Holly's Gonzales Refuses to Lose, Again, in Repeat Title March

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

April 2, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS – Jacob Gonzales tasted defeat at the MHSAA Individual Wrestling Finals as a freshman, and he didn’t want to do that again.

So the Holly junior has decided not to lose. At all.

Gonzales claimed his second straight Division 2 championship Friday at Van Andel Arena, defeating St. Joseph’s Jacob Halsey 4-0 at 152 pounds. The win capped off a second-straight undefeated championship season for Gonzales (21-0), who is 76-0 over the past two.

“Just not holding back,” Gonzales said of the change in his mindset after his freshman year. “You let your nerves get to you, and you can’t wrestle the same. So, if you just let it go on the mat, you’ll have no regrets and you’re going to wrestle better. It helps just to stay focused and not let the nerves get to you.”

Gonzales was confident coming into the tournament, and, frankly, the season. He made the choice to wrestle at 152 pounds, as that’s where he wants to wrestle at Fargo Nationals, where he hopes to prove himself at “the next level.”

He still has a year to continue proving himself at the state level, even though he’s done plenty of that already, including in his win against Halsey (34-1), who entered the match unbeaten. 

“You win it once, you’re like, ‘OK,’” Gonzales said. “But when you get it multiple times, it proves the hard work you put in year to year, that you’re getting better.”


Champion: Adam Polk, Pontiac, Fr. (11-1)
Decision, 5-3, over Cody Richards, Monroe Jefferson, Jr. (21-1)

Polk won the matchup between the two wrestlers on his feet to hand Richards his first loss of the season and claim a title in his first season.

“Defense and getting my positioning,” Polk said of the keys to the match. “I just wanted to score more and rack up more points.”

Polk wasn’t looking to the future and his possibilities, but the first title was something he said he envisioned.

“I worked hard this summer for it,” he said. “I just deserved it.”

Division 2 wrestling


Champion: Nolan Wertanen, St. Joseph, Jr. (36-0)
Decision, 9-4, over Adrian Rosas, Southgate Anderson, Sr. (21-1)

Wertanen exploded for a pair of takedowns in the opening period to take control in what was to became his second-straight Finals championship victory.

“Going into the tournament, I knew my toughest two matches would be probably my semis and the finals,” Wertanen said. “I think what did it for me is that I went out in my semis match and won 10-0, a dominant win, so having that, knowing against that caliber, I was there.”

Finishing the season unbeaten was a major motivation for Wertanen.

“I really wanted to come out this year and make a statement,” he said. “Last year, I took some losses that I shouldn’t have. I remember in February (2020), I took a loss and from that moment forward I was like, ‘This isn’t me. This is not how I want to represent St. Joe, and this is not how I want to represent myself.’”


Champion: Jack Parker, Spring Lake, Sr. (29-1)
Decision, 6-1, over Tayden Miller, Mason, Soph. (12-3)

Parker became the second champion all-time for Spring Lake, and first in 53 years.

“It’s pretty surreal,” he said. “I’ve never felt anything like this before. It’s the happiest day of my life.”

Parker took control of the match with a pair of first-period takedowns, and put it away in the third with a two-point nearfall.

“I kind of have the same strategy every match,” he said. “Work to my ties, make it my match, don’t react, make them react to what I’m doing.”


Champion: Joe Haynes, Warren Woods Tower, Sr. (24-1)
Decision, 5-1, over Aaron Lucio, Stevensville Lakeshore, Soph. (23-1)

Haynes closed out his illustrious career with a fourth-straight top-three finish, and second-straight individual title.

“It was a little more exciting – a closer match, definitely,” Haynes said of the difference between his second and first titles. “This is how it is, I guess.”

The score was tied at 1 late, and Lucio nearly made a big move, but Haynes countered it for a throw of his own to put the match away in its final seconds.

“I was looking for the pressure. I knew he wasn’t going to be able to throw me,” Haynes said. “So, I was just looking for the pressure to get my throw, and I went for it, because when there’s 30 seconds on the clock, 1-1, you have to go for it.”

Division 2 Wrestling Finals 3


Champion: Dru Wilson, Warren Woods Tower, Sr. (18-5)
Decision, 6-5, over Gage Race, Jackson Northwest, Soph. (20-5)

Wilson made it two titles in a matter of minutes for Tower, as he closed out his first Finals championship shortly after Haynes had captured his.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Wilson said. “I’m just so excited right now, I don’t know what to say.”

Wilson held a 4-2 lead late, before he went crashing into the scorer’s table. He shook it off to get a takedown and wrap up the title.

“My calf hit the table pretty hard, but after like a couple seconds I didn’t really feel it because there was so much adrenaline going through my body,” he said. “It was just an amazing match. Good job on him, too. I’m so happy with myself right now. I put in so much work to get here.”


Champion: Zeth Strejc, Lowell, Sr. (23-3)
Decision, 7-6, over Caden Peterman, Greenville, Sr. (23-3)

In a rematch of the Regional Final, which Strejc won, the Lowell senior had to hold on late to pick up his first individual Finals title. Peterman scored a late takedown to pull within two, but Strejc didn’t allow any other points.

“I had a little bit better of a gameplan this time with him,” Strejc said. “I knew he was a really good mat wrestler. I knew he was going to be going for Granbys and the Pearsons there, so I just had to stay mentally tough.”

After winning a team title on Tuesday, and four more matches Friday, Strejc’s immediate reaction following the match wasn’t to take a break.

“I’m just ready to keep going,” he said. “What’s the next thing to do. I love the sport. I’ve been doing it since I was a little guy.”


