Led by 1st-Year Coaches, Dundee Adds to Longtime Tradition with Another D3 Win

By Jeff Chaney
Special for MHSAA.com

February 25, 2023

KALAMAZOO – Nate Hall and Garrett Stevens knew what they were taking over when they were announced as co-coaches of the Dundee wrestling team before this season.  

Longtime coach Tim Roberts did not leave the cupboard bare when he decided to retire. 

His Vikings program had won five straight MHSAA Division 3 team titles and was littered with talented and powerful wrestlers. 

Hall and Stevens proved to be the right picks to take over the legendary program, as they helped coach the Vikings to their sixth-straight title, and 14th overall. 

And Dundee did it in its usual impressive fashion, with a 60-18 win over Whitehall in the Final on Saturday at the Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo. 

"The well was not dry, and don't wreck it," said Hall, whose team finished duals at 19-2. "We didn't change much. We have all been around the program long enough, we had a great idea of what was taking place and how we are successful."

Which is?

"The commitment of the families, that is 100 percent why this program is so successful," Hall said. "I am not chasing kids down to have them wrestle in the summer. I'm chasing them trying to keep up with them."

And that is exactly what the Vikings'  three opponents were doing all weekend in Kalamazoo – chasing down Dundee's talent.

In the Final, the Vikings were down 12-0 after two pins by Whitehall. But after that, Dundee went on to win 11 matches in a row, seven straight by pin. 

Whitehall’s Jackson Cook wrestles to a 7-3 decision win at 190 in the Semifinal against Algonac.Freshman Haydn Nutt began with a pin in 3 minutes, 9 seconds. Nutt was one of six freshmen who took to the mat this weekend for the Vikings. And all six are ranked among the top 10 in their respective weight classes by Michigan Grappler, including Nutt, who is the state's top-ranked 106-pounder in Division 3. 

"We started the year and we had 13 freshmen, and I can't say enough the way our program has developed those kids," Hall said. "They were ready from day one this year, and they stepped up and progressed properly. They were ready to go."

It helps when you have a senior class of state champions leading the way like Braeden Davis at 132 pounds, Kaden Chinavare at 138 and Aiden Davis at 157. 

"Dundee is the best place to be when you want to pursue wrestling," said Braeden Davis, who will look to win a fourth-straight individual title next weekend at Ford Field and couple that with his now four team titles. "We have a great staff, a great community. It's all about wrestling at Dundee."

Braeden Davis went 3-0 for the weekend and helped Dundee defeat Hart in the Quarterfinals 64-15 and Constantine in the Semifinals 59-16. 

Braeden Davis was most impressive in the Final, when he won by fall in 15 seconds.

Whitehall co-coach Justin Zeerip knows good wrestling when he sees it. A four-time Individual Finals champion himself, Zeerip was impressed with the Vikings. 

"Dundee is so tough, " said Zeerip, whose team ended with a 32-4 record. "From 106 to 175, they have seven top-ranked guys. And a couple other guys are ranked really high, so hats off to them, they are a great program. Our kids wrestled hard, they are just a super team."

Whitehall did wrestle hard during the two-day event as well, downing Gladstone in the Quarterfinals 48-24 on Friday, and then Algonac in the Semifinals 40-27 earlier Saturday. Whitehall wrestled over its seed in that match, as the No. 3-seeded Vikings got past the second seed.

"I was proud how my guys wrestled this weekend," Zeerip said.  

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Dundee’s Kaden Chinavare, right, goes for a takedown during his 126-pound match with Whitehall’s Caden Varela. (Middle) Whitehall’s Jackson Cook wrestles to a 7-3 decision win at 190 in the Semifinal against Algonac. (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.)