D4 Preview: Hopefuls Knocking on Door

February 21, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Hudson and New Lothrop have met for the Division 4 championship the last four seasons, and last year even as the Hornets entered Finals weekend unranked.

But a look at the overall strength of this year’s quarterfinalists signals a new contender could rise.

For example, 66 Individual Finals qualifiers will take the mat for Friday’s Division 4 Quarterfinals, beginning at noon. That’s compared to 55 individual qualifiers a year ago – and three reigning MHSAA champions will be among those to watch as competition gets rolling at Wings Events Center for the first time.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at noon Friday, with Semifinals at 9:30 a.m. 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 Hudson

Record/rank: 17-5, No. 1
League finish: Second in Lenawee Country Athletic Association 
Scott Marry, 30th season (769-180) 
Championship history: Six MHSAA championships (most recent 2017), three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dallas Pibbles (25-10) soph., 103 Caden Natale (27-7) fr., 119 CJ Berro (28-16) fr., 125 Scott Torres (43-4) sr., 130 Jordan Hamdan (45-0) jr., 130 Tyler Curtis (20-15) sr., 140 Carson Price (43-3) jr., 145 Jorge Sereno (27-18) jr., 152 John Betz (27-15) jr., 189 Spencer Blanco (27-9) jr., 215 Kyle Moll (15-14) soph.
Outlook: Hudson took home the champion’s trophy again last winter after three straight runner-up finishes, and a team with only two seniors among its expected starters could be gearing up for another multi-year run. Hamdan is a two-time Individual Finals champion, and he and his team have battled another schedule filled with larger schools including league foe and reigning Division 3 runner-up Dundee. The Tigers beat No. 9 Addison in their Regional Final.

#2 Clinton

Record/rank: 32-4, No. 2
League finish: First in Tri-County Conference
Coach: Jeff Rolland, fifth season (133-37)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 AJ Baxter (49-2) fr., 125 Noah Comar (52-2) jr., 125 Spencer Konz (37-10) fr., 130 Anthony Stockdale (30-22) sr., 140 Riley Jeffrey (37-15) jr., 145 Jeffrey Konz (35-13) jr., 160 Brayden Randolph (45-3) fr., 171 Eathan Hicks (40-9) sr., 171 Cecil Rafferty (25-19) jr., 189 Trent Sexton (39-10) sr., 285 Don Stump (45-8) sr.
Outlook: This is Clinton’s third trip to the Quarterfinals in five seasons under Rolland, and the then-seventh seeded Redskins missed upsetting second-seeded Leroy Pine River last year by only two points. Similar to Hudson, only four of Clinton’s expected starters are seniors, but Comar is another veteran leader with an Individual Finals championship from last season and runner-up finish from 2016. Clinton beat No. 4 Manchester in its Regional Final.

#3 Carson City-Crystal

Record/rank: 38-3, No. 5
League finish: First in Central Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Kacy Datema, eighth season (195-66)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2000 and 2001. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Nolan Datema (41-3) jr., 119 Jamison Ward (47-1) soph., 125 Jaron Johnson (32-6) fr., 130 Aiden Adkins (43-6) soph., 135 Daryn Shepler (39-11) jr., 145 Braxton Seida (45-3) jr., 189 Daniel Smith (43-2) jr., 215 Brian Yeakey (40-6) soph.
Outlook: Make it six straight league and District titles and the second straight Regional championship for the Eagles, who downed No. 10 Hesperia to advance and posted a pair of shutouts in their District. Ward and Seida are returning Individual Finals runners-up from last season, and six of eight qualifiers this season also qualified a year ago for a team that still has only three seniors among expected starters.

