DCC Brothers Double Up on Upsets

March 1, 2014

By Nick Hankins
Special to Second Half 

AUBURN HILLS – A set of brothers sent The Palace crowd into a frenzy Saturday night at the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals.

Detroit Catholic Central’s Myles and Malik Amine did so, as Myles, a junior, upset two-time Davison champion Justin Oliver 6-5 in overtime in their 140-pound title match. Malik Amine followed with a 34-second pin of previously-undefeated Alec Pantaleo of Canton.

“(DCC coach Mitch Hancock) prepares us to wrestle just like we are drilling,” Myles Amine said. “Oliver is a tough wrestler. He took me down right off the bat, and I found a way to battle back. Oliver has beat me four times before tonight; this is the first time I have beaten him. He is a great competitor. We are great friends and wrestled together all summer.

“Conditioning was a big part of this match. I had to keep my composure throughout the match, and my conditioning paid off in the end.”

Conditioning was not a factor in his brother's victory.

“Unreal just to go out there and compete against Alec,” Malik Amine said. “He is one of the most explosive wrestlers in the country. It is awesome that both my brother and I won back-to-back state titles.

“My mindset was to put him away. We have prepared for him all week. My dad always said when you get an opponent on his back, do not let him up. I went out and I expected to win. This is great momentum going into my career next year at Michigan.”

The win also avenged Malik Amine’s loss to Pantaleo in the Finals two years ago.


Champion: Ben Freeman, Walled Lake Central, Fr. (43-1)
Technical Fall, 20-5 in 4:31 over Carl Antrassian, Monroe, Soph. (48-5)

To win four MHSAA titles in your high school career, you have to win your first.

And sometimes that first one is not the easiest.

That's what Freeman said after winning his first as a ninth grader.

“I feel amazing,” Freeman said. “I am enjoying this moment. My coaches gave me confidence to wrestle tough this weekend. My goal is to win four state championships, and I got the toughest one out of the way. This tournament is more mental than physical, so I had to keep focused for three days to get it done.”


Champion: Max Johnson, Davison, Soph. (42-7)
Fall, 1:53, over Alex Hrisopoulos, Oxford, Soph. (48-9)

Johnson had enough time on the mat during this MHSAA tournament. So he decided to shorten the time in the Final.

Johnson got his only pin at The Palace in the championship match, but showed dominance throughout the tournament. He also beat returning champion Benny Gomez from Holt 12-6 in the Semifinal. 

“My game plan was to go out and wrestle six tough minutes and whatever happens, happens,” Johnson said. “I saw an opening and took advantage of it to get the fall.”


Champion: Trevor Zdebski, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (27-2)
Decision, 3-0 over Martin Rodriguez, Holt, Sr. (45-2)

Zdebski had a tough road to The Palace this year. He started his season with a broken hand, an injury that required time off. His first week of competition was the Detroit Catholic Central Super Duals, and he started the season 0-2.

His performance from that point on was flawless.

“I knew I had to get on my offense going right away and push the pace,” Zdebski said. “Nobody works as hard as we do at CC, so I knew if I got up early I could wear him down and control the match.” 


Champion: Lincoln Olson, Davison, Jr. (45-1)
Technical Fall, 22-7 in 5:39 over Kyle Noonan, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Sr. (48-3)

Olson may have had the most dominating performance of all at the Division 1 Finals. He did the unthinkable, winning by technical fall in each of his four matches.

When his hand was raised, he held up three fingers toward the Davison crowd. He had just dominated his way to his third title.

“I am not training for state championships,” Olson said. “I am training for NCAA championships. My goal for the weekend was to dominate and to tech fall my way through the tournament. I knew if I opened up my offense that I would be unstoppable.” 


Champion: Ben Griffin, Canton, Sr. (50-3)
Decision, 5-1 over Ben Calandrino, Howell, Sr. (52-2) 

Ben Griffin came to the Finals this year with one goal in mind – to win a title.

He came up short two years ago, falling in the Final to Mitch Rogaliner from Temperance Bedford 9-5. 

But this was Griffin's year. He beat Calandrino 5-1, his second win this season over the Howell opponent. With 20 seconds left and trailing by one, Griffin hit a Peterson roll for the reversal and back points as time expired.

“I kept my composure with time running down and went back to what I do best on bottom,” Griffin said. “I am very happy to win a state championship. It’s a lot better crying tears of joy than tears of sadness. Ben and I are great friends and will be teammates next year at Eastern Michigan.”


Champion: Austin Eicher, Hartland, Sr., (39-1)
Decision, 4-2 over Collin Tomkins, Grandville, Sr. (36-5)

Eicher finally got to celebrate his championship on the mat.

