High 5s - 2/14/12

February 13, 2012

Every Tuesday, Second Half honors 2-4 athletes and a team for its accomplishments during the current season.

Have a suggestion for a future High 5? Please offer your suggestions by e-mail to [email protected]. Candidates often will have accomplished great things on the field of play -- but also will be recognized for other less obvious contributions to their teams, schools or the mission of high school athletics as a whole.

Daisy Ference

Northville freshman


Ference, only a 14-year-old freshman, came into the Feb. 4 Canton Invitational at least somewhat under the radar – and left as a favorite to win the MHSAA Division 1 individual championship next month. Ference won the Division 1 competition at Canton with an all-around score for 37.925. Earlier this season, according to a Birmingham Observer & Eccentric report, Ference set Northville’s school bars record with a 9.8.

The Mustangs finish the regular season with a meet tonight at Livonia Churchill and their league championship meet Saturday.

“I love my team, and I want to do well for them. I am motivated by positive encouragement and winning.”

Up next: Ference obviously has a few years to decide what she’ll pursue after high school. But she does hope to continue competing. “I am very determined and ambitious, but my final destination has yet to be determined,” she said. “Gymnastics will always be a part of my life, and hopefully a part of my career.”

I learned the most about gymnastics from: “My high school coach is Erin McWatt, and my main club coach, from Michigan Elite Gymnastics Academy, is Kim Tanskanen. I have been taught by the most talented and dedicated coaches, and I appreciate their love and dedication. They taught me to work hard, and success will follow. They taught me dedication and hard work pays off.”

Chris Hass

Pellston senior


Hass, a 6-foot-5 point guard, is averaging 30.9 points per game this season and has scored 2,241 total during his four-year high school varsity career. His points total is 10th-best in MHSAA history and just 600 shy of the record set by Mio's Jay Smith from 1976-79. He's also averaging 8.5 rebounds and six assists per game. Pellston is 14-1 and ranked No. 3 in Class D, with a chance to avenge its only loss Wednesday in a rematch with No. 1 Bellaire. Hass has signed with Bucknell.

"I try to get as many assists as I can now. But for my team to be successful, I need to score. We have very talented ball players on this team. But that's one of my roles."

Up next: "One thing I was looking at college for wasn't just the next four years of life, but the rest of my life. If I don't go to the next (basketball) level after college, I'll have an education that will allow me to get an outstanding job anywhere. I'm going into either mechanical engineering or business management."

I learned the most about basketball from: "Definitely my father (Cliff, also his high school coach). He's always pushing me to be better than who I am. I think a lot of kids who are good when they're young, they're just told how good they are. My dad always kept pushing me to work on this, work on other things. ... He always keeps pushing me to be better than I am right now."

I look up to: "I've always wanted to be like Jesus Christ. He'd be my main one, then my dad and my sister (Stephanie, who formerly held the MHSAA girls basketball record for career points). 

Shelby wrestling

Just because Shelby moved down into Division 4 for wrestling this season doesn’t meant its road to the MHSAA Finals got easier. Case in point: last week’s District matchup against Hesperia, which had reached the Quarterfinals 11 straight seasons.

But thanks to the Tigers 36-26 win, it won’t be 12. Shelby, ranked No. 4 entering the postseason, got past a major obstacle in downing the No. 3 Panthers, who also had reached the Division 4 championship match three of the last five seasons.

Shelby is seeking its first MHSAA team championship since 1972, but long has been considered a power in the southwestern corner of the state. The Tigers advanced to the Division 3 Quarterfinals in 2009 and lost in Regional Finals the last two seasons and in 2007 – twice by just two points during that time.

Shelby is the only ranked team at its Regional on Wednesday at Blanchard Montabella. The Tigers will face Traverse City St. Francis, and with a win either Sanford-Meridian or Leroy Pine River in the Regional Final.

The Tigers also advanced nine wrestlers from Saturday’ individual District at Hesperia: Junior Nick Bantien (119, fourth place), sophomore David Guerra (125, third), senior Jordan White (135, second), senior Trevor Dezwaan (140, second), senior Houston Jones (145, fourth), senior Dillon Sibley (152, fourth), senior Mason Courtright (171, first), junior Dillion Ankney (215, first) and junior Austin Felt (103, first).

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.)