Champion: Carter Hinson, Zeeland East, Sr. (25-0) 
Decision, 4-3, over Joshua Hettrick, Dearborn Heights Annapolis, Sr. (21-3)

Hinson learned to appreciate the grind of wrestling this season, and when his final match ended with him claiming his first individual Finals title, he was able to celebrate the fruits of his labor.

“It’s all worth it,” he said. “I’ve struggled with wanting to go to practice in the past because it’s a grind, and some days you just don’t want to do it. So, when the final seconds ticked off the clock, it was just the greatest feeling.”

All the match’s scoring took place in the second period, as Hinson scored a pair of takedowns. He held Hettrick off in the final seconds to secure the victory.

“I wanted to make sure my position was in check,” Hinson said. “And it was really just rolling through my head that now I’m a state champ.”


Champion: Jackson Hoover, Edwardsburg, Sr. (21-4)
Decision, 7-2, over Jack Conley, Lake Fenton, Soph. (31-6)

Hoover didn’t even wait for the post-match handshake before sprinting to his coaches to celebrate his first individual Finals title. 

“I just thought about all that hard work that not only I put in, but my teammates and my coaches to get to this point,” Hoover said. “I just can’t thank them enough.”

He also didn’t waste much time, as he was able to get the match’s first takedown in the opening minute.

“I’ve always tried to be the aggressor and try to push the pace and get to my shots,” he said. “That’s ultimately what happened in that match.”


Champion: Doak Dean, Lowell, Sr. (28-2)
Decision, 7-1, over Carson Crace, Lowell, Soph. (21-5)

Dean and Crace won a Finals title together earlier in the week, as they led Lowell to its eighth straight Division 2 team championship. But when they met on the mat in the Individual Finals, they decided to go at it.

“We talked before, and we just said we’re going to scrap it out,” Dean said. “I didn’t expect him to hold back; he’s been working real hard all year just like me. We’re teammates at the end of the day, and when we came off the mat, we’re still really good buddies. On the mat, we were just wrestling like we normally do.”

Dean won the match on his feet, getting a takedown in all three periods, and didn’t give up a point until a late escape for Crace in the third period.

“It’s special,” he said. “I think it represents more than just me being the best person on a bracket today and this year. It’s a testament to this team, the culture here, the community here, the support from our administration at the school. Everybody was in on this, it wasn’t just me out here today.”


Champion: Jacob Lee, Lowell, Sr. (22-1)
Decision, 7-5, over Kael Wisler, New Boston Huron, Jr. (24-3)

Lee scored a takedown in the final 30 seconds to put away a tight match.

“I knew he was going to come after me, and then I got a stalling call on the edge which is when I kind of flipped the switch,” Lee said. “I was like, ‘I’m going to go get this kid,’ because he wouldn’t be expecting that. I’m up by one point, so if I get a takedown, that seals the match.”

The win capped off a hectic, but bountiful week for Lee and his Lowell teammates.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “I definitely take pride in the team state title more. That takes a lot of guys making a lot of sacrifices.”


Champion: Cody Brenner, New Boston Huron, Sr. (27-2) 
Decision, 4-0, over Vincent Scaramuzzino, Croswell-Lexington, Sr. (26-1)

Brenner dropped a match to Scaramuzzino earlier in the season, and he wasn’t about to let that happen again. He took a 3-0 lead in the second period and rode Scaramuzzino out in the third period to claim his title.

“I wrestled him earlier in the season and I started to slack off later in the periods, and that’s how he was able to score his points,” Brenner said. “This match I was just working and working every single time, every minute of the period, every second of the match. I was just going after him.”

The advantage in the top position came from years of work, and studying.

“I’ve been practicing riding against tough guys since freshman year,” Brenner said. “I’ve been finding different angles, different ways to keep people down. Watching the NCAA guys, college guys and the pro guys, just watching them to see what they do to keep people down.”


Champion: CJ Crum, St. Johns, Sr. (36-0)
Decision, 4-2, over Ian Norscia, Southgate Anderson, Sr. (18-1)

Crum took a shot to the forehead late in the matchup of unbeatens but was able to hold Norscia off in the final seconds to secure the victory.

“It was really funny, all week we were working on if someone gets in on your legs, kick, kick, kick,” Crum said. “That’s really what happened at the end. I really got control with my inside ties and I just tried to own him.”

Crum scored a takedown in the first period and maintained his advantage through the match.

“It’s something I’ve been working for so hard for four years,” Crum said. “When you put so much time in on the practice mat and it finally comes through, it’s amazing.”


Champion: Keegan Nugent, Lowell, Sr. (29-0)
Decision, 8-2, over Jaylen Culver, Romulus, Sr. (23-2)

Nugent found himself trailing after a Culver takedown in the first 20 seconds, but he fought back and dominated the rest of the match to claim his first individual title. 

“Pure joy,” Nugent said. “Pure joy having my whole community behind me. My brother and everyone just here to support me and help me grow as a person.”

Nugent joined the parade of Lowell individual champions.

“It’s way cooler to do it with teammates,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine being here by myself.”

Click for the full bracket.

PHOTOS: (Top) Holly's Jacob Gonzales, left, wrestles for his second-straight Division 2 championship Friday at Van Andel Arena. (Middle) St. Joseph's Nolan Wertanen, left, gains control at 112 pounds on the way to his repeat championship. (Below) Warren Woods Tower's Joe Haynes looks to take his shot during his Finals match at 125; he also won a second-straight title. (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.)