D2 Preview: Ready for Storied Finish

February 26, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Coaches R.J. Boudro and Joe Ray Barry will lead celebrated wrestling programs into Friday’s MHSAA Quarterfinals at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

But while Lowell and Eaton Rapids, respectively, have combined for 12 MHSAA titles and are the top seeds in Division 2 this weekend, both coaches are guiding their teams into these final rounds for the first time.

And that’s just another wrinkle of intrigue in a division featuring four teams that have never made an MHSAA championship match and two more that haven’t won a title in more than two decades.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed. Their Quarterfinal matches begin at 7:45 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 11:45 Saturday morning and the championship match at 4 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.TV. For results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page. (Records below are based on those submitted for the Individual Finals.)

#1 Lowell

Record/rank: 26-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White.
Coach: R.J. Boudro, first season (26-2)
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recent 2014), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Sam Russell (24-10) soph., 119 Lucas Hall (32-1) jr., 125 Aaron Ward (25-9) sr., 130 Zeth Dean (31-3) jr., 135 Jordan Hall (32-4) sr., 145 David Kruse 25-10) fr., 152 Dan Kruse (26-11) jr., 189 Logan Blough (22-15) jr., 215 Josh Colegrove (33-0) sr., 285 Logan Wilcox (28-7) sr.
Outlook: Boudro was an assistant under previous Lowell coach Dave Dean and also an MHSAA individual finalist at Armada before competing at the University of Michigan and Michigan State University. He inherited a loaded and veteran lineup, even with only four seniors starting. Lucas Hall, Colegrove and junior Max Dean won individual championships last season, and Zeth Dean and Jordan Hall were placers.

#2 Eaton Rapids

Record/rank: 39-2, No. 4
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference White.
Coach: Joe Ray Barry, third season (91-21)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 1999), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Austin O’Hearon (38-4) fr., 125 Austin Eldred (46-8) sr., 135 Jaedin Sklapsky (49-2) sr., 145 Lane McVicker (46-1) jr., 152 Blaine Milheim (45-5) sr., 160 Caleb Norris (42-6) sr., Clayton Higelmire (40-5) jr.
Outlook: Eaton Rapids has a long history of wrestling success, but got its signature win so far under Barry – a former three-time individual champ for Mason – by beating No. 1-ranked St. Johns in the Regional Final. The Greyhounds also eliminated No. 5 DeWitt and No. 9 Mason during their tournament run. Sklapsky was an Individual Finals runner-up at 135 last season, and McVicker was a placer.

#3 Niles

Record/rank: 23-3, No. 3
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference.
Coach: Todd Hesson, eighth season (186-72)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Andrew Flick (24-3) soph., 119 Josh Dayhuff (38-5) sr., 125 Brendan Hall (34-8) soph., 130 Mitchell Findeisen (32-9) soph., 130 Warren Smith (38-8) sr., 135 Noah Hall (37-4) sr.
Outlook: Niles has firmly established itself among Division 2 powers with three straight Regional titles and two consecutive Semifinal appearances, and looks like a possibility to take the next step into a championship bout this weekend. Flick, Dayhuff and Smith are returning Individual Finals placers and lead a line-up anchored by seven seniors.  

#4 Gaylord

Record/rank: 39-1, No. 6
League finish: First in Big North Conference.
Coach: Jerry La Joie, 21st season (558-126-2)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Trevor Giallombardo (23-2) jr., 103 Derek Giallombardo (28-6) fr., 112 Dominic La Joie (31-2) soph., 125 Jon Martin (45-3) jr., 145 Jeff Heinz (50-4) sr., 189 Tristan Gregory (33-3) sr., 215 Shane Foster (49-1) jr., 285 Tim Roney (27-8) jr.
Outlook: Gaylord is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2006 and has made four trips under Jerry La Joie, and also won eight straight league and seven straight District titles. The Blue Devils advanced by surviving a strong Regional with a four-point win over Clio and seven-point victory over No. 8 Bay City Western. Dominic La Joie was the champion at 103 pounds last winter to cap his first season, and Martin, Gregory and Foster all placed at their weights.

#5 Flint Kearsley

Record/rank: 35-5, No. 7
League finish: Third in Flint Metro League
Coach: Luther Brown, fourth season (113-45)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Andy Ruhstorfer (48-5) fr., 119 Jakob Chapman (43-3) sr., 135 Travis Wildfong (46-3) jr., 152 Dylan Tarrence (43-6) soph., 171 James Davis (47-3) sr., 189 Reese Harburn (39-14) soph.
Outlook: Kearsley will compete in its second Quarterfinal, having made the trip previously in 2004. But Brown supplies championship experience – he wrestled on the 1995 Class A championship team at Flint Northern – and has led the Hornets to two District titles over his four seasons. Chapman was the Division 2 runner-up at 119 pounds last season, and Davis also was an Individual Finals placer. They are the only two seniors on the roster.

#6 Tecumseh

Record/rank: 32-4, No. 10
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White.
Coach: George Lesko, first season (32-4)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Andrew Marten (51-2) soph., 125 Wyatt Cadmus (45-9) sr., 135 Gabe Bechtol (39-9) fr., 152 Kyle Humphries (36-8) jr., 189 Kody McCrate (45-8) sr., 215 Landon Pelham (31-2) jr., 285 Nathan Brady (47-10) sr.
Outlook: Lesko has Tecumseh in the Quarterfinals for the fifth straight season and seeking its fourth Semifinal berth in that time. A former assistant with more than 30 years in coaching, he took over a squad that’s starting only three seniors but does have a 2014 Individual Finals placer in Pelham. Five others have at least 40 wins this season, with Marten among expected contenders next weekend.

#7 Warren Lincoln

Record/rank: 21-9, unranked
League finish: Fourth in Macomb Area Conference White
Coach: Vito Delia, 16th season (260-160-3)
Championship history: Class A champion 1994. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Demarco Dixon (40-13) jr., 130 Garret Kaercher (38-5) jr., 135 Shawn Lindsey (33-11) jr., 152 Khannor Kaercher (48-1) sr., 160 Deirrien Perkins (40-5) jr., 171 Jelani Embree (40-0) soph.  
Outlook: Lincoln is back at the Quarterfinals for the third straight season and moved up a seed from 2014. Both Kaerchers and Perkins were Individual Finals placers last winter, and Embree is an emerging standout after missing his freshman season with an injury.

#8 Comstock Park

Record/rank: 19-9, unranked
League finish: Third in O-K Blue.
Coach: Jim Olson, 27th season (403-188)
Championship history: Class C champion 1974, runner-up 1980.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Tyler Brewer (48-4) jr., 189 Aaron Martin (41-5) sr.
Outlook: Comstock Park is making its first appearance in a Quarterfinal, although it did finish Class C runner-up in the first season of Olson’s first tenure as coach, in 1980, when team scoring was based on individual placers. The Panthers did win seven District titles in eight seasons at one point, from 2005-12, but broke through this winter after bouncing back from two straight sub-.500 seasons. 

PHOTO: Lowell's Lucas Hall and Niles' Andrew Flick wrestled during last season's Division 2 Semifinals; both return this weekend. (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.)