He won an MHSAA title last year by beating his teammate Jacob Gorial 5-0, and he ended the match embraced in a hug with his teammate instead.

This year was different.

When his hand was raised he held up two fingers to the Hartland cheering section after completing his wrestling career with 205 wins and two championships. He is the first four-time MHSAA Finals placer in the storied Hartland program.

“I had a bad injury last week at team state finals tearing cartilage and muscle between my rib,” Eicher said. “This was the most important match of my life, and I was not going to let pain get in the way of a victory. I think God was testing my will to win this year.”


Champion: Nick Bennett, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (43-0)
Major Decision, 9-1 over Dominic Latora, Portage Central, Sr. (46-2)

Bennett was not a well known name in Michigan before the 2013-2014 season.

He was a two time state champion in Texas before moving back to Michigan to compete during his senior year. He won an MHSAA championship in dominating fashion with two falls and two major decisions.

“It has been a very gratifying year winning a team state championship and finishing with an individual state championship,” Bennett said. “I have the best training partners in the state with the Amine brothers. I wrestled very controlled and conservative this weekend and opened up when I had the opportunity to score. My game plan was to control ties and score on my feet and push my opponents. Coach (Mitch) Hancock did an excellent job getting us prepared this year.”


Champion: Jordan Atienza, Livonia Franklin, Sr. (64-1)
Decision, 10-5 over Dakota Juarez, Grand Haven, Sr. (41-1)

Jordan Atienza cruised through the tournament this year with a pin in his first round and a technical fall in the Quarterfinal match.

He then beat Jake Johnson of Macomb Dakota with a major decision, 13-5, in his Semifinal.

Atienza lost to Nick Vandermeer of Clarkston last year in the 152-pound Final and used the loss as a motivating factor to get the job done this year.

“I finally got the monkey off my back,” Atienza said. “I have been thinking about that Finals match for a year and I got it done. I am a state champ. I put in a lot of hours in the offseason so I would not have to go through what I went through last year. My gameplan was to dominate on my feet and score points.”


Champion: Drew Garcia, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (41-1)
Decision, 5-2 over Devan Richter, Harrison Twp. L’Anse Creuse, Sr. (53-2)

Garcia finished his career in fine fashion, winning his third individual championship Saturday and third team championship last weekend.

He beat Richter for the second time in two weeks.

Garcia had arguably the toughest weight class at The Palace in Division 1 this year. He defeated two-time champion Jordan Cooks of Davison in the Semifinal, 2-1 in overtime. Garcia finished off Catholic Central’s run in the Finals to become the team’s fifth individual champion this year.

“It is a great feeling to be in such an elite class of three-time state champs,” Garcia said. “I knew coming into the weekend this was going to be a very tough tournament with all of the tough competition at 171. We wrestled great this weekend, finishing with (eight) individual placers.”


Champion: Shwan Shadaia, Rochester, Sr. (44-3)
Fall, 5:56 over Derek Hillman, Brownstown-Woodhaven, Sr. (48-3)

Shadaia finished his career with another championship, leaving his legacy at Rochester High. 

He avenged a loss earlier in the year to Hillman. It was Shadaia’s second straight title.

“He is a tough wrestler, and I am just happy I won,” Shadaia said. “He beat me pretty good this year. I just wanted to be a two-time state champ, and leave a legacy on my school. I stayed in good position and stuck to my gameplan to get the win.”


Champion: Jordon Brandon, Westland John Glenn, Sr. (54-2)
Decision, 3-1 over Matt Okaiye, Waterford Kettering, Sr. (40-2)

Brandon worked hard all year to grab what he thought he should have last year.

An MHSAA championship. 

“I am very happy that I won a state championship this year,” Brandon said. “I would like to thank my grandmother. She has been with me throughout.

“Matt is a tough kid and I knew I had to stop his double to win this year. I should have had a state championship last year but I came up short. I worked hard all summer … to prepare for this.”


Champion: Parker Tillman, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Sr. (46-0)
Decision, 3-2 UTB over Brian Darios, East Lansing, Jr. (40-2)

Parker Tillman took nothing for granted at this year's Finals – even though he was a runner-up last year. 

Tillman won the title this time with 3-2 ultimate tiebreaker overtime win over Darios. It was the same result Tillman had over Darios at Regionals, when he pinned him in the third overtime.

“I feel great to have won a state championship,” Tillman said. “I was very nervous about every match down here. I came close last year but fell short in the Finals. I was hurt at Regionals and had to wrestle tough. I promised my coach I would win a state championship for him.

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PHOTO: Detroit Catholic Central's Malik Amine has his hand raised in victory during the Division 1 Individual Finals. (Click to see more fromHigh School Sports Scene.) 

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.)