D2 Preview: Red Arrows on Target Again

February 26, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Arguably, no team has been a bigger title favorite from start to finish in MHSAA wrestling this season than two-time Division 2 reigning champion Lowell.

The Red Arrows need only three more wins to make good again on those high expectations. 

But that's easier said than done, especially with rival St. Johns back in the mix after a year away from Finals competition. 

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 2, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 6 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at noon Saturday and the championship match at 3:30 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.

The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard.

#1 Lowell

Record/rank: 20-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White.
Coach: R.J. Boudro, second season (49-5)
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2015), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jeff Leach (28-8) fr.; 125 Lucas Hall (25-0) sr.; 125 Sam Russell (24-11) jr.; 130 Avry Mutschler (33-6) fr.; 140 Zeth Dean (27-4) sr.; 145 Bryce Dempsey (28-11) jr.; 160 David Kruse (19-1) soph.; 160 Keigan Yuhas (35-7) soph.; 171 Danny Kruse (30-2) sr.; 189 Max Dean (30-0) sr.; 215 Eli Boulton (25-13) jr.
Outlook: Lowell has wrestled in four straight championship matches and won two straight titles, and has been the unquestioned favorite all season. Hall and Zeth Dean are reigning MHSAA individual champions – Hall has won two titles in a row – and Danny Kruse and Russell also placed last season. A total of 16 wrestlers have at least 20 wins, including four reserves.

#2 St. Johns

Record/rank: 26-4, No. 3
League finish: Tied for first in Capital Area Activities Conference Red. 
Coach: Derek Phillips, fourth season (87-13)
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), one runner-up finish.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Brendan Zelenka (32-4) soph.; 112 Emilio Sanchez (37-10) jr.; 125 James Whitaker (15-6) fr.; 135 Trent Lashuay (39-9) jr.; 140 Ian Parker (42-2) sr.; 152 Brett Fedewa (45-4) jr.;160 Lucas McFarland (34-5) jr.; 285 Jake Gnegy (42-2) sr.
Outlook: St. Johns is back after missing the Quarterfinals last season despite entering the postseason ranked No. 1, and the Redwings will be plenty motivated to make a sixth championship match in seven seasons. St. Johns defeated No. 7 Eaton Rapids and No. 2 DeWitt on the way to CMU. Parker is the reigning champion at 125 and was runner-up at 103 as a freshman, and Lashuay, Gnegy and senior Derek Droste also placed in 2015.

#3 Gaylord

Record/rank: 41-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Big North Conference.
Coach: Jerry La Joie, 22
nd season (600-128-2)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Derek Giallombardo (52-3) soph.; 112 Trevor Giallombardo (51-5) sr.; 119 Dominic La Joie (56-0) jr.; 130 Jon Martin (53-3) sr.; 140 Brady Schulz (27-13) soph.; 171 Nate Nutter (44-13) sr.
Outlook: Gaylord made its second Quarterfinal in a row by beating No. 9 Flint Kearsley among others after locking up a ninth-straight league title. Dominic La Joie is a two-time individual champion, winning 103 as a freshman and 112 last winter, and Trevor Giallombardo was the runner-up at 103 and Martin a placer at 125 in 2015. Gaylord as a team has more than 40 wins for the second time on Jerry La Joie and first time since 2003-04 after suffering its only loss last season in the Semifinal to eventual champion Lowell.  

#4 Goodrich

Record/rank: 33-4, No. 5
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red.
Coach: Ken Sirignano, sixth season (record N/A)
Championship history: Division 3 champions 2008 and 2009, runners-up 1997 and 1999.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Caleb Teague (41-9) fr.; 119 Dominic Edwards (33-19) fr.; 135 Nathan Ellis (46-3) sr.; 135 Cody Orcutt (36-16) jr.; 152 Honour Kline 39-12) fr.; 160 Nick Foglio (33-17) sr.; 171 John Penfold (44-6) sr., 285 Blake Coffell (26-24) fr.
 Goodrich is making its first trip to Finals weekend since its last championship season of 2009, and also its first trip in Division 2. Ellis and Penfold were individual placers last season and are among four seniors in a lineup that could be scary the next three seasons; eight freshmen start, including four Individual Finals qualifiers.

#5 Allegan

Record/rank: 30-5, unranked
League finish: First in Wolverine Conference. 
Coach: Murray Rose, 29
th season (748-157-2)
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2007 in Division 2), two runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Davynn Schneider (45-8) jr.; 112 Jake Orr (31-13) soph.; 130 Ricky Jefferson (34-17) jr.; 135 Joey Orr (44-5) sr.; 160 Trey Boerman (45-8) sr.; 171 Levi Sabin (39-8) sr.; 189 Austin Farrell (46-10) sr.
Outlook: Allegan is back in Division 2 after a time in Division 3 and making its eighth straight trip to the Quarterfinals. A group of six seniors fill every weight but one from 140-215, and Sabin, Farrell and junior Chase Beard were individual placers last season in Division 3 – with Schneider, Jefferson and Orr also among returning qualifiers for next weekend.

#6 Warren Woods Tower

Record/rank: 26-6, No. 6
League finish: Third in Macomb Area Conference Red. 
Co-coaches: Greg Mayer, 16th season (301-232)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 David Stepanian (39-7) fr.; 103 Chaise Mayer (47-5) fr.; 112 Elijuh Weaver (53-1) jr.; 135 Joe Schindler (40-10) jr.; 140 Nico Martini (32-13) jr.; 152 Jajuan Lovejoy (40-18) soph.
Outlook: Warren Woods Tower is back at Finals weekend for the second time in three seasons and with its most wins under Mayer. Eight underclassmen and only one senior starter make for some exciting possibilities in the future as well. Part of having that much youth is having no returning individual placers from a year ago, but the Titans have gained valuable experience wrestling in a strong league and with assistant Russell Correll serving as a co-coach with Mayer.

#7 Dearborn Heights Annapolis

Record/rank: 38-3, unranked
League finish: Second in Western Wayne Athletic Conference Red.
Coach: Vic McGuire, 24th season (548-183)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Justin Manuel (51-6) sr.; 130 David Knapp (49-9) sr.; 145 Dustin Gross (51-3) soph.; 189 Jon Cox (54-1) sr.; 215 Gregory Johnson (48-8) sr.
 Annapolis is returning to the Quarterfinals for the first time since back-to-back trips in 2009 and 2010 after keeping two District and one Regional opponent to 20 or fewer points. Gross was an Individual Finals placer last season as a freshman and he adds high-pressure experience to an already-veteran lineup including eight seniors and two juniors.

#8 Sturgis

Record/rank: 27-7, unranked
League finish: Second in Wolverine Conference.
Coach: Bryan Boughton, ninth season (242-122)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 160 Luke Carver (48-2) sr.; 215 Anthony Neal (31-4) sr.; 285 Jake Stevens (30-3) sr.
Outlook: Sturgis has won four District titles under Boughton, but this is the first trip to the Quarterfinals in program history. The Trojans defeated annual power Stevensville Lakeshore by three in the Regional Semifinal as part of this run, and are setting up nicely to continue contending with only six seniors in the starting lineup. Carver and Neal were both Regional runners-up.

PHOTO: Gaylord and Lowell met during MHSAA Team Finals weekend in 2015 and could face off again this weekend in Division 2. (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.)