Hillger Becomes Palace King 1 Last Time

March 4, 2017

By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half

AUBURN HILLS – Trent Hillger was as impressive as ever during his run to his third straight MHSAA individual title.

The Lake Fenton senior heavyweight pinned his first three opponents at the Division 3 Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills this past weekend, then beat Lake Odessa Lakewood's Luke Tromp by technical fall in the Final, 15-0, to end his season with a 59-0 record.

"I was feeling good," Hillger said. "I felt prepared coming into the tournament. My coaches prepared me well, I came in and wrestled like I have all season. You see upsets left and right, you always have to go into the match like he can beat you, like he is the number one guy in the state. You always have to wrestle aggressive, wrestle your style of match and that’s what I did and came out on top."

There would be no upset here, as now Hillger gets prepared to take his talents to the Big Ten and the University of Wisconsin.  


Champion: Sean Spidle, Flint Powers, Fr. (39-3)
Decision, 7-3, over Hunter Assenmacher, Ida, Fr. (43-7)

Competing in a Final can make a wrestler an emotional wreck, especially a freshman taking his sport's biggest stage in high school.

But Flint Powers ninth grader Spidle took his coach's advice and turned that into a 7-3 win over Ida's Assenmacher.

"Everything I've worked for has paid off," Spidle said. "My coaches told me to stay aggressive, stay calm and stick to the game plain and I'd win, and I did that."


Champion: Mitchel Christensen, Essexville Garber, Jr. (49-2)
Decision, 8-3, over Anthony Gallagher (Perry), Sr. (48-3)

Winning a championship in wrestling is an incredible accomplishment.

Beating a returning champion to do so takes that accomplishment to another level.

That's what Garber's Christensen did, as Gallagher won a title in 2016.

"I had dreams about winning it, but I didn’t really think I could," Christensen said. "I knew I put in all the work during the offseason. I knew I just had to trust my stuff and wrestle my match. I felt good during the match. There was one thing I was thinking the whole time: six perfect minutes of wrestling. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, but it will once I walk up those podium steps."


Champion: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County, Jr. (52-0)
Technical fall, 23-8, over Stuart Massa, Hemlock, Sr. (45-8)

Greer tries to not over-think things when he is on the wrestling mat.

He just wrestles, and that seems to work, as he won his second title.

"I won my freshman year, and I was feeling really confident coming into the match this year," Greer said. "I haven't wrestled that kid in forever, so I didn't really know what he would do. But I don't really think when I'm out there; it's just natural, I just do it."


Champion: Amante' Young, Clare, Jr. (53-4)
Decision, 11-6, over Hunter Corcoran, Lake Fenton, Sr. (56-3)

Young became a first Saturday night. He is the first champion crowned from Clare High School.

Young relied on quickness and athleticism for the victory.

"I can’t even describe it," Young said. "To win a state title and to be the first from Clare to win a state title, it's amazing. I thought it would only be a one-point match, going in. I was a little nervous before the match, but I've seen him wrestle before, and I knew he was bigger than me."


Champion: Jarrett Trombley, Lake Fenton, Jr. (57-0)
Decision, 9-6, over Keenan Gunnells, Brooklyn Columbia Central, Sr. (41-8)

Sometimes watching a teammate fall short of his dreams can inspire another to keep going.

That's what Trombley did when he watched teammate Corcoran lose in the championship match before his.

That helped motivate Trombley to win his third straight championship and keep his dream alive of becoming a four-time champion.

"It's always been one of my goals (to win four). I just came to compete and the match went my way," Trombley said. "After Hunter got beat, I was a little mad, but he wrestled a good match. We have been practice partners all year, and he just didn't come out on top today. I came in this year with one goal, and one goal only, and that was to win a state title. I kept on working harder and harder this year, and it paid off."


Champion: Nolan Saxton, Remus Chippewa Hills, Sr. (58-0)
Decision, 5-4, over Dallas Sortor, Ida, Jr. (50-3)

Saxton is a wrestler of few words.

He likes to let his talents do his talking on the mat, and they sure did this year, as the Chippewa Hills senior capped off a perfect 58-0 record.

