D4 Preview: Champ Returns as Favorite

February 25, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The MHSAA Division 4 Team Wrestling Finals feature the smallest schools competing in our state. 

But they also included the headlining finish from last season’s championship matches at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

New Lothrop ended Hudson’s record five-year title streak by downing the Tigers 33-22 – and the Hornets return to Kellogg this weekend as favorites to repeat.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 1 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 9:30 Saturday morning and the championship match at 4 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. (Records below are based on those submitted for the Individual Finals.)

#1 New Lothrop

Record/rank: 26-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference.  
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 14th season (365-65)
Championship history: 13 MHSAA championships (most recent 2014), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Tommy Malloy (34-19) fr., 112 Connor Krupp (34-12) soph., 130 Dalton Birchmeier (32-9) sr., 135 Cole Hersch (46-0) jr., 140 Gabe Bennett (36-3) sr., 145 Steven Garza II (36-0) jr., 145 Trevor Copes (29-10) sr., 152 Johnny Robinson (33-11) jr., 160 Erik Birchmeier (34-8) soph., 171 Joe Fisher (16-5) sr., 189 Caleb Symons (44-1) jr., 285 David Robertson (34-19) sr.
Outlook: New Lothrop’s title last winter was its first since 2004 and keyed in large part by eventual and now-graduated individual champions Josh Wendling and Taylor Krupp. But Symons, usually unable to break into the lineup at the same weights as those two, also was a hero of last year’s final weekend. Bennett, Garza and Connor Krupp are returning Individual Finals placers, and Hersch is considered a contender next weekend as well.

#2 Decatur

Record/rank: 29-2, No. 4
League finish: Second in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Coach: Brian Southworth, 31st season (639-206-3)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 David Helmuth (44-8) soph., 130 Ethan May (45-11) soph., 145 Elijah Luth (41-10) jr., 152 Hunter Bell (50-1) sr., 189 Cole Southworth (45-7) sr., 285 Logan Kennedy (23-2) soph.
Outlook: Decatur returns to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012, having conquered No. 3 Lawton in their District Final after finishing behind Lawton in the SAC standings and falling to the Blue Devils in District Finals the last two seasons. Half the starting lineup is underclassmen, but Kennedy was an Individual Finals placer last season, as were Cole Southworth and Bell.

#3 Hudson

Record/rank: 21-5, No. 2
League finish: Tied for first in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Scott Marry, 27th season (713-151)
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), runner-up 2014.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dylan Leathers (24-13) jr., 119 Roddy Hamdan (37-7) sr., 125 Tyler Roberts (26-15) sr., 130 Michael Prock (34-12) sr., 145 Mason Lopinski (34-5) jr., 152 Kyle Johnson (41-6) jr., 171 Clayton Brockway (28-16) sr., 189 Mitch Ely (28-13) sr., 189 Tylor Grames (30-17) soph.
Outlook: Hudson is capable of starting another title run with five Individual Finals placers in the lineup this weekend including Johnson, the reigning champion at 152, and Hamdan, the runner-up at 112 last season. The Tigers edged No. 5 Springport in the Regional Final to advance after sharing the LCAA championship with Division 3 top-ranked Dundee.

#4 Manchester

Record/rank: 28-7, No. 7
League finish: Tied for first in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Steve Vlcek, 25th season (500-181)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Reese Fry (29-12) fr., 112 Brendan Abrigo (45-1) sr., 119 Ethan Woods (38-8) soph., 135 Nick Dettling (45-6) sr., 140 Brock Vlcek (45-3) sr., 145 Corey Johnson (41-7) sr., 152 Matt Cuevas (38-11) sr., 152 Garrick Ockerman (28-19) sr., 160 Trevor Humphrey (45-4) jr., 285 Stevie Suliman (33-17) jr.
Outlook: Manchester also is back in the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. The Flying Dutchmen scored at least 60 points in all three of their postseason wins to get to Battle Creek after sharing their league title with No. 6 Addison. Abrigo was the Individual Finals runner-up at 103 last season, and Woods finished sixth at that weight.

#5 Leroy Pine River

Record/rank: 25-5, No. 8
League finish: First in Highland Conference.
Coach: Tim Jones, 16th season (424-95)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nate Park (38-7) jr., 103 Andrew Park (28-7) fr., 112 Jordan Stone (44-8) sr., 119 Tony Moore (44-6) sr., 125 Tucker Fansler (36-15) soph., 135 Phil Ragatzki (27-16) sr., 171 Jeff Gross (33-11) sr., 189 Tyler McCurry (39-10) sr., 215 Dominic Garcia (25-4) jr., 215 Josh Jackson (39-8) jr., 285 Chase Morrison (37-6) jr.
Outlook: Pine River has dominated its league and District with 15 championships over the last 16 seasons at both stages. This is the Bucks’ first trip to the Quarterfinals since 2008 and has come after four tournament wins by an average score of 67-13. Stone should be an Individual Finals contender after placing eighth at 112 last season.

#6 Norway

Record/rank: 18-5, unranked
League finish: First in Mid Peninsula Athletic Conference.
Coach: Nick Burkland, sixth season (84-32)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Dylan Hoffart (39-3) soph., 140 Cole Gonzalez (40-1) sr., 152 Tanner Gonzalez (36-4) soph., 160 Taylor Bonetti (47-4) sr.
Outlook: Norway’s surge continues as it is making the trip to Battle Creek for the third straight year and is a combined 68-6 in duals over the last three seasons. The Knights have moved up one seed each of these Quarterfinal trips and return 10 wrestlers from last season’s lineup. Cole Gonzalez and Bonetti both were Individual Finals placers in 2014.

#7 Climax-Scotts/Martin

Record/rank: 22-4, unranked
League finish: Third in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Co-coaches: Jason Wade, 10th season (N/A); Pete Boyd, 27th season (531-234) 
Championship history: Martin was Class D champion in 2008, Division 4 runner-up in 2004 and Class D runner-up in 1991 and 1987.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Dayton VanderPloeg (34-8) jr., 145 Todd Myers (35-8) jr., 152 Zack Mobley (43-9) jr., 215 Ethan Simmons (37-5) soph.
Outlook: These two schools formed a cooperative program this season for the first time and finished third together in one of the toughest small-school wrestling leagues in the state. VanderPloeg finished fourth at 103 pounds at last season’s Individual Finals and brings championship experience to a lineup with only two seniors. Climax-Scotts/Martin edged both Hesperia and Kent City by a point apiece to win the Regional.

#8 Cass City

Record/rank: 40-10, unranked
League finish: First in Greater Thumb Conference.
Coach: Don Markel, 30th season (521-343-2)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 140 Darrin Dickson (38-11) soph., 189 T.J. Moore (45-7) soph.
Outlook: Cass City is making its first trip to the Quarterfinals but has won nine league and five District titles under Markel, who took over the program heading into the 1985-86 season. The Red Hawks bounced back from two straight sub-.500 seasons to make this historical run with only five seniors on the roster but 10 wrestlers total with at least 30 wins this winter.

PHOTO: New Lothrop's Caleb Symons (right) earned a major decision in last season's Division 4 Final win and will be among those counted on again this weekend.  (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.)