With Final Takedown, Goodrich's Phipps Arrives at Championship Destination

By Drew Ellis
Special for MHSAA.com

March 4, 2023

DETROIT – A journey that had been 13 years in the making finally ended with a dream come true for Goodrich junior Easton Phipps.

Since he began wrestling at age 4, Phipps had been focused only on winning a state title.

At Saturday’s Division 2 Individual Finals, Phipps (41-4) had to tap into everything he had worked for to win the 190-pound championship.

After a 1-1 tie through three periods with Clio’s Jacob Marrs (37-5), the two remained tied after the sudden victory stage.

Things came down to the ultimate tiebreaker, which saw Phipps score a takedown to win.

“That state title is what was pushing me,” Phipps said. “I wanted to avenge all my teammates that didn’t get the shot to get a state title. I worked for them and the whole town. I get my picture on the wrestling room wall now.”

The junior said his championship match just came down to will power, as the two cancelled each other out in skill.

“I don’t really know what to say; the skill wasn’t there, it was just about toughness when it got into overtime,” Phipps said.


Champion: Brady Baker, Stevensville Lakeshore, Soph. (48-2)
Major Decision, 9-1, over Cristian Haslem, St. Clair, Fr. (46-2)

Baker had control throughout the whole match as the sophomore took home his first Finals championship.

He hit multiple takedowns and a reversal to keep Haslem from getting into the match.

“Things played out well,” Baker said. “I was getting into my attacks, scoring early and often. That’s what you have to do if you want to win.”

Baker failed to place at last year’s Finals and was motivated all season because of that. That motivation pushed him to a championship.

“It means a lot to not place last year and come in this year and win a state title,” Baker said. “It had been on my mind a lot, but there’s still bigger things to come.”


Champion: Malachi Kapenga, Hamilton, Soph. (48-4)
Decision 6-4 (OT) over Carter Cichocki, Lowell, Soph. (31-9)

The longest seconds of Kapenga’s life occurred as he awaited a referee’s decision at the end of the third period.

Trailing Cichocki 4-3, Kapenga managed to score an escape as the round ended, but also looked as if he may have had a takedown. Referees conferenced on whether he escaped in time, or even potentially won.

After ruling Kapenga got the escape point, he then went on to score a takedown in sudden victory to win his first Finals championship.

“I just was waiting and praying that they would at least give me one point,” Kapenga said. “I knew if I got the one point, I was at least still in the match. I was expecting a win or a loss, so getting the point, I was happy to at least be going into overtime.”

The match with Cichocki was back-and-forth, with both wrestlers holding leads during the first three rounds.

“It was a hard-fought match, and I had to be smart with my shots,” Kapenga said. “To win feels amazing. I have been working very hard toward it.”


Champion: Jackson Blum, Lowell, Soph. (39-3)
23-8 Technical Fall (4:52) over Tayden Miller, Mason, Sr. (37-2)

Blum was very workmanlike in winning a second championship.

The Lowell sophomore scored takedown after takedown to pick up the tech fall victory in the third period.

“There can be some built-up anxiety as you approach the match, but it’s just about getting into what you know you can do and the pressure goes away,” Blum said.

The pressure of a second consecutive title never seemed to get to Blum during the season, as he kept his focus on getting better each day.

“You feel that pressure, but you just have to block it out and do what you do in practice each day,” Blum said. “If you put in the work, the rest takes care of itself.”


Champion: Marcello Milani, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Sr. (50-0)
Decision, 3-0, over Bryce Shingelton, Linden, Sr. (45-3)

Milani had to wrestle a flawless match to get past Shingelton.

A first-round takedown got him off to a good start, and an escape in the third was the insurance point he needed to grind out the victory.

“I was just trusting in my wrestling, trusting in what I could do,” Milani said of what carried him through the match. “I have trained for this and had to trust that I did the work.”

The Orchard Lake St. Mary’s senior was able to cap off his career with a perfect 50-0 record on top of the title.

“This is something I really wanted since I was a freshman,” Milani said. “I am really glad I got to close it out this year.”


Champion: Grant Stahl, Mount Pleasant, Sr. (41-0)
Decision, 12-9, over Aaron Lucio, Stevensville Lakeshore, Sr. (49-2)

The long road to a Finals championship brought a lot of tough moments for Stahl, but it paid off Saturday.

The Oilers senior finished his career with a perfect season record capped by a 12-9 thriller against Lucio.

“This means everything. I had finished second and third and missed a year because of COVID,” Stahl said. “I have given everything to get this, and it feels incredible to finally get it. I wanted it so bad.”

Stahl was able to go up 8-1 thanks to a set of near-fall points early in the third period. He then had to fend off an aggressive Lucio to hang on for the championship.

“(Lucio) just shot in deep and he was sitting there, so I just reached back and hooked his arm, tilted him up and that was the difference,” Stahl said.


Champion: Jayden Schwartz, Charlotte, Sr. (52-2)
Decision, 11-5, over Owen Segorski, Lowell, Soph. (29-7)

Trailing 4-2 going into the third period, Jayden Schwartz knew it was time to go into overdrive.

Trusting in his stamina, Schwartz came out aggressive in the third and scored nine points to get past Segorski, a 2022 champion.

“All the work I have put in over the last few weeks, it was all for that third period,” Schwartz said. “I knew I had the stamina for the third to really push the pace.”

The top-seeded Schwartz finished with 52 wins while ending his prep career as a champion.

“This feels amazing,” Schwartz said of the title. “It hasn’t really hit me yet, but all the hard work really paid off.”


