D2 Preview: Lowell Aims to be 3rd to 5

February 22, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

After becoming the fifth school in MHSAA history to win four straight Team Wrestling Finals last year, Lowell can become just the third to make it five consecutive this weekend at Wings Events Center.

The Red Arrows will be chasing the record for longest streak held by Davison 2002-06 and Hudson 2009-13, and are seeded No. 1 again heading into Friday’s Quarterfinals – but with last season’s runner-up Warren Woods Tower right behind at No. 2.

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 noon Saturday and the championship match that afternoon at 3:30 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.


#1 Lowell

Record/rank: 17-4, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: RJ Boudro, fourth season (86-11) 
Championship history: Seven MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nick Korhorn (28-8) soph. 119 Dawson Jankowski (22-9) soph., 125 Zeth Strejc (21-9) fr., 130 Jeff Leach (24-7) jr., Doak Dean (29-9) fr., 135 Avry Mutschler (35-4) jr., James Fotis (30-10) soph., 145 Austin Boone (37-1) soph., 171 Austin Engle (30-7) sr., 189 Dave Kruse (35-3) sr., 215 Connor Nugent (33-11) sr., 215 Keigan Yuhas (15-1) sr., 285 Tyler Deloof (29-7) soph.
Outlook: Lowell will try to win a fifth straight Division 2 title led by a reigning individual champion in Boone and 2017 placers Leach, Mutschler and Kruse. They are four of nine Individual Finals qualifiers who also took the mat for last season’s championship match win over Warren Woods-Tower. The Red Arrows marched through the District and Regional rounds this time giving up a total of 34 points over four matches. Two of this year’s losses were to Division 1 top-ranked Detroit Catholic Central and Division 3 top-ranked Dundee.

#2 Warren Woods Tower

Record/rank: 25-5, No. 3
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Co-coaches: Greg Mayer and Russell Correll, 18th seasons (352-238)
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2017.
Individual Finals qualifiers: Joe Haynes (40-4) fr., 112 Dru Wilson (34-14) fr., 119 David Stepanian (38-2) jr., 125 Chaise Mayer (46-1) jr., 145 Keff O’Connell (29-13) jr., 152 Jajuan Lovejoy (40-6) sr., 215 Joel Radvansky (38-4) jr., 285 CJ Sheir (30-17) jr.
 The Titans reached their first MHSAA championship match last year and gave Lowell a run before falling 32-21. Nine upperclassmen (but just three seniors) dominate the lineup, with Mayer a two-time Individual Finals runner-up and O’Connell, Lovejoy, Radvansky and senior Austin Frederick (152, 11-7) all placers a year ago. Haynes, Wilson, Stepanian and Mayer give the team strength at the lightest weights and are backed up by two more freshmen with at least 26 wins apiece this winter.

#3 Gaylord

Record/rank: 35-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Big North Conference
Coach: Jerry LaJoie, 24th season (666-131-2)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Chayse LaJoie (40-3) soph., 119 John Sosa (31-6) soph., 125 Derek Giallombardo (45-3) sr., 140 Jacob McKnight (33-6) soph., 160 Nick Brewster (22-8) sr., 171 Cade Foster (45-3) sr., 285 Joe Markham (44-4) sr.
Outlook: Gaylord got past nemesis and No. 8-ranked St. Johns at the Regional to return to the Quarterfinals for the third time in four seasons after missing a year ago. Chayse LaJoie is a reigning Individual Finals champion, and Markham, Sosa and Giallombardo also were placers in 2017. Nine expected starters have at least 30 wins, including three of five seniors who will take the mat – but seven starting sophomores indicate good things are yet to come as well.

