D2 Preview: St. Joe's Wertanen, Holly's Gonzales Seek to Climb for 3rd Time

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 3, 2022

Only five returning Individual Finals champs are part of this weekend’s Division 2 brackets at Ford Field, and two of them won in a different division a year ago.

But two more of that few are wrestling for an especially elite honor.

St. Joseph senior Nolan Wertanen and Holly senior Jacob Gonzales both will wrestle for their third Finals championships and are among contenders we’ve highlighted below.

The Grand March on Friday begins at 10 a.m., with wrestling through semifinals that evening. Wrestling begins again at 9 a.m. Saturday with championship matches at 3:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at Ford Field. All matches will be broadcast live on MHSAA.tv, and we’ll talk to all 14 champions in each division for our Second Half coverage published later that evening and overnight. See the MHSAA Wrestling Finals page for more information and to follow results this weekend.

112 Adam Polk, Pontiac sophomore (34-2) – Last season’s champion at 103 could run into the top seed in this bracket in his second match but has lost only twice this winter, both times by decision.

119 Nolan Wertanen, St. Joseph senior (47-0) – The top seed at this weight hasn’t lost since his sophomore season and can add a third championship after winning 103 in 2020 and 112 in 2021. He has a 149-3 career record despite missing the second half of his freshman season with an injury.

125 Tayden Miller, Mason junior (33-0) – Last year’s runner-up at 119 is the top seed at this weight this weekend and also finished third at 103 as a freshman.

130 Louden Stradling, Gaylord junior (20-1) – He’s pursuing his first championship and top-seeded after finishing Division 1 runner-up at 103 as a freshman and 119 as a sophomore wrestling for Battle Creek Lakeview.

135 Aaron Lucio, Stevensville Lakeshore junior (50-0) – He’s up two weights after finishing runner-up last season at 125 and suffering his only loss of the winter in the championship match. He was third at 119 as a freshman.

145 Max Brown, Whitehall senior (37-6) – The top seed at this weight was last season’s Division 3 champion at 140, and he’s also placed third at 130 and fourth at 125 as his team has moved back and forth between the two divisions.

152 Micah Hanau, Stevensville Lakeshore senior (48-2) – He’s the top seed at his weight after finishing third at 140 last season and winning 130 as a sophomore. He also finished fifth at 125 as a freshman and has a 152-13 career record.

160 Jacob Gonzales, Holly senior (45-0) – The champion at 152 the last two years is top-seeded at this weight and hasn’t lost since he was a freshman; his career record is 171-3.  

189 Kael Wisler, New Boston Huron senior (51-1) – He’s the top seed and seeking his first championship after finishing runner-up at 171 last season and eighth at that weight as a sophomore.

285 Ira Jenkins, Whitehall senior (47-0) – He also was a Division 3 champion last winter and hasn’t lost in two years, carrying a 172-11 career record into this weekend. He was fifth at 171 in Division 2 as a sophomore and third at 152 in Division 3 as a freshman.

Other 2021 runners-up: 135 Gage Race, Jackson Northwest junior (35-5, 130 last year); 152 Jack Conley, Lake Fenton junior (45-5, 145 last year); 171 Jacob Halsey, St. Joseph senior (47-1, 152 last year); 171 Nicholas Blanchard, Whitehall senior (45-2, 152 in Division 3 last year); 189 Carson Crace, Lowell junior (23-9, 160 last year).

Additional No. 1 seeds: 103 Ja'Marcus Smith, Detroit Mumford senior (16-1); 112 Jackson Blum, Lowell freshman (33-3); 140 Jacob Brya, St. Johns senior (38-0); 171 Cameron Macklem, Goodrich senior (42-3); 189 Adam Haselius, Jackson Northwest junior (41-1); 215 Carter Blough, Lowell senior (33-2).

Also undefeated: 112 Connor Greer, Bay City John Glenn freshman (37-0); 171 Mikus Bishop, Harper Woods sophomore (17-0); 215 James Campbell, Mattawan senior (33-0); 285 Joshua Cook, Ferndale senior (49-0).

PHOTO St. Joseph's Nolan Wertanen, top, works toward a pin during Friday's Division 2 Team Quarterfinals. (Click to see 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.)