DCC's Marines 'Finishes Business' of Perfect Season, 4th Title Pursuit

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

March 2, 2024

DETROIT – Even after he capped a remarkable wrestling career at Detroit Catholic Central on Saturday with a fourth-straight Division 1 Individual Finals title, Darius Marines was all business.

“It’s amazing,” Marines said. “My goal coming in here today was just to finish business. I’ve done this before, three times before, so this is nothing different. It’s just another business day. And I got it done.”

The Catholic Central senior was dominant in a 10-2 win against Roseville sophomore Jay’Den Williams at Ford Field, becoming the 36th Michigan wrestler to win four individual titles. Dundee’s Kade Kluce would become No. 37 later in the night.

Marines – who won at 145, 152, and 157 in his final two seasons and finished this one 50-0 – is the third Catholic Central wrestler to accomplish the feat. He also claimed title No. 6, as he and the Shamrocks had won their second-straight Team Finals title a week earlier. 

He was one of five Shamrocks to win a title Saturday.

Williams entered the match unbeaten at 49-0 and was making his second-straight appearance in an Individual Final. He lost a year ago in the 144-pound final against Marines’ former CC teammate Clayton Jones.

“He’s a Greco guy, he did really good at Fargo (Nationals),” Marines said. “He got sixth at Fargo last year, so I knew he was going look for under-hooks and upper body things. My plan was just to stay out of his positions and get to my stuff, and that’s what I did.”

Champion: Steve Vaughn, Davison, Fr. (35-8)
Decision, 6-1, over Ethan Smith, Brighton, Soph. (47-7)

With a large contingent of his Davison teammates cheering him on matside, “Stevie” took control of the 106-pound Final with a first-period takedown, and never looked back.

He added a reversal and another takedown in the third to claim his first title in his first opportunity.

“It feels great man,” Vaughn said. “I’ve been working my whole life for this. I’ve been thinking this the whole year. Ever since I came in, I’ve been working, grinding.”

Champion: Wyatt Lees, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (49-5)
Fall, 1:42, over Matthew Quigley, Traverse City West, Fr. (46-4)

Lees made it two-for-two at Ford Field, quickly working for a pin to claim his second Finals title. He won his first a year ago at 106 pounds.

“It’s fun,” he said. “It felt really good.”

While he has two more to win, Lees now has his sights set on joining Marines as the next four-timer at Catholic Central.

“That’s always been my goal since setting foot at CC,” he said.

Champion: Archer Anderson, Clarkston, Jr. (32-5)
Decision, 10-8 OT, over Preston Lefevre, Clarkston, Jr. (33-6)

After finishing runner-up a year ago, Anderson wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way of coming out on top. Not even a 5-2 third-period deficit against his teammate.

Anderson rattled off three takedowns in the final period and added another in overtime to claim his first Finals title.

“I was just trying to score points,” he said. “I was just trying to score points and come back from the tilt he got me in.”

He said wrestling a teammate in the Final made things more nerve-racking.

“It makes it worse,” Anderson said. “We’ve wrestled each other so many times. The more you wrestle a kid, the tighter the match is going to get. It shows.”

Champion: Grayson Fuchs, Detroit Catholic Central, Fr. (42-6)
Decision, 8-5, over Bohdan Abbey, Hartland, Soph. (57-1)

The moment wasn’t too big for Fuchs, who wrestled his first Final at Ford Field against an unbeaten returning Finals champion in Abbey.

“I had a lot of confidence I was going to win a state title,” Fuchs said. “There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to be at the top of that podium. I was confident.”

Fuchs was able to build an early lead and hold Abbey at bay down the stretch.

“It was vital that I got a takedown at the beginning and got some points up,” he said. “I know that with my head and hands defense, he wouldn’t be able to score on me. It was important for me to get those first points, and that tilt was big.”

Champion: Dallas Korponic, Hartland, Soph. (53-5)
Decision, 6-4, over Josh Vasquez, Grandville, Jr. (36-3)

Korponic trailed 3-2 in the third period before seeing an opening and taking it.

With 51 seconds remaining in the match, Korponic was able to reverse Vasquez and put him to his back, taking the lead with a four-point move that wound up winning him his first Finals title.

“He’s a funky kid, and I knew I was going to have to wrestle the whole match, and one of those times he was going to roll and I was going to take advantage of it,” Korponic said. “He got too low on me, and basically all I had to do was step over him for a headlock.”

Korponic held Vasquez off at the end, shooting a single leg and holding on as the final seconds ticked off.

Champion: Wyatt Hepner, Grosse Pointe South, Jr. (48-0)
Decision, 1-0, over Sam Agnello, Utica Eisenhower, Sr. (38-3)

Hepner knew points would be at a premium in this Regional rematch, and a second-period escape wound up being the only point scored, proving him right and making him Grosse Pointe South’s first Finals champion.

“It feels pretty awesome to say,” Hepner said. “I’m making history, which is awesome, and just having an impact on the Grosse Pointe South wrestling community. Hopefully we’ll just enlarge it and keep it growing.”

