D3 Preview: Past Champs Favored Again

February 24, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Only four teams have competed in MHSAA Division 3 team championship matches this decade.

And not surprisingly, those four programs have the top four seeds heading into this weekend's Quarterfinals at Central Michigan University. 

Top-seeded Richmond and second-seeded Dundee both have won three of the last six titles in this division. Third-seeded Remus Chippewa Hills and fourth-seeded Lake Fenton each have advanced to the final round once during that time and are expected to make the push again.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 3, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 4:30 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and the championship match at 6 p.m. All matches this weekend will be streamed live on a subscription basis on MHSAA.tv. For Friday’s schedule and results throughout, check the MHSAA Wrestling page.

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

NOTE: There are only seven quarterfinalists in Division 3, and Richmond received a bye for Friday after Mount Morris vacated its Regional title because it used a wrestler at a weight for which he was not eligible.

#1 Richmond

Record/rank: 27-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Co-coaches: Brandon Day, 13th season (409-87); Preston Treend, first season (27-2) 
Championship history: 
Seven MHSAA championships (most recent 2015), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Austin Kilburn (32-6) fr., 112 Roy Costello (36-7) sr., 125 Alec Ziza (19-15) jr., 140 Gary Resk (24-12) sr., 145 Alex Roberts (28-11) jr., 160 David Kaltz (34-13) jr., 189 Colton McKiernan (42-4) jr., 215 Tyler Marino (42-5) jr.
 Richmond returns to the Quarterfinals for the ninth straight season and after getting past league rival and No. 10 Algonac along the way. The Blue Devils were slightly upset a year ago, falling as a four seed to fifth-seeded Whitehall in the weekend’s first match, but they return with a lineup boasting 10 upperclassmen. Costello, Roberts and McKiernan all were individual placers in 2016.

#2 Dundee

Record/rank: 18-4, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Tim Roberts, 18th season (478-65-1)
Championship history: 
Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Jonathon White (27-15)  soph., 119 Christian Killion (24-9) fr., 119 Daniel Jaworski (28-14) jr., 140 Zachary Bellaire (32-4) jr., 145 Tylor Orrison (35-5) jr., 152 Alex Motylinski (31-4) sr., 160 Sean Sterling (22-0) sr., 171 Kyle Motylinski (32-12) jr., 189 Kyle Reinhart (35-11) jr., 189 Brandon Whitman (38-0) jr.
 Dundee climbed back to the top of Division 3 last winter with its third championship in four years and entered this postseason ranked No. 1. The Vikings shut out two opponents and gave up a combined nine points to the other two on the way back to CMU. Whitman has won two straight MHSAA individual titles, last season at 189, and Sterling is the reigning champion at 152. Orrison and Alex Motylinski also placed last year.

#3 Remus Chippewa Hills

Record/rank: 27-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Gold
Coach: Nate Ethridge, 17th season (491-92)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2016.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Bray Haynes (42-9) soph., 119 Kaden Ellis (40-7) sr., 125 Mason Hayes (38-9) soph., 130 Brandon Russell (37-15) jr., 135 Nolan Saxton (52-0) sr., 152 Jaycob Sharp (45-8) jr., 160 David Spedowski (45-4) jr., 171 Robert Granberry (43-10) jr., 189 Luke Henderson (42-7) sr., 215 Billy Koepf (47-2) jr., 285 Andrew Vinton (31-10) jr.
 Chippewa Hills advanced to its first MHSAA Final last season and hardly has slowed this winter, entering the final weekend with only one loss for the second straight season and third time during Ethridge’s successful tenure. Eleven upperclassmen anchor the line-up; Sharp was the individual runner-up at 145 in 2016, while Spedowski, Koepf, Vinton and Hayes also placed.

#4 Lake Fenton

Record/rank: 33-5, No. 5
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference
Coach: Vance Corcoran, seventh season (221-58)
Championship history: 
Division 3 runner-up 2011.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 AJ Geyer (40-10) sr., 125 Hunter Corcoran (51-2) sr., 130 Jarrett Trombley (51-0) jr., 140 Sean Trombley (48-5) soph., 152 Jackson Nevadomski (52-1) jr., 171 Logan Julian (23-16) jr., 215 Ryan Franks (42-11) sr., 285 Trent Hillger (53-0) sr.
 This is Lake Fenton’s third trip to the Quarterfinals over the past four seasons, and after coming up just four points short of advancing in the Semifinals a year ago. The Blue Devils got past Chesaning by only six points to move on this time, an accomplishment since the team voids at 103 and 119. But Lake Fenton counters with serious star power; Hillger is the reigning champion at 285 and won 215 as a sophomore, while Jarrett Trombley is the reigning champion at 119 and Geyer was runner-up last season at 103. Corcoran, Sean Trombley and Nevadomski also placed individually in 2016.

#5 Whitehall

Record/rank: 20-3, No. 4
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Cliff Sandee, 10th season (231-36)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula
Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Sam Baustert (28-15) soph., 112 Hunter Bower (24-12) jr., 119 Haddan Young (30-17) jr., 125 Mitchell White (31-13) jr., 130 Trenton Blanchard (38-11) soph., 140 Josh Thommen (35-10) jr. 145 Allen Powers (32-13) soph., 152 Jojo Dowdell (39-9) sr., 160 Kayleb Venema (36-10) fr.
 Whitehall returns as the fifth seed for the second straight season and after making the Semifinals a year ago. Eight wrestlers have won at least 30 matches for a young lineup with only three seniors expected to start – the Vikings graduated two individual champions last spring. Dowdell also placed individually in 2016.

#6 Lake Odessa Lakewood

Record/rank: 29-6, No. 6
League finish: First in Greater Lansing Activities Conference
Coach: Bob Veitch, 38th season (749-178)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Kanon Atwell (33-9) fr., 119 Cole Jackson (37-6) jr., 125 Jon Maag (32-6) jr., 152 Vern Fields (27-14) fr., 160 Jon Clack (37-10) fr., 171 Daniel Thompson (40-1) sr., 215 Jacob Kelley (35-10) sr., 285 Luke Tromp (38-6) sr.  
 Lakewood is back at the Quarterfinals for the seventh time under Veitch but first since 2011. Along the way, the Vikings posted an impressive 52-17 District Final win over No. 9 Delton Kellogg. There are only four seniors on the team, but all four have won at least 35 matches; Thompson is the reigning champion at 171. Jackson also placed last season.

#7 Caro

Record/rank: 28-7, unranked
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference East
Co-coaches: Joe Fulton and William Green, first seasons (28-7) 
Championship history: Division 3 champion 2003, two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 John Botkins (53-6) soph., 125 Blain Wood (51-3) jr., 135 Patrick Ford (35-2) sr., 140 DJ Daniels (53-3) soph.
 Caro is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012 after surviving a run that included a three-point win over Freeland and a six-pointer over Beaverton. Fulton and Green are former Caro wrestlers who took over the program after previously coaching at lower levels. Wood was individual runner-up at 112 last season. 

PHOTO: Caro, here against Millington, will return to the MHSAA Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. (Click to see more from Varsity Monthly.)

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.)