Freeman Caps Career with 4th Title

March 4, 2017

By Nick Hankins
Special for Second Half

AUBURN HILLS – Ben Freeman stamped his name in Michigan high school wrestling history Saturday with an impressive and technical display of skills that fans across the state have become accustomed to from the talented Walled Lake Central senior.

Freeman became just the 22nd wrestler in state history to win four MHSAA individual championships when he beat Colin Takata of Birmingham Groves by technical fall, 24-7, in the second period of the 140-pound championship match at the Individual Finals on Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

Freeman ended his senior season with a 34-0 record and a career mark of 163-1.

“I feel great, and I don’t think it has sunk in yet,” Freeman said. “This is crazy. There is really nothing like it. I wrestle all across the country and this (The Palace) is my favorite arena to wrestle in.”

This was a special year for the Freeman family.

Not only did he win his fourth title, but he got to watch his younger brother Nick win an MHSAA title at 135 pounds. And all in front of their father, Al Freeman, who is their coach.

But this night belonged to Ben Freeman.

“This is so much relief winning my fourth state title,” Freeman said. “I never thought I could do it. I pictured it a lot, but never thought I could do it.”


Champion: T.J. Daugherty, Walled Lake Central, Fr. (42-5)
Decision, 4-3, over Nick Alayan, Macomb Dakota, Soph. (51-6) 

It was sweet revenge for Daugherty, who beat old nemesis Nick Alayan of Macomb Dakota to win the 103-pound championship.

Daugherty beat Alayan 4-3 this time after falling to him two weeks ago.

“My game plan coming in was to wrestle on my feet,” Daugherty said. “He beat me at Regionals 6-0 with a cradle so I had to wrestle on my feet. It feels really good to be a state champion.” 


Champion: Benyamin Kamali, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (41-3)
Fall 3:31, over Bryce Brust, Battle Creek Lakeview, Soph. (44-7)  

Kamali left little doubt he would be walking off The Palace floor with another championship.

He earned his second straight by pinning Brust in 3 minutes, 31 seconds.

“I came into the tournament with the mindset of dominating, and I dominated this match; it feels good,” Kamali said.

And like he did in his match, so did the Shamrocks, as for the second year Kamali was one of five individual champions for Detroit Catholic Central. 

“Catholic Central’s program is based around domination: go out there and break your opponent,” Kamali said. “We are a family, I would do anything for anyone on our team.  It feels great to be a part of something that is bigger than yourself.”


Champion: Rayvon Foley, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Sr. (54-3)
Decision, 8-3, over Mikey Mars, Westland John Glenn, Jr. (56-4)    

Sometimes underdogs get their due at The Palace, and that is exactly what Ann Arbor Pioneer senior Foley accomplished at 119 pounds.

He beat two-time reigning champion Mikey Mars of Westland John Glenn, 8-3, in their 119-pound final.

“I feel good; I just beat a two-time state champion,” Foley said. “I have lost to that kid so many times in my life, it felt good to beat him. He is a tough kid. My game plan coming into this match was to wrestle on my feet and score points. I had to win this match on my feet, and I did that.”


Champion: A.J. Facundo, Davison, Jr. (39-5)
Decision, SV-1 2-1, over Donte Rivera-Garcia, Southgate Anderson, Sr. (49-2)

Facundo learned how it felt to win a Finals match two years ago when he won the Division 1 112-pound title.

Last year he took second at 119.

On Saturday, he capped off another impressive season with another championship, beating Southgate Anderson’s Rivera-Garcia 2-1 in sudden victory.

“I have worked my tail off all year,” Facundo said. “I have been doing two practices a day to prepare for this moment. I came in with the mindset of I am a fierce competitor. My focus coming in was to attack, attack, attack. I pushed the pace to win this match.  (Davison coach Roy Hall) does a great job preparing us to be champions.”


Champion: Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (43-3)
Decision, 4-3,
over Xavier Graham, Brownstown Woodhaven, Sr. (55-2)    

Davenport has a reputation of being solid on his feet, and that came in handy when winning his second straight championship with a 4-3 win over Brownstown Woodhaven’s Graham.

The win avenged Davenport’s loss to Graham two weeks ago at Regionals.

“I would like to thank God, my father and my coaches for preparing me for this tournament,” Davenport said. “I felt if I attacked on my feet and got to my low level single legs that I could win this match.”


Champion: Nick Freeman, Walled Lake Central, Jr. (35-1)
Decision, 5-2, over Anthony Gibson, Westland John Glenn, Jr. (53-5)

“All the hard work and hours I have put it, they are starting to pay off,” Freeman said.

Wrestling in older brother Ben Freeman’s footsteps may be daunting, but Nick Freeman wants to make a name for himself and got a great start Saturday night.

