D3 Preview: Great Stories to be Told

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

February 27, 2020

This weekend’s Division 3 story is familiar. But last year’s finish no doubt has added to the buildup. 

Dundee or Richmond has won the last 10 Division 3 team wrestling championships, and they’ve faced each other in the deciding match eight of those 10 seasons. And for the third time in five seasons, last year’s title came down to the day’s final match – this time with Dundee earning the victory by the score of 26-25.  

Those headliners are the top-two seeded teams again at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, but hardly the only story in Division 3. Among others, Fremont and Kingsley are in Quarterfinals for the first time, and Alma has made a big jump over the last two years to fall in alongside the favorites at the top.

The Division 3 Quarterfinals will be wrestled at 4:30 p.m. Friday. Top seed Dundee will wrestle Dowagiac, No. 2 Richmond will take on Kingsley, No. 3 Alma will face Fremont and No. 4 Montrose will match up with Remus Chippewa Hills. Semifinals are noon Saturday, with the championship match that afternoon at 3:45 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.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 3, listed by seed.

#1 Dundee

Record/rank: 20-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association 
Tim Roberts, 21st season (535-75-1)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA championships (most recent 2019), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Braeden Davis (31-4) fr., 112 Kaden Chinavare (27-8) fr., 119 Jacob Fenbert (21-12) fr., 125 Aiden Davis (36-4) fr., 130 Austin Fietz (34-6) jr., 135 Casey Swiderski (32-1) soph., 135 Christian Killion (39-6) sr., 140 Kyle Yuhas (21-9) sr., 145 Tyler Swiderski (40-3) jr., 152 Dominick Lomazzo (17-4) jr., 160 Stoney Buell (38-3) jr., 181 Jaxon Guinn (31-8) sr., 215 Dennis Root (33-6) sr.
Outlook: Dundee has won two straight Division 3 titles and five of the last season, and this team remains built for now and the future with only four seniors among 13 Individual Finals qualifiers. After again winning an LCAA that included Division 4 top seed Hudson, Dundee gave up a combined 15 points over four District and Regional matches on the way back to Kalamazoo. Buell will be seeking his third individual championship next weekend, while Casey Swiderski will be seeking his second straight and Tyler Swiderski and Killion are both two-time Finals runners-up. Fietz and Guinn also are both repeat Finals placers.

#2 Richmond

Record/rank: 24-5, No. 2
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference 
Brandon Day, 16th season (476-98); Preston Treend, fourth season (94-14)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Emmet Kettle (26-8) jr., 103 Noah Harris (23-8) fr., 112 Hunter Keller (32-3) jr., 119 JD Gross (27-12) sr., 119 Josh Barton (24-8) sr., 130 Austin Kilburn (16-3) sr., 145 Kevin McKiernan (20-15) soph., 171 Wesley Peters (30-9) soph., 189 Noah Montanari (29-3) sr., 215 Luke Davis (35-2) sr., 285 Dan McKiernan (28-5) jr.
Outlook: Richmond is the two-time reigning runner-up and like Dundee always finds its way into the championship mix. After emerging with another BWAC title, the Blue Devils defeated three of league foes and also Madison Heights Bishop Foley soundly over the last two weeks, giving up a combined 48 points over four postseason matches. Keller and Davis were Finals runners-up last season, while Kilburn and Peters were placers too and Gross and Dan McKiernan also will be returning to Ford Field after competing there a year ago.

#3 Alma

Record/rank: 24-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference East
Coach: Randy Miniard, ninth season (212-95)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Gianni Tripp (33-13) fr., 130 Solomon Rosales (37-9) jr., 135 Dametrius Castillo (33-7) jr., 140 Jarrett Ferman (25-5) sr., 152 Jacob Munger (28-12) soph., 160 Justin VanBlaricum (30-5) sr.
Outlook: The Panthers have made another jump, from the sixth seed last season to third this weekend as they return to the Quarterfinals for the third straight year. Alma’s road again took it through Lake Odessa Lakewood, and the Panthers doubled up the No. 5 Vikings 47-21 to win the Regional title. Rosales, Castillo, Ferman and VanBlaricum all were Finals qualifiers last season, as was sophomore Josiah Baltierra (125/31-14). Castillo was an individual champion in 2018, and he, Ferman and VanBlaricum all placed a year ago. Senior Carlos Espinoza (171/30-11) gives Alma another 30-match winner.