#4 Mendon

Record/rank: 30-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Southwest 10 Conference
Coach: Caleb Stephenson, second season (46-8)
Championship history: Class D champion 1991, runner-up 1990. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Nik Andaverde (48-3) sr., 130 Kody Drewer (33-9) jr., 135 Skyler Crespo (50-1) soph., 135 Wyatt Diekman (36-13) soph., 140 Eric Vergauwen (11-3) soph., 145 Kaden Frye (26-2) sr., 171 Wyatt Cool (48-2) sr., 215 Emmett Bingaman (43-6) soph.
 Mendon will wrestle in its first Quarterfinal since the 1991 championship season, when Stephenson’s father Art Stephenson was the coach. Crespo earned the program’s first Individual Finals championship last season since 1991 as well. Andaverde, Cool and Bingaman also made the Finals a year ago, giving the Hornets their most qualifiers at the time since, again, 1991.

#5 Leroy Pine River

Record/rank: 29-6, No. 7
League finish: First in Mid-Michigan Wrestling Conference
Coach: Tim Jones, 19th season (531-123)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Caleb Nolf (28-19) soph. 119 Dylan Stephens (39-9) sr., 125 Jordan Koetje (24-11) soph., 125 Tyler Signor (29-8) sr., 130 Jac Roberts (39-12) sr., 140 Andy Park (48-1) sr., Brocko Nelson (42-7) soph., 189 TJ Rizor (32-6) soph., 285 Bryan McCurry (37-14) jr.
 Pine River has made the Semifinals two straight seasons and more recently ran its record under Jones to include 18 league and District titles. The Bucks, who also have just three seniors among expected starters, held their District and Regional opponents to an average of 11 points the last two weeks. Seven of this season’s Individual Finals qualifiers also reached the final weekend a year ago, and six were Division 4 placers.

#6 New Lothrop

Record/rank: 23-3, No. 6
League finish: Second in Genesee Area Conference
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 17th season (431-82)
Championship history: 15 MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Andrew Krupp (27-15) fr., 119 Logan Wolford (31-14) soph., 125 Logan Zell (30-19) jr., 140 Austin Wolford (46-1) jr., 152 Zack Riley (27-11) jr., 171 Justin Carnahan (34-5) soph., 189 Allan Jamick (33-15) jr., 215 Garrett Birchmeier (19-13) jr., 285 Cameron Dusenberry (28-17) sr.
 The rest of Division 4 should be cautious of the Hornets, who rose from the sixth seed and unranked last season to finish runner-up. New Lothrop is only slightly higher-regarded this time as it seeks its fourth team title in five seasons. Austin Wolford and Carnahan were Finals placers last season as was senior Tommy Malloy (119, 33-11), one of only two seniors among expected starters.

#7 Springport

Record/rank: 19-3, No. 8
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference
Coach: Matthew Darling, second season (37-7)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class D runner-up 1984. 
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Robert Paterson (32-14) fr., 112 Trenton Graddy, 23-19, jr. 135 Thomas Potter (36-9) soph., 152 Noah Teague (39-4) sr., 171 Zach Betz (29-13) sr., 215 Aaron Ludwig (31-15) jr., 285 Luke Overweg (41-2) sr.
 Springport has won league, District and Regional championships both seasons under Darling and just missed the Semifinals a year ago, falling five points shy of advancing. Despite graduating three of six Individual Finals qualifiers from last season, the Spartans actually will take seven to Detroit next weekend. Teague and Overweg were placers last season and are two of only three seniors expected to be in the starting lineup.

#8 Onaway

Record/rank: 18-6, unranked
League finish: First in North Star League.
Coach: Mark Grant, 16th season (record N/A)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 130 Teddy Peters (33-9) soph., 135 Matthew Grant (42-3) soph., 152 Coty Ionetz (29-8) jr.  
Outlook: Onaway won its first Regional title to make championship weekend for the first time, edging Ishpeming Westwood by six in last week’s title match to advance. Grant was an Individual Finals placer last season and is among standouts on a roster with only one senior but nine underclassmen helping to fill out the lineup.

PHOTO: Leroy Pine River’s Jac Roberts (top) and Clinton's Riley Jeffrey are among standouts returning this weekend to the Division 4 Quarterfinals. (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.)