Lowell Bests Rival in Familiar Matchup

February 27, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

MOUNT PLEASANT – Lowell needed 13 matches Saturday to clinch another of what has become an annual MHSAA Finals back-and-forth with rival St. Johns. 

But senior Lucas Hall, in his final high school team match, needed only 26 seconds to put the finishing pin on his team’s third straight Division 2 championship.

Lowell added a sixth MHSAA title to a body of work already ranking it among the most successful wrestling programs in state history, outlasting the Redwings 37-22 despite the teams being deadlocked with three matches remaining.

Hall’s pin at 125 pounds was sandwiched between a pin by junior Sam Russell at 119 and a decision by freshman Avry Mutschler at 130 that together gave the top-ranked Red Arrows the final 15 points of the day – literally – as the back-and-forth nature of the tussle caused it to finish last of the four Finals and multiple matches after two had concluded.

“It’s really been us multiple years going back and forth at it. It’s tough. It’s not going to be easy; everyone knows that,” Hall said. “We’ve had good times, we’ve had bad times with St. Johns. To be honest, it’s just going after it, trying to go for the win. Rivalry wins are the best wins.”

Lowell finished 22-3 and entered the weekend the top seed to go with its top regular-season ranking. St. Johns (28-5) was ranked third heading into the postseason but seeded second this weekend.

The Redwings opened a 7-0 lead after two matches, and the Red Arrows tied the score with two straight wins. St. Johns then earned a decision, and Lowell tied it again with a decision – but in doing so started a 15-0 run keyed by some deft maneuvering at the heavier weights by coach R.J. Boudro.

Junior Eli Boulton has wrestled at 215 pounds but got in at the 189-pound match and came away with a pin. After a decision win by senior Logan Blough at 215, senior Max Dean moved up two weights to 285 – giving up about 100 pounds but beating 5-4 St. Johns senior Jake Gnegy, a likely contender at next weekend’s Individual Finals.

Dean wrestled heavyweight for the first time this season in Friday’s Quarterfinal win over Sturgis.

“I like challenges. Coach came to me with the idea and I was all about it, and I was just really excited and glad I could get it done for my teammates,” Dean said. “Credit (Gnegy), he was really strong. I knew I had to wrestle the match a certain way and didn’t want to be under him or anything like that. I thought it would be a lot of fun.” 

But despite Lowell’s 22-10 lead at that point, it wasn’t the end.

St. Johns battled back with back-to-back pins by sophomore Brendan Zelenka and junior Emilio Sanchez at 103 and 112, respectively, to tie the score again – setting up the closing run by Russell, Hall and Mutschler.

All five of Lowell's seniors won their matches in the Final as the Red Arrows won nine of 14 matches total.   

“Everybody just expects us to do this. What no one knows is how hard these kids work and how hard it is to win a state title with the expectations that we have,” Boudro said. “Our seniors, every senior did what they were expected to do. It was just an awesome win. We wrestled above expectations, I felt like.”

The same could’ve been said for the Redwings, perhaps, for a couple of reasons. St. Johns missed Finals weekend completely last season, losing to eventual Division 2 runner-up Eaton Rapids in the Regional Final.

The Redwings had to beat both No. 7 Eaton Rapids and No. 2 DeWitt to reach CMU this weekend – and nearly had enough to finish with a fifth championship in seven seasons.

“One thing that this team has not done all year, is we haven’t given up. Things may not go our way, but it doesn’t discourage us. We keep battling hard, we keep wrestling tough,” St. Johns coach Derek Phillips said. “The way last season ended left a sour taste, so we all wanted to wrestle tough and get back here. But we didn’t talk about it much this year. This year we just focused on getting better and having fun. … We didn’t win, but I thought we had a successful season where the guys got better, had fun, and the team, we grew.”

Lowell cruised to a 52-18 win over Sturgis in its Quarterfinal on Friday, while St. Johns advanced with a 49-23 win over Dearborn Heights Annapolis. The Redwings then beat third-seeded Gaylord in a Semifinal, 55-11, while Lowell outlasted fourth-seeded Goodrich 35-27.

Hall, Max Dean, Mutschler, junior Bryce Dempsey and senior Danny Kruse all won all three of their matches on the weekend for Lowell. Zelenka, junior Bret Fedewa and senior Ian Parker won all three of their matches for the Redwings – Parker winning the most intriguing individual matchup of the Final, 3-0 over Lowell senior Zeth Dean. Both are reigning