#4 Montrose

Record/rank: 32-3, No. 4
League finish: Second in Mid-Michigan Activities Conference 
Steve Barnette, eighth season (172-79)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2005), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Seth Coffin (30-19) soph., 125 Aidan Bernard (45-4) soph., 152 Robert Skinner (28-6) jr., 171 Cody Smith (29-16) soph., 215 Levi Harber (44-4) soph.
Outlook: After last season ending a 13-year hiatus from the final weekend, Montrose is back for the second straight after wins over No. 8 Birch Run and No. 10 Otisville-LakeVille at the Regional. The lineup continues to be young and promising with only two senior starters but eight sophomores and a freshman in the expected lineup. Skinner was a Finals qualifier last season and senior Griffin Barnette (285/34-7) placed although he fell just shy of qualifying for Ford Field this season.  

#5 Remus Chippewa Hills

Record/rank: 24-5, No. 6
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association
Coach: Kevin Edwards, second season (52-7) 
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2016.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Robert VanVleet (30-16) soph., 119 Gavin Miller (27-7) jr., 119 Taylor Gibson (32-14) sr., 125 Ozaawa Manito (24-17) sr., 130 Carson Hayes (32-8) jr., 171 Gabe Petoskey (28-18) sr., 189 Chayton Wiggins (35-8) sr., 215 Colby Roosa (33-4) jr.
Outlook: Make it nine straight Regional titles for Chippewa Hills as they look to also make the Semifinals for the sixth-straight season. The Warriors edged No. 9 Shepherd 37-31 in the Regional Final to advance this time. Hayes and Roosa are returning Individual Finals placers, and bolstering those above is junior Carl Whipple (215/33-10), a Finals qualifier in 2019 and one of five 30-match winners this winter.

#6 Fremont

Record/rank: 24-4, No. 7
League finish: Second in Central State Activities Association 
Craig Zeerip, sixth season (129-60)
Championship history: Has not competed in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 RJ Thome (44-3) soph., 152 Trey Breuker (40-8) jr., 189 Michael Romero (33-15) fr., 215 Kyler Kolk (39-8) sr.
Outlook: The former Fremont and Ohio State wrestler and Hesperia head coach Zeerip will bring his alma mater to the Quarterfinals for the first time. After coming in second in the league to Chippewa Hills, Fremont edged Howard City Tri County 39-37 in its District Semifinal – but has doubled up all of its opponents since. Eight starters have won at least 30 matches, with seniors Matthew Halasinkski (140/38-10) and Chase Knudsen (160/36-9) among those joining Finals qualifiers listed above.

#7 Kingsley

Record/rank: 25-3, unranked
League finish: Second in Mid-Michigan Wrestling Conference 
Corey Crew, first season (25-3) 
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Justin Grahn (40-7) fr., 135 Aidan Shier (36-5) soph., 145 Kyan Fessenden (31-20) fr.
Outlook: In his first season leading the program, Crew has guided Kingsley to its first Regional championship and Quarterfinals trip. Eleven of 13 starters (while giving up 152) have winning records, and eight have at least 30 wins – and the team is nearly all underclassmen, with one senior and one junior on the roster. Sophomore Kaden Patterson (160/40-12), while falling shy of making the Individual Finals, also has topped 40 wins.

#8 Dowagiac

Record/rank: 23-9, unranked
League finish: Second in Wolverine Conference 
Colin Burandt, fifth season (99-45)
Championship history: Two runner-up finishes (most recent 1998).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jordan Simpson (41-7) soph., 160 Lamberto Parades (35-12) sr., 215 Chris Schultz (19-12) sr., 285 Wyatt Bailey (40-8) jr.
Outlook: Dowagiac will bring double the number of Individual Finals qualifiers to Kalamazoo this weekend as it did a year ago as the program continues to build under former Niles standout Burandt. This team has six senior starters, as opposed to just two a year ago, and Bailey was an Individual Finals placer coming in eighth at 285 in 2019.

PHOTO: Alma, here against Lakewood in the Regional Final, will attempt to reach its first MHSAA team championship match this weekend. (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.)