Dundee Adds Perfect Season to Tradition

February 27, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

MOUNT PLEASANT — In case the championship banners and trophies weren't enough of a reminder, it wasn't necessary for an aging alumnus or a veteran coach to help Dundee's wrestlers understand the Vikings' tradition.

In their midst is a senior who has lived that tradition more than most who have come through one of Michigan's most successful programs. 

Zach Blevins wrestled in an MHSAA team wrestling championship match for the fourth time in his career Saturday, as Dundee completed a perfect dual-meet season by beating Remus Chippewa Hills, 40-16, in the Division 3 Final at Central Michigan University.

Blevins beat Austin Spedowski by a 19-6 major decision at 140 pounds, giving him a 4-0 career record in championship matches at the Team Finals. In his career, he was 11-1 on Finals weekend, the only loss coming Saturday in the Semifinal, a 4-3 decision against Jwann Britton of Whitehall. Britton was third at the MHSAA Finals at 135 pounds last year, while Blevins was second.

Taking the mat before a sold-out crowd of more than 4,300 at McGuirk Arena, it felt like just another match for Blevins. It was his 26th career match at the Team or Individual Finals. He finished eighth at 112 pounds in 2013 and fifth at 125 pounds in 2014 to go with the second place at 135 last year.

"It helps a little bit, being down here all four years," said Blevins, who will wrestle at Eastern Michigan University. "You won't get as nervous, because you know what to expect. I was feeling confident and calm."

Blevins was on three championship teams and a runner-up in his four years with Dundee, which has won nine MHSAA titles. It was the fifth straight year the Vikings reached the final match and the 14th straight year that they earned a trip to Finals weekend. Blevins is the only member of the current championship team who wrestled in the 2013 title match.

"He's really been a go-to guy and a very talented wrestler who has done a great job for us," 17-year Dundee coach Tim Roberts said. "In four years in the lineup, he's always stepped up and did his job well. I remember one year we needed him to get five takedowns in one period so we could get a tech, and he did that."

Blevins and Sean Sterling wrestled in the 2014 title match, as Dundee beat Richmond. Eight wrestlers who took the mat Saturday competed in the 2015 final match against Richmond, which won the last three matches to erase a 25-12 deficit and win, 27-25.

"We just worked really hard all year to make sure it wouldn't happen again, and it paid off," Blevins said.

Although the Vikings won by 24 points, it could've been a different outcome had Dundee wrestlers not come from behind in the final seconds of three matches.

Tyler Orrison, who was sixth at 125 pounds last year, got things started for Dundee by twice scoring in the final seconds of periods in a marquee matchup with Slade Todd, who was sixth at 135 in 2015. Orrison scored three points at the buzzer in the second period to take a 7-6 lead in the 135-pound match. He then won the match, 9-8, with a two-point reversal with 16 seconds left.

At 171, Dundee's Kyle Motylinski scored two points with 12 seconds left in the third period to tie his match with Luke Henderson, 2-2. Motylinski won 4-2 in overtime.

At 103, Dundee's Jonathan White scored two points with 25 seconds left to win 3-2 over Bray Haynes.

"That was a case of they've been here before," Chippewa Hills coach Nate Ethridge said. "Give all the credit in the world to Dundee. They did a heck of a job and knocked us off; they deserve it. We needed those three and we didn't get those three. Then we had to do some things with our lineup that we didn't necessarily want to do, because we had to win out."

Dundee didn't have much lineup flexibility, with only 15 healthy wrestlers. Drew Mandell, who was eighth at 130 pounds last year and a participant in the 2014 team championship match, was on crutches after breaking his leg. District champion Grant Ott had an arm in a sling because of a separated shoulder.

"These guys kept stepping up and gutting it out," Roberts said. "You saw all those last-second wins we were getting there. That's just a testament to guts, and the guys kept wrestling."

Roberts said Dundee typically has about 24 wrestlers, but had a low turnout this season. An Individual Finals qualifier was among those who chose not to come out.

How does that happen to a program with Dundee's tradition? 

"You tell me," Roberts said. "The culture can change where it's not cool to wrestle, then we get to win state. It makes it that much more satisfying that these guys pulled together and did it. I'm really proud of this group. Whenever we had injuries, we had guys cut down in weight to make us stronger. Guys stepped in and really sacrificed to make this team better."

Dundee (21-0) reached the title match by beating Delton Kellogg, 63-13, in the Quarterfinal on Friday and Whitehall, 39-18, in the Semifinal on Saturday.

Sterling, White, Zachary Bellaire and Brandon Whitman were 3-0 on the weekend for Dundee. Sterling and Whitman won all three of their matches with pins, with neither of their matches lasting beyond the second period.

"My early memories were when I was in fourth grade," Whitman said while holding the championship trophy. "We were always watching Dundee. My brother was in high school a couple years before I was. It was always fun watching him. The expectations are high. When you come into the room, you've got to work as hard as you can every day."

Brendan Barry, Billy Koepf and Austin Young had 3-0 records on the weekend for Chippewa Hills (31-2), which was making its first appearance in the title match. The Warriors historically were 2-8 on Finals weekend before beating Gladstone, 48-24, in the Quarterfinal and Lake Fenton, 31-27, in the Semifinal.

The Warriors have nine qualifiers for next weekend's MHSAA Individual Finals, with only one senior among that group.

"We've been close a lot of times," Ethridge said. "Obviously, we had a heck of a weekend to get where we're at. Our kids are great. They train really hard. They're pretty awesome."

Click for full results.

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

PHOTO: A Dundee wrestler, left, and his Chippewa Hills opponent work for position during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (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.)