"I wasn’t really nervous out there. I was just ready," Saxton said. "I'm just so happy right now."


Champion: Zachary Bellaire, Dundee, Jr. (38-5)
Decision, 6-1, over Sean Trombley, Lake Fenton, Soph. (53-6)

Bellaire and the Dundee wrestling team took part in an epic championship match with Richmond last week at Central Michigan University.

Bellaire and his Vikings teammates lost on the eighth criteria, leaving a bad wrestling taste in the mouths of all Dundee faithful.

He helped ease the pain just a bit Saturday.

"He made a mistake, and I capitalized on it," Bellaire said. "All I had to do was wrestle for six minutes, and I knew I would win.

"It feels great to make it to the top of the podium. I used the loss we took at the team state meet last week as fuel against all the other kids I wrestled this week."


Champion: Tylor Orrison, Dundee, Jr. (42-5)
Fall, 4:44, over Glenn Beardsley, Farwell, Sr. (32-1)

Orrison didn't let an early takedown get to him. He knew if he kept working that the coaching and work he gets in his team's practice room would pay off.

"I knew I just had to out-compete him and just keep scoring," Orrison said. "Once he took me down, I knew I had to get a point back. It feels great; once I got that (chicken) wing in, I knew it was over."


Champion: Jacob Shoop, Scottville Mason Count Central, Sr. (52-1)
Technical fall, 17-1, over Gavin Morgan, Mount Morris, Fr. (48-4)

Experience got the better of youth at 152 pounds, as Shoop handled Mount Morris freshman Morgan.

"It feels incredible, just knowing everything I've done in the past has paid off. It’s a feeling like no other," Shoop said. "I felt like I controlled him during the whole match."


Champion: Sean Sterling, Dundee, Sr. (28-0)
Decision, 4-3, over Dylan Briggs, Corunna, Sr. (46-4)

Sterling didn't let his nerves get the best of him.

He proved that sometimes winning your second title can be tougher than earning that first championship, but was still able to do so by beating Corunna's Briggs.

"The first state title was a lot easier," Sterling said. "I was a lot more nervous during these Finals. Last year I had to get on top, but this year I had to say on top, and it's a lot easier to get on top than to stay on top. Last year's state title was for everyone who ever made a sacrifice for me, and this state championship is for me."


Champion: Collin Lieber, Croswell-Lexington, Sr. (44-0)
Decision, 4-3, over Daniel Thompson, Lake Odessa Lakewood, Sr. (44-2)

Lieber felt disrespected, and he wanted to prove a point.

"I got the third seed coming into this tournament, and I wanted to prove everyone wrong," Lieber said. "I've finished second, third and second here, and last year was a devastating loss. I thought about it every day during practice, and if I was ever about to give up, I just reminded myself how bad I want that state title."


Champion: Brandon Whitman, Dundee, Jr. (45-0)
Decision, 9-3, over Colton McKiernan, Richmond, Jr. (47-5)

Whitman came into his high school career at Dundee with a lot of fanfare and a national ranking out of the youth ranks.

And he has lived up to his lofty billing by winning his third straight championship.

"It feels pretty good," Whitman said of his third title. "It kind of dies down at the end, but feels good. I was very confident coming into this tournament. I knew that if I wrestled well, no one would touch me. Now the only goal is winning my fourth state title next year."


Champion: Jared Roehl, Millington, Sr. (38-0)
Decision, 6-1, over Tyler Marino, Richmond, Jr. (47-6)

Two titles are good, even if three would have felt better to Millington senior Roehl.

"I had a big chip on my shoulder, because I lost by one point last year, and trained all offseason for this match," Roehl said.

And the hard work paid off, as he controlled his match with Marino throughout and walked away with that second championship to cap an accomplished career.

"It feels amazing to redeem a loss from the Finals last year," Roehl said.

Click for full brackets.

PHOTO: Lake Fenton’s Trent Hillger has his arm raised for the third time at the MHSAA Finals to celebrate his third championship Saturday. (Click for more from 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.)