Champion: CJ Poole, Lowell, Sr. (31-8)
Injury Stoppage (5:00) over Louden Stradling, Gaylord, Sr. (50-1)

The final match of the night ended with unfortunate circumstances.

Tied 1-1 in the third, Poole shot in for a takedown on Stradling. The two collided heads and the impact from the shot, which finished out of the circle, left Stradling unable to continue.

Stradling suffered a head injury, and the match was ruled over and awarded to Poole.

“He’s a back-up-and-shoot kind of wrestler and I saw he was backing up and getting ready to shoot, so I shot for a double. He lowered his level and we hit heads and I was just trying to drive through on my shot,” Poole said.

The way the match ended wasn’t likely how Poole envisioned it, but he’s still grateful to be a champion.

“It still feels amazing,” Poole said of the title. “It’s been a lot of work.”


Champion: Trevor Swiss, Petoskey, Sr. (47-0)
Decision, 10-4, over Jack Conley, Lake Fenton, Sr. (31-3)

Swiss completed an unbeaten season, and the Petoskey senior never trailed in this match.

Going into the third period tied 4-4, Swiss picked up the pace and outscored Conley 6-0 to secure the championship.

“I knew I had to work, so I just came out knowing I needed to make something happen,” Swiss said. “I was able to capitalize when he got off-balanced, so I managed to put him on his back.”

Despite the unbeaten season, it was the Finals title that Swiss had been craving all year, fulfilling a childhood dream.

“This is what I have been dreaming of since I was in first grade,” Swiss said. “It feels amazing, and I really can’t put it into words.”

Jackson Northwest’s Zach Jacobs, front, works to break the hold of Pontiac’s Cory Thomas Jr. on Saturday.


Champion: Cory Thomas Jr., Pontiac, Jr. (26-0)
Decision, 5-1, over Zach Jacobs, Jackson Northwest, Sr. (39-3)

After a scoreless first period, Thomas Jr. managed to ride out Jacobs in the second period to keep the match at 0-0.

In the third, Thomas Jr. knew he had put himself in position to win, which he did with an early escape and two takedowns during the closing two minutes.

“I work really hard at home, and I think that showed in being able to get those late takedowns,” Thomas Jr. said. “I was able to just keep pushing through.”

Thomas Jr. placed third at the 2021 D1 Finals at 125 pounds wrestling for Detroit Catholic Central, but being able to come back this year to win a title for Pontiac was even more rewarding.

“It’s been a crazy journey. I’m just so happy to be able to experience this,” Thomas Jr. said.


Champion: Philip Lamka, Fenton, Jr. (44-2)
Decision, 6-5, over Max Macklem, Goodrich, Soph. (33-5)

After placing third at last year’s Finals, Lamka wouldn’t let himself experience disappointment again.

He trailed Macklem 5-4 in the third period, but scored a late takedown to edge his opponent by one point.

“I’ve worked so hard for this all year,” Lamka said. “After last year, this is all I wanted. Coming up short in the semifinals in overtime to the eventual champ (in 2022) was hard. Coming in, I had one job to do and that was to win. I got it done.”

Following the victory, Lamka dropped to his knees and took in the moment.

“This is everything I have worked for my whole life,” Lamka said. “After coming up short before, (the emotions) just flood you.”


Champion: Brayden Gautreau, Gaylord, Sr. (52-1)
Decision, 3-1 (OT), over Carson Crace, Lowell, Sr. (33-6)

For Gautreau to come up with a second-consecutive championship, he needed a little more time. The senior was tied 1-1 with Crace through three periods after each scored an escape.

In OT, the past champ showed his mettle and came through with a takedown to earn the victory.

“I was on my stuff,” Gautreau said of the OT period. “(Crace) did a good job of keeping me off during most of the match. I just kept attacking, and it eventually paid off.”

Gautreau won the D2 171-pound title last year but said he never felt a lot of pressure to repeat.

“I didn’t feel a lot of the pressure. I just love wrestling, so I just love being able to compete,” Gautreau said. “You put in a lot of work for these moments, and this is where champions shine.”


Champion: Adam Haselius, Jackson Northwest, Sr. (50-0)
Decision, 5-1, over Joey Scaramuzzino, Croswell-Lexington, Jr. (51-4)

Haselius likes to be consistent, and he was very consistent Saturday night.

The Jackson Northwest senior claimed a second-consecutive Division 2 title after winning at 189 pounds in 2022.

“It feels great to repeat,” Haselius said. “Obviously that has been the goal since last year. It just comes down to consistency for me. Nobody that wins a state championship believes that they can’t win it again.”

Haselius never trailed, as he set the tone early with a takedown and added another in the second period before grinding out the victory in the third.

“I just wanted to keep myself in good positions,” Haselius said of the match. “Once I got the lead, I knew it was on him to bring the pressure, so I just had to wrestle smart.”


Champion: James Mahon, Goodrich, Soph. (14-0)
Decision, 5-4, over Aaron Holstege, Allendale, Sr. (49-1)

Battling through a labrum injury, Mahon managed to ride out Holstege for the final minute to secure a one-point victory.

“In a lot of my matches this year and last year, I’ve had to find ways to win 1-0 or win by one point,” Mahon said. “I’ve always found ways to get it done.”

Mahon trailed 4-3 in the third period, but scored a takedown with a minute left to go ahead and then worked on his top game to earn his first Finals title as a sophomore.

“I really expected this the whole year,” Mahon said. “It was never in doubt for me. Now I have to go and get two more.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Goodrich’s Easton Phipps takes a champion’s photo at Ford Field. (Middle) Jackson Northwest’s Zach Jacobs, front, works to break the hold of Pontiac’s Cory Thomas Jr. on Saturday. (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.)