D4 Preview: Contenders Pursue Hudson

February 19, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Hudson is seeking this weekend to become the first team in MHSAA history to win six straight wrestling team championships. And that’s the expectation, as the Tigers enter the MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals seeded first in Division 4 and ranked No. 1 in the state poll.

But the teams ranked 2-5 also are headed to Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena – and each would love to be the one to end this history-making streak.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Their 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. Rankings below are from MichiganGrappler.com


Record/rank: 33-4, No. 1
League finish: Second in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Scott Marry, 26th season (690-145) 
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2013).
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Zach Lopinski (29-16) fr., 112 Roddy Hamdan (39-11) jr., 112 Tyler Roberts (38-15) jr., 119 Isaac Dusseau (31-11) sr., 130 Mason Lopinski (34-13) soph., 135 Carlos Randall (13-11) sr., 140 Cole Weaver (50-0) sr., 145 JD Waters (43-9) sr., 152 Kyle Johnson (41-9) soph., 160 Clayton Brockway (29-22)  jr., 160 Brian Sumber (17-14) sr., 171 Tylor Grames (16-16) fr., 189 Mitch Ely (28-21) jr., 215 Jacob Morgan (31-16) sr. 
Outlook: Hudson last season became the second in MHSAA history to win five straight Finals team championships, tying the Davison teams from 2002-06 for the longest streak – and are heavily favored to extend it this weekend. Hamden, Weaver (two straight) and Waters are reigning individual champions and Dusseau was a runner-up last season, and all but one of the expected starters have qualified for next week’s Individual Finals. And yet, only six of the team’s 14 qualifiers are seniors.


Record/rank: 28-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 13th season (336-64) 
Championship history: 12 MHSAA championships (most recent 2004), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Connor Krupp (35-12) fr., 119 Cole Hersch (44-7) soph., 125 Dalton Birchmeier (38-10) jr., 130 Gabe Bennett (47-3) jr., 135 Trevor Copes (40-12) jr., 140 Steven Garza II (22-0) soph., 145 Aaron Bauman (46-4) sr., 160 Josh Wendling (49-4) sr., 171 Taylor Krupp (50-0) sr., 189 Cody Symons (43-4) sr., 215 Dakota Clark (29-12) sr., 215 Owen Wilson (32-9) sr., 285 David Robertson (37-12) jr. 
New Lothrop has reached the Quarterfinals all 13 seasons under Campbell and missed its first championship berth since 2007 by only two points in the final match of last season's Semifinal. Wendling was an individual champion in 2013 and Taylor Krupp a runner-up, and all but two of the probable starters this weekend have qualified for the Individual Finals – with Wilson able to sub in at the heavier weights. New Lothrop’s lone loss this winter was to Division 2 top seed Lowell by five points.


Record/rank: 29-0, No. 5
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference
Coach: Troy Johnson, first season (29-0) 
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recent 1990), two runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Jacob Chapman (25-8) fr., 112 Julian Torres (45-0) jr., 130 Kyle Barkovich (45-2) jr., 135 Cole Menck 45-3) jr., 140 Travis Smith (40-10) sr., 152 Chris O’Donnell (44-3) jr., 171 Brody Conner (47-0) jr. Outlook: Lawton is back at the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1997, and Johnson has led the Blue Devils through a tough run as former coach and program-builder Bryan Sosinski died earlier this year after a battle with brain cancer. Johnson was part of three MHSAA championship teams before graduating in 1987 and served as Sosinski’s assistant before taking over the program. Torres, Barkovich, Menck and Conner all were Individual Finals placers last season.


Record/rank: 25-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Kacy Datema, fourth season (82-30) 
Championship history: MHSAA runners-up in 2000 and 2001. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 112 Taylor Barkley (34-10) soph., 112 Alex Baker (32-4) jr., 119 Dallas O’Green (40-3) soph., 145 Darren Decker (42-1) jr., 152 Dillen Decker (37-2) jr.,
Outlook: Carson City-Crystal returned to the Quarterfinals last season for the first time in a decade and is led by three returning Individual Finals placers in O’Green and both Deckers. Still, the Eagles are young and could be contending for at least the next few seasons; only two starters are seniors including Garner Cusack, another Finals placer in 2013.  


Record/rank: 26-3, No. 4
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association
Coach: John Dingledine, first season (26-3)
Championship history: MHSAA champion 2008, five runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Corey Agens (36-8) sr., 103 Davian Gowens (18-3) soph., 125 Zack Yates (41-0) sr., 125 Logan Eaves (34-13) soph., 135 Trenton Roesly (45-3) jr., 140 Chase Siersema (39-3) sr., 145 David Jacobs (33-11) sr., 160 Mark Workman (22-2) soph.
Outlook: Hesperia has finished MHSAA runner-up three times in five seasons, including last winter, and hopes to take the final step under Dingledine. He took over for longtime coach Doug Baird this fall and inherited a reigning individual champion in Yates and a last season runner-up in Siersema. Half of this weekend’s probable lineup competed in last season’s 32-24 championship match loss to Hudson.


Record/rank: 24-4, unranked
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference
Coach: Dave Pratt, ninth season (235-66) 
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Walter Betz (31-10) sr., 135 Nick Cooper (36-9) fr., 140 Brandon Tanner (39-12) sr., 145 Zeth Caudill (32-3) soph., 152 Andrew Grady (29-15) sr., 189 Jacob Cooper (40-2) jr., 215 Adam Lammers (35-11) jr.
Outlook: Although Springport is returning to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2008, it has had plenty of local success with eight league and nine District titles in nine seasons under Pratt. The Spartans defeated an impressive slate to return to Battle Creek, including No. 6 Schoolcraft, Constantine and last season Quarterfinalist Bronson. Cooper is the reigning individual champ at 160 pounds.


Record/rank: 19-0, unranked
League finish: First in Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference
Coach: Nick Burklund, fifth season (62-26) 
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Zac DeCremer (40-2) soph., 140 Cole Gonzalez (41-4) jr., 171 Taylor Bonetti (37-7) jr.
Outlook: The Knights continue to shine after making the Quarterfinals last season for the first time. They’ve gone a combined 45-2 over the last two seasons. Norway will hope to make a splash despite entering as the seventh seed, but could be back for more in 2015 with only four starters graduating.


Record/rank: 21-12, unranked
League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Jeff Rolland, first season (21-12)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: None. 
Outlook: Clinton sent 10 qualifiers to its individual Regional last weekend, but amazingly has advanced to the team Quarterfinal without a single Individual Finals qualifier. Junior Zech Johnston, 33-10 and wrestling at 119 pounds, leads the team in wins but was stuck in one of the toughest brackets in Division 4. It’s an impressive feat led by Rolland, a Clinton grad who previously coached Onsted to three straight District titles from 2009-11.

PHOTO: New Lothrop senior Aaron Bauman has his hand raised in victory after a match against Lowell this season. (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.)