D2 Preview: Parade of Possibilities

February 27, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

If seeds hold up this weekend, 11 schools will have representation atop the podium at the Division 2 Individual Wrestling Finals at Ford Field.

That wouldn’t be unprecedented; in fact, last season’s Division 2 championship matches produced winners from 13 schools. Gaylord celebrated two champions in 2018; St. Johns, Lowell and Holly are seeded to do the same Saturday.

Below, we look at 10 contenders to watch in Division 2, plus list everyone who finished at least as a runner-up in 2018 and all of the top seeds heading into this weekend. Surely we still missed a few who will end up rising to the top of the podium Saturday – but come back to Second Half early Sunday as we’ll interview and report on all 56 champions.

The “Grand March” on Friday begins at 11 a.m., with five rounds wrestled throughout the day including the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Wrestling picks back up with consolation rounds at 9 a.m. Saturday, and concludes with the championship matches that afternoon at 3 p.m.

Follow all matches on a subscription basis live on MHSAA.tv, and click here for results at MHSAA.com.

112 Sean Spidle, Flint Powers Catholic junior (33-0) – Last season’s Division 3 champion at 112 pounds also won 103 as a freshman. He’s the top seed at 112 in his new division as he goes for a third championship.

119: Vincent Perez, Tecumseh senior (49-0) – The top seed at 119 hasn’t lost since falling in last year’s 112 championship match to Gaylord’s Chayse LaJoie (see below), avenging that defeat at last weekend’s Team Quarterfinals with a 5-4 win. Perez also took third at 103 as a sophomore.

125: Chayse LaJoie, Gaylord junior (45-1) – The top seed at 125 is wrestling for his third Finals championship after winning 103 as a freshman and 112 last season. His only defeat this winter came last weekend to Tecumseh’s Perez in a rematch of last year’s title bout.

125: Chaise Mayer, Warren Woods Tower senior (40-3) – After finishing runner-up at 103 as a freshman and 112 as a sophomore, Mayer took third last year after entering as the top seed at 125. He’s back at that weight and on the opposite side of the bracket from LaJoie. Mayer’s losses this winter all came to wrestlers holding top seeds this weekend. 

140: Avry Mutschler, Lowell senior (33-2) – After finishing runner-up at 135 last season, Mutschler enters as the favorite at 140 with his only in-state loss to reigning Division 1 champ Derek Gilcher from Detroit Catholic Central. Mutschler also finished fourth at 130 as a freshman and third at 140 as a sophomore.

145: Caleb Fish, Eaton Rapids junior (40-1) – Fish missed a first championship last season falling 6-4 to St. Johns’ James Whitaker (below) in the final at 140. Fish is the top seed at 145 this time, and his only loss was to Whitaker after also beating him this winter. Fish also took fifth at 135 as a freshman.

152: Austin Boone, Lowell junior (27-4) – The two-time champ is looking to add to titles won at 135 two years ago and 145 last winter. He’s the top seed at this weight with his two in-state losses to reigning Division 1 champs Kevon Davenport of Detroit Catholic Central (3-2) and Alex Facundo of Davison (3-1, sudden victory).

152: James Whitaker, St. Johns senior (31-2) – Although Boone is on top of this bracket, Whitaker has a path to meet him in the championship match. He won 140 last season and finished fourth at 135 as a sophomore, and his only in-state loss this season was to Eaton Rapids’ Fish.

160: Alec Rees, Sparta senior (37-1) – The top seed at 160 won 152 last season, finished runner-up at 145 as a sophomore and fifth at 140 as a freshman. He has just two losses over the last three seasons.

171: Ryan Ringler, Cedar Springs senior (44-0) – The top seed at 171 is the reigning champion at this weight and a combined 97-1 over the last two seasons. He’s 199-8 for his career and also finished third at this weight as both a freshman and sophomore.

Other 2018 runners-up: 112 Nicholas Korhorn, Lowell (23-9, 103 in 2018); 125 Caleb Teague, Goodrich senior (42-7, 119 in 2018); 135 Matthew Tomsett, Madison Heights Lamphere senior (49-2, 130 in 2018); 189 Cade Dallwitz, Holly senior (51-1, 171 in 2018); 285 Joel Radvansky, Warren Woods-Tower senior (40-4, 215 in 2018).

Additional No. 1 seeds: 103 Jacob Brya, St. Johns freshman (38-2); 130 Kaleob Whitford, St. Johns senior (38-2), 135 Jacob Gonzales, Holly freshman (48-1); 189 Cade Dallwitz, Holly senior (51-1); 215 Taye Ghadiali, Warren Fitzgerald senior (41-0); 285 Donovan King, Farmington senior (47-2).

Also undefeated: 140 Nick Matusko, Chelsea junior (42-0); 140 Owen Zablocki, New Boston Huron senior (32-0); 145 Jacob Lanzini, Trenton senior (51-0).

PHOTO: Gaylord’s Chayse LaJoie, left, and Tecumseh’s Vincent Perez locked up during last weekend’s Team Quarterfinals; both are top seeds heading into this weekend’s Individual Finals. (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.)