“That’s what I’m working towards,” Nick Freeman said. “Every time I have come here I have fallen short. But I kept working on the little things, and now they have paid off.”


Champion: Cameron Amine, Detroit Catholic Central Soph. (45-3)
Decision, 9-3, over Danny Pfeffer, Fraser, Sr. (57-1)

There are a lot of motivated wrestlers in the practice room at Detroit Catholic Central. None may be more motivated than Amine, who won his second title with an impressive 9-3 win over previously-undefeated Pfeffer.

With the starting weight set at 145 pounds, Amine was the first of the five individual champions for the Shamrocks on Saturday.

“It feels great to get that second state championship in,” Amine said. “People say you always have a target on your back once you won one, but I use that as motivation to keep going and keep pushing myself everyday in the practice room to be the best. This caps off a great season and offseason. I was a double All-American this summer; this shows all my hard work has paid off.”


Champion: Nathan Atienza, Livonia Franklin, Sr. (58-1)
Decision, 4-3, over Kameron Bush, Grandville, Sr. (39-2)

In a battle of returning champions, Franklin’s Atienza beat Grandville’s Bush in an exciting match that drew a lot of the eyes at The Palace to their mat.

“This is my second state title; it is very exciting,” Atienza said. “I was anxious coming into this match as he was a state champ last year. I pushed myself hard all year; I was motivated.

“Kam is a tough opponent. I knew deep down inside my head I had it. I have worked for this my entire life, and nobody was going to take this away from me.”


Champion: Kolin Leyrer, Holt, Sr. (41-2)
Decision, 6-4, over William Marano, Dearborn Edsel Ford, Jr. (50-4)

Leyrer ran off the mat and jumped into Holt coach Rocky Shaft’s arms.

It was a great time to experience a huge accomplishment with your uncle.

“This is the most amazing thing I have ever felt in my life,” Leyrer said. “With Rocky being my uncle, this championship just means that much more. He knows how much I wanted this for me and him.”


Champion: Tyler Morland, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (37-0)
Technical Fall, 17-2 (4:40), over Matthew Heaps, Portage Northern, Sr. (51-1)

Morland left little doubt he would leave his high school wrestling career in impressive fashion.

He ended his senior season with a perfect 37-0 record and second straight championship at this weight. 

“I came into the tournament wanting to dominate,” Morland said. “I could have wrestled better in my Quarterfinals match, but this was just the way I wanted to end my career by dominating in the Finals.”

“It is a lot of fun competing at this tournament. This is the biggest stage; it doesn’t get any better than this. There is nothing better than to compete in front of your friends and family.”


Champion: Brenden McRill, Davison, Sr. (41-2)
Decision, SV-1 3-1, over Ryan Vasbinder, Grandville, Sr. (21-3)

It may not have been as impressive as his win at the Team Finals a week ago, but McRill’s 3-1 sudden victory win over Vasbinder may have been a little sweeter.

Last week, McRill beat Vasbinder 14-6 with seven takedowns.

“This feels great to come away with a second state championship,” McRill said. “Ryan is a tough kid, and I knew he was going to have a game plan after last week. My mindset was the same as last weekend – to come out and score a lot of points. I wanted to score more than I did today, but I am going to keep working to be the best. I am very happy with the way I performed this weekend.”


Champion: Ben Cushman, Flushing, Jr. (56-0)
Decision, 11-6, over Drake Morley, Grand Haven, Sr. (29-5)

Cushman became his school's first individual champion since 2000, beating Morley to finish his junior season with a 56-0 record.

“I came out with the game plan to wrestle on my feet and I did that; I took him down five times,” Cushman said. “I just feel so great for Flushing and our county."


Champion: Nicholas Jenkins, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (46-1)
Decision, 3-2, over Austin Emerson, Temperance Bedford, Jr. (49-2)  

Jenkins makes very few mistakes.

The Detroit Catholic Central senior heavyweight makes his matches a strategic battle every time, and he usually comes out on top, just like he did Saturday night when he won his second straight title.

“This feels great to be able to come in here and have the confidence and work on my offense and work on my shots and hit a peak out in the Finals,” Jenkins said. “It feels great to be able to be at that level. “

It’s been a good two weeks for Jenkins. His team also won a title last week at Central Michigan University.

“The team state championship was great, probably the best because you get to enjoy it with all of your friends and family and the rest of the community,” Jenkins said. “But there are not a lot of things that top winning two individual state championships.”

Click for full brackets.

PHOTO: Walled Lake Central’s Ben Freeman wrestles Colin Takata of Birmingham Groves on the way to a fourth MHSAA individual title Saturday. (Click for more from

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

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.)