky are among those also not mentioned in much detail below – but don’t forget those names or any of the others that follow.

See below for 10 more contenders to watch this weekend, plus others who enter the tournament undefeated or coming off runner-up finishes in 2013. 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. And check back with Second Half later Saturday night for full coverage from the Finals, including comments from all 14 champions.

112: Ian Parker, St. Johns sophomore (46-0) – Fell by pin in last season’s 103-pound Final, but hasn’t lost since and enters as the favorite at his new weight.

119: Mason Smith, Clio junior (51-0) – Following up last season’s 112-pound championship and 55-4 record by moving up a weight and building a perfect record.

119: Zeth Dean, Lowell sophomore (32-4) – Last season’s runner-up at 112 fell by pin in that match to Smith, but looks good to force a rematch after also moving up.

130: Bailey Jack, Lowell junior (31-4) – Moved up to first place in his class last season after two lower finishes as an underclassmen, and can make it two championship weekends in a row after helping the Red Arrows to the team title in Battle Creek.

140: Zac Hall, St. Johns senior (48-0) – Claimed titles at 103, 112 and 125 his first three seasons and carries a 194-2 career record into this weekend.

145: Steve Bleise, Chelsea senior (45-0) – Lone loss last season came by pin in the 135-pound Final, but he hasn't lost again and can add his first title to that second place, a fourth earned as a sophomore and a fifth achieved while wrestling at Dexter as a freshman.  

152: Logan Massa, St. Johns junior (47-0) – Has added an undefeated season so far to his championship at 135 in 2013 and runner-up finish at 119 as a freshman.

171: Devon Pingel, North Branch sophomore (52-1) – Said after last season’s championship at 160 that he hopes to win four, and he’s off to another great start after beating a senior in 2013 to secure his first.

189: Angus Arthur, St. Johns junior (43-0) – Claimed last season’s championship at 171 after finishing fifth at 145 as a freshman for Lowell; combined for 14 losses over those first two seasons but is expected by some to finish this winter with none.

189: Garrett Stehley, Lowell senior (28-1) – Last season’s runner-up at 189 likely will have to face former teammate Arthur to win his first championship, but has improved every season from sixth as a freshman to fourth as a sophomore to second a year ago.

Another 2013 runner-up: Christian Schoenherr, Bay City Western junior (140, 14-4).

Also undefeated: Fremont senior Luke Spotts (130, 33-0), Lowell sophomore Lucas Hall (112, 33-0), St. Clair senior Colton Pfaendtner (285, 54-0).

Others of note: Edwardsburg sophomore Michael Higley (103, 40-1), Warren Woods Tower senior Nick Pipes (125, 44-5), Eaton Rapids junior Jaedin Slapsky (130, 47-1), Lowell junior Jordan Hall (135, 30-3), Lowell senior Kanon Dean (160, 29-6), Lowell junior Josh Colegrove (215, 31-1). 

PHOTO: St. Johns’ Zac Hall (red head gear) works on an opponent during last week’s Team Semifinal against Tecumseh. (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.)