D3 Preview: Rivals Seeded to Meet Again

February 22, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Dundee and Richmond have met in six of the last eight Division 3 Team Finals, but none carried as much anticipation as this weekend’s possible rematch is building.

Richmond claimed last season’s MHSAA title on a tie-breaker after the teams tied 28-28. They're expected to see each other again Saturday at Wings Events Center – although undefeated Remus Chippewa Hills is among six other quarterfinalists that will try to break through instead.

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 noon Saturday and the championship match that afternoon at 3:30 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.

#1 Dundee

Record/rank: 14-3, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Tim Roberts, 19th season (494-69-1)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Austin Fietz (30-12) fr., 112 Tyler Swiderski (27-10) fr., 119 Jonathon White (29-10) jr., 125 Daniel Jaworski (22-11) sr., 130 Christian Killion (28-8) soph., 135 Stoney Buell (36-4) fr., 140 Grant Ott (27-8) jr., 145 McCallister McAvoy (30-10) jr., 152 Zachary Bellaire (36-7) sr., 160 Tylor Orrison (38-3) sr., 171 Jaxon Guinn (29-8) soph., 189 Kyle Reinhart (33-13) sr., 189 Kyle Motylinski (33-8) sr., 215 Brandon Whitman (40-0) sr.
 As noted above, Dundee led by six senior starters should be as motivated as ever. The team qualified all 14 wrestlers for the Individual Finals – headlined by three-time champ Whitman. Bellaire and Orrison also won MHSAA individual titles last season, and White and Killion placed. The Vikings gave up 11 points to No. 9 Ida in the District Final but shut out their other three postseason opponents.

#2 Richmond

Record/rank: 19-5, No. 2
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Co-coaches: Brandon Day, 14th season (428-93); Preston Treend, second season (46-7) 
Championship history: Eight MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 JD Gross (22-8) soph., 112 Daniel McNichol (31-9) jr., 119 Josh Barton (24-13) soph., 135 Alec Ziza (24-9) sr., 140 Hayden Bastian (26-8) jr., 145 Ethan Wyatt (21-14) jr., 145 Alex Roberts (30-5) sr., 152 Eric Barr (16-4) jr., 160 David Kaltz (22-7) sr., 189 Luke Davis (35-8) soph., 215 Colton McKiernan (37-1) sr., 285 Tyler Marino (25-4) sr.
Outlook: This will make a decade of consecutive Quarterfinals appearances for the Blue Devils, who eliminated No. 6 Algonac in the District along the way. McKiernan and Marino were Individual Finals runners-up last season, and Roberts also placed. Those three are among five senior starters and nine upperclassmen total expected to take the mat.

#3 Remus Chippewa Hills

Record/rank: 23-0, No. 3
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Gold
Coach: Nate Ethridge, 18th season (515-93)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2016.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Carson Hayes (40-7) fr., 125 Bray Haynes (36-7) jr., 145 Austin Young (43-5) sr., 152 Jaycob Sharp (9-2) sr., 171 Robert Granberry (40-5) sr., 189 Chayton Wiggins (37-7) soph. 215 Jared Bean (33-8) sr., 215 Billy Koepf (37-3) sr., 285 Andrew Vinton (35-7) sr., 285 Colby Roosa (37-5) fr.
Outlook: After breaking through to the championship match for the first time in 2016, Chippewa Hills fell to Dundee by just six points in last year’s Semifinal. The Warriors haven’t lost again. Sharp was an Individual Finals runner-up as a sophomore and a placer last winter, along with Granberry. The tough part is two of this year’s 10 qualifiers likely won’t compete in a given match – Chippewa Hills has multiple at both 215 and 285. But nine expected starters have at least 30 wins, as do four subs.

#4 Whitehall

Record/rank: 30-3, No. 4
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference
Coach: Cliff Sandee, 11th season (261-39)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class C runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 135 Tom Balakovitz (40-8) sr., 145 Trenton Blanchard (40-9) jr., 160 Derek McCollom (36-8) sr., 171 Kayleb Venema (46-4) soph., 189 Allen Powers (45-4) jr.
Outlook: Whitehall nearly broke into the Semifinals for the second season in a row last year, and a team with six senior starters is forecast to advance this time after coming in seeded fifth the last two Quarterfinals. Powers and junior Sam Baustert (112, 37-9) were individual placers a year ago, and senior past qualifier Josh Thommen (145, 15-6) also reportedly will return to the lineup this weekend after missing earlier rounds with an injury.

#5 Birch Run

Record/rank: 32-2, No. 5
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference East
Coach: Mike Miller, third season (88-11)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Christian Miller (40-14) soph., 119 Mac Breece (53-3) soph., 130 Kyle Parlberg (34-18) jr., 140 Mason Breece (52-3) sr., 152 Trenton Naragon (46-6) jr., 189 Brockton Cook (52-4) jr.
 This will be Birch Run’s fifth trip to the Semifinals over the last seven seasons after the Panthers missed a year ago. They gave up an average of just 16 points over their four District and Regional matches. Mason Breece, Mac Breece and Miller all placed at the Individual Finals last season and bolster an expected lineup with just three seniors but five 40-match winners.

#6 Dowagiac

Record/rank: 25-9, unranked
League finish: Second in Wolverine Conference
Coach: Colin Burandt, third season (52-25)
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 1998).  
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Kody Walker (45-6) sr., 189 Justin Lyle (41-11) sr.
 Dowagiac will return to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2004 after upsetting No. 7 Lake Odessa Lakewood in the Regional Final. The Chieftains have more than doubled their number of wins from last season under Burandt, previously a Finals individual placer and later assistant coach at Niles. Walker is one of four seniors in the expected lineup and was a Finals placer in 2017.

#7 Alma

Record/rank: 32-9, No. 8
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference Central
Co-coaches: Randy Miniard, seventh season (153-85) 
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nolan Rodriguez (39-9) fr., 119 Dametrius Castillo (33-6) fr., 130 Jarrett Ferman (41-11) soph., 152 Justin VanBlaricum (40-15) soph., 285 Greg Simmons (35-6) sr.
 A year after leading Alma to its first league title since 1992, Miniard has the Panthers at the MHSAA Quarterfinals for the first time in program history. Five seniors are joined by nine underclassmen, including five freshmen, in the expected starting lineup. Alejandro Rosas (140, 32-5) didn’t make the Individual Finals this season but was a placer in 2017.

#8 Comstock Park

Record/rank: 22-10, unranked
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue
Coach: Jim Olson, 30th season (457-225) 
Championship history: Class C champion 1974, runner-up 1980.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Bailey Borgeld (41-7) jr., 130 Zion Taylor (42-8) jr., 135 Austin Sanders (32-13) jr., 140 Christian Maldonado (39-11) jr., 160 Nick Brill (27-14) sr., 215 Joe Nagle (48-0) sr. 
Outlook: Comstock Park last made the Quarterfinals in 2015, in Division 2, and also has won three District titles over the last four seasons. Nagle and Borgeld also were Individual Finals qualifiers last year and help pace a lineup with seven 30-win wrestlers.

PHOTO: Dundee’s Christian Killion (left) and Richmond’s Alec Ziza locked up for a 1-0 decision win for Killion at 125 pounds during last season’s Division 3 Final. (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.)