#4 Eaton Rapids

Record/rank: 26-4, No. 5
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White
Coach: Joe Ray Barry, sixth season (190-42)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 1999), nine runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers103 Robert Davids (33-5) fr., 125 Chris Haynes (35-9) soph., 135 Chad Haynes (30-8) soph., 140 Caleb Fish (43-2) soph., 152 Brayden McNamara (35-9) jr., 160 Austin O’Hearon (40-1) sr., 215 Dallas Price (28-12) sr.
 Eaton Rapids is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since finishing Division 2 runner-up in 2015. After winning their District matches by a combined 147-3, the Greyhounds got past rival Mason and upset No. 2 DeWitt at the Regional. O’Hearon is a reigning individual champion but one of only three senior starters. Fish also was an Individual Finals placer last season and is one of seven underclassmen expected to take the mat.

#5 Stevensville Lakeshore

Record/rank: 21-1, No. 6
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West
Coach: Bruce Bittenbender, 48th season (911-256-2)
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 1994).
Individual Finals qualifiers: Riley Bettich (38-2) soph., 103 Bailey DeLaTorre (30-10) soph., 125 Shane Williams (33-7) soph., 140 Tony Williams (39-2) sr., 145 Kearri Myrick (25-10) sr., 160 Cody Carlisle (40-3) sr., 189 Ryan Rush (30-13) sr., 215 Zeke Rohl (29-10) soph., 285 Tyler Hill (34-2) sr.
Outlook: Lakeshore is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012, led by the winningest coach in state wrestling history in Bittenbender. The Lancers got past rival and No. 7-ranked Niles at the District before giving up a total of 20 points in sweeping the Regional. Bettich was an individual runner-up last season and Tony Williams also placed at the Individual Finals. Interestingly, the starting lineup is split evenly between seniors and sophomores, and almost evenly with seniors at seven of the eight heaviest weights.

#6 Goodrich

Record/rank: 25-5, No. 9
League finish: First in the Genesee Area Conference
Coach: Kenneth Sirignano, eighth season (record N/A) 
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2009), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Caleb Teague (38-4) jr., 125 Carson Turnbow (32-12) jr., 160 James Penfold (11-1) jr., 171 Juwan Vines (31-8) soph., 189 Honour Kline (40-4) jr., 285 Blake Coffell (38-5) jr.
 Goodrich had a nice run in Division 3 over the previous two decades with all four of its championship match appearances between 1997-2009. This is the Martians’ second Quarterfinal trip in Division 2 after they also made it in 2016, and they haven’t let an opponent get closer than 19 points during this postseason run. Coffell and Kline were Individual Finals placers last season.

#7 Allendale

Record/rank: 35-7, unranked
League finish: First in O-K Blue
Coach: Duane Watson, 30th season (606-235)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers125 Asher Meekhof (46-7) sr., 135 Gabe TeBos (45-6) sr., 145 Nathan Wynsma (43-4) jr., 160 Dillon Reeder (29-13) jr., 215 Jordan DeGroot (43-8) soph., 285 Adam Ginn (30-12) sr.
Outlook: Allendale will make its second straight Quarterfinals appearance after giving up 40 points total over four District and Regional matches. The Falcons are bringing six Individual Finals qualifiers instead of five a year ago, when they entered the weekend seeded fifth. Wynsma was an individual placer last season and Meekoff placed in 2016 – the latter is one of nine senior starters.

#8 Tecumseh

Record/rank: 24-7, unranked
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Coach: A.J. Marry, third season (62-29)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Vincent Perez (49-0) jr., 119 Joshua Hilton (41-15) jr., 125 Kellen Patton (39-7) jr., 140 Kyle Yuhas (38-13) soph., 160 Gabe Bechtol (34-8) sr., 171 Clayton Boatright (24-21) jr., 189 Ryan Roberts (47-6) sr.
Outlook: It’s tough to imagine a more accomplished No. 8 seed. Tecumseh will be wrestling in its seventh Quarterfinal in eight seasons, bringing in seven Individual Finals qualifiers – one more than last year’s team that fell to Lowell 41-20 in the opener. Patton was a repeat individual placer last season and Perez also placed at the Individual Finals – and both are among 11 starters who should return for another run in 2019 as well.

PHOTO: Lowell’s Keigan Yuhas and Warren Woods Tower’s Jajuan Lovejoy lock up during last season’s Division 2 championship match. (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.)