Hepner came close a year ago, finishing runner-up at 126 pounds. 

Davison’s Justin Gates, right, wrestles teammate Tanner McDunnah en route to claiming his third title. 

Champion: Justin Gates, Davison, Sr. (41-2)
Technical fall, 25-10 (4:21), over Tanner McDunnah, Davison, Jr. (33-8)

Gates finished his career as a three-time Finals champion and four-time finalist. 

He won at 103 as a freshman and 138 as a junior, while taking second as a sophomore.

“It feels great,” he said. “The work I put in every day, the work my teammates put in and helped me with every day, all my coaches, my family – I just want to thank them, I wouldn’t be able to do it without them. It’s just bittersweet leaving it all out there, that’s my last high school match I’ll ever wrestle, and I just tried to enjoy the moment and be present in it.”

Gates had high praise for his teammate, McDunnah, who was his roommate for the weekend.

“There’s nothing like losing the state finals that will give you that sting that you need to put a little extra work in,” Gates said. “Tanner is the type of kid to just out-work everybody. I’m sure he’s going to use that as extra motivation. I’ll expect him to be on the top of the podium next year for sure.”

Champion: Mason Stewart, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (50-3)
Decision, 3-1, over Vinnie Abbey, Hartland, Sr. (50-5)

Stewart lost a heartbreaker at the 2023 Finals and had a bit of a flashback when Abbey – also a Finals runner-up a year ago – looked to have secured a takedown in the final seconds to force overtime.

After officials discussed the call, however, it was ruled that Stewart had successfully fought him off, and the match was over.

“It was the best feeling in the world, honestly,” Stewart said. “I was in the same exact position a year ago, lost in the Finals, the guy reversed with short-time left, and it was one of the worst pains I’ve felt in my life. I knew that was never going to happen again. I wasn’t going to let that happen to myself. I just had to win.”

Champion: Zak Knapp, Brighton, Sr. (50-4)
Major decision, 13-1, over Zachary Taylor, Gibraltar Carlson, Jr. (52-1)

Knapp wasted little time taking control of this match, putting up eight points in the first period en route to his first Finals title.

“Every day in the room, I was just putting in the work,” he said. “I was super excited to be out here. I took it all in, I put my mind to being a state champ. I was pacing back and forth saying, ‘I’m the champ. The champ is here.’ I was ready for everything, and I stepped onto the mat, I was just going to go out there and give it my all and do whatever I can.”

Champion: Dylan Scott, Waterford Kettering, Sr. (38-2)
Decision, 5-3 OT, over Micah Roper, Oxford, Sr. (40-4)

Scott considers himself more of a defensive wrestler, but when overtime came around, he knew he had to be on the offensive. 

His aggressiveness paid off, as he was able to get the winning takedown to claim his first Finals title.

“Honestly, I’m a big defensive guy,” he said. “But throughout this year and other seasons, I’ve always lost by a takedown. My coach told me, ‘Takedowns win matches.’ So, right then and there, I had to make it count.”

Scott’s defense did come in handy late in regulation, however, as Roper was able to get in on his legs with the score tied at 3. But Scott was able to fight him off and force sudden victory.

Champion: Brock Trevino, Clarkston, Sr. (25-1)
Fall, 1:57, over Adam Bazzi, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Sr. (42-3)

Trevino said he wrestles by feel, so when he felt he had Bazzi in a compromising position, he went with it, even though it was a move with which he wasn’t really familiar.

“It was pure luck, I don’t really drill that move ever, but it worked,” Trevino said. “It was a feel thing, you know. I get comfortable in positions, and that’s usually how I win. I’m not very technical, I just wrestle for positioning.”

After the win, Trevino busted out an air guitar, leg-kick celebration that was fitting of his wrestling style.

“My coach was just like, ‘C’mon, it’ll be sick,’” Trevino said.

Champion: Connor Bercume, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (43-3)
Decision, 5-3, over Logan Tollison, Grand Ledge, Soph. (48-4)

Bercume successfully defended his title at 215 pounds to become a two-time Finals champion.

“It feels pretty good,” he said. “I’m really not happy with the way I performed in the Final, but happy to have won.”

Bercume got an early takedown in the match and looked to be on his way to cruising, but Tollison settled into the match and gave him a fight until the final whistle.

Champion: Ryan Ahern, Rockford, Sr. (49-1)
Major decision, 17-6, over Anton Barynas, Jenison, Jr. (46-6)

Ahern weighed in at 211 pounds for the weekend, but that didn’t stop him from dominating the division and claiming his fourth all-state finish and first Finals title.

“It feels really good to finally get a win in the state Finals,” he said. “I feel like I’ve always been super motivated, but just throughout the years I’ve gotten better and better with great practice partners. Every year, I’ve had a bunch of different guys to practice with, and different coaches.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Catholic Central’s Darius Marines has his wrist raised in victory after clinching his fourth Individual Finals championship Saturday. (Middle) Davison’s Justin Gates, right, wrestles teammate Tanner McDunnah en route to claiming his third title. (Click for more from High 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.)