D4 Preview: Hornets Seek to Stay On Top

February 25, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Eight Division 4 title hopefuls will be the first to take the mat at the first MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals weekend hosted by Central Michigan University’s McGuirk Arena.

Included among those eight is two-time reigning champion New Lothrop, two-time reigning runner-up Hudson, and three more teams returning to the Quarterfinals, which begin this season at noon.

Below is a look at all eight teams competing in Division 4, listed by seed. Quarterfinal matches begin at 12 p.m. Friday, with Semifinals at 10 a.m. Saturday and the championship match at 3:30 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.

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

#1 New Lothrop

Record/rank: 21-5, No. 1
League finish: Third in Genesee Area Conference Blue.  
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 15th season (389-70)
Championship history: 14 MHSAA championships (most recent 2015), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Logan Zell (27-22) fr., 112 Tommy Malloy (39-12), soph.; 130 Austin Wolford, 30-15, fr., 140 Zack Riley (19-15) fr., 145 Cole Hersch (44-1) sr.; 152 Steven Garza II (50-1) sr.; 160 John Robinson (36-3) sr.; 171 Erik Birchmeier (28-2) jr.; 171 Brandon Henige (31-20) sr.; 215 Caleb Symons (48-1) sr.
 New Lothrop is favored to win a third straight Division 4 with a number of standouts who have been part of those previous title-winning teams. The Hornets are led in part by Garza, an individual champion at 145 last season, and Symons, who like last season enters Team Finals weekend with only one loss and was the runner-up at 189 in 2015. Hersch, another veteran standout, Malloy and junior Connor Krupp (16-4, 125) also are returning Finals placers.

#2 Decatur

Record/rank: 27-3, No. 3
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Coach: Jack Richardson, first season (27-3)
Championship history: Has never finished among the top two teams in Finals competition.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Coy Helmuth (45-5) jr.; 130 Lucian Parish (43-5) sr.; Ethan May (47-3) jr.; Zac Checkley (43-13) jr.; 285 Logan Kennedy (45-5) jr.
 Richardson, a former standout at Grandville, brings back a team that missed its first championship appearance by only six points last season. Nine juniors and two seniors gained valuable experience during the run and under former longtime coach Brian Southworth. Senior Elijah Luth (37-8, 152) didn’t make the Individual Finals this time, but was a placer in 2015, and Kennedy placed in 2014. Decatur eliminated No. 8 Schoolcraft at the Regional.

#3 Hudson

Record/rank: 17-14, No. 2
League finish: Second in Lenawee County Athletic Association.
Coach: Scott Marry, 28th season (732-165)
Championship history: Five MHSAA championships (most recent 2013), runner-up 2014 and 2015.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dylan Leathers (31-9) sr.; 103 Tucker Sholl (41-3) fr.; 112 Jordan Hamdan (44-6) fr.; 119 Carson Price (35-16) fr.; 145 Mason Lopinski (45-5) sr.; 160 Kyle Johnson (42-8) sr.; 189 Tylor Grames (45-6) jr.
Outlook: Hudson has made the championship match against New Lothrop the last two seasons, and the regular-season team record this winter can be overlooked given the difficulty of Hudson’s schedule. Another deep run would only put more fear into opponents for the next three seasons; seven Hudson starters are freshmen, and an eighth is a sophomore. Lopinski was an individual runner-up at 145 last season, while Johnson was the champion at 152 in 2014.

#4 Hesperia

Record/rank: 36-7, No. 4
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Silver.
Coach: Doug Baird, 13th season (437-38)
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2008, five runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Davian Gowens (39-3) sr.; 140 Logan Eaves (28-9) sr.; 140 Trentyn Gleason (40-13) soph.; 145 Gerrit Yates (49-4) soph.; 171 Mark Workman (30-0) sr.; 285 Josh Ehrke (43-2) sr.
Outlook: Hesperia is continuing a dominating decade with its eighth appearance at Finals weekend over the last 10 seasons to go with the championship in 2008 and three of its five runner-up finishes all-time, the most recent coming in 2013. Yates was an individual runner-up last season at 135 and is one of eight underclassmen in the lineup. But there is experience; in addition to Yates last winter, Gowens was a champion in 2014 and Eaves and Workman were runners-up that season.

#5 Springport

Record/rank: 28-6, No. 6
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference.
Co-coaches: David Pratt, 11th season (291-78)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 1984.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 125 Tyler Teague (46-6) jr.; 130 Noah Teague (41-11) soph.; 135 Sean O’Hearon (43-1) jr.; 145 Taylor Whitmore (43-5) sr.; 152 Zeth Caudill (38-3) sr.; 189 Nick Cooper (35-1) jr.; 215 Luke Overweg (30-22) soph.  
Outlook: Springport is making its second Quarterfinals appearance in three seasons and third under Pratt after claiming its seventh straight league championship and 11th District title under the coach. The Spartans graduated three-time champion Jacob Cooper last spring, but junior Nick Cooper has picked up the mantle and finished runner-up last season at 171; Caudill, Noah Teague and O’Hearon all also were Individual Finals placers in 2015.

#6 Manchester

Record/rank: 23-6, No. 9
League finish: First in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Steve Vlcek, 26th season (524-187)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Reese Fry (40-6) soph.; 119 Blake Belaire (36-11) soph.; 125 Miquel Grammatico (35-13) sr.; 130 Ethan Woods (44-2) jr.; 171 Trevor Humphrey (43-4) sr.; 189 Jordan Good (15-3) jr.; 285 Stevie Suliman (39-10) sr.
 Manchester returns to Finals weekend for the second straight season and seventh over the last decade, and with 10 upperclassmen in the lineup despite graduating a strong group last spring. Woods was the individual runner-up at 119 last season and also placed as a freshman, and Humphrey also placed in 2015.

#7 Leroy Pine River

Record/rank: 25-4, No. 10
League finish: First in Wolverine Conference.
Coach: Tim Jones, 17th season (455-80)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1991.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 103 Dylan Stephens (37-6) soph.; 112 Andrew Park (47-3) soph.; 119 Nate Park (41-4) sr.; 119 Jacob Roberts (40-5) soph.; 130 Tucker Fansler (39-12) jr.; 160 Joe Rigling (42-13) jr.; 171 Raden Holmes (43-9) jr.; 189 Josh Jackson (46-5) sr.; 215 Bryan Mccurry (34-16) fr.
Outlook: Only top seed New Lothrop has more Individual Finals qualifiers among Division 4 teams competing this weekend, and Andrew Park was an individual placer last season. They’ve been part of a team that has won 16 league and District titles over the last 17 seasons and also made the Team Quarterfinals a year ago for the first time since 2008. Pine River beat its three MHSAA Tournament opponents this month by an average of 40 points.

#8 Munising

Record/rank: 19-5, unranked
League finish: Does not wrestle in a league.
Coach: Bob Miles, 10th season (169-107)
Championship history: Upper Peninsula runner-up 1968.
Individual Finals qualifiers: 119 Nick Miles (35-9) soph.; 189 Hunter Sadler (50-2) sr. 
Outlook: The wrestling program is continuing a strong run by Munising teams in multiple sports, making Finals weekend for the first time in Miles’ decade as coach and after winning a second straight District championship. Sadler finished sixth at 171 last season and brings experience on the big mat. The Mustangs have accomplished this despite voiding four weights and with only two seniors – which could bode well for the future.

PHOTO: A New Lothrop wrestler has his hand raised by an official in victory during a match this season against Richmond at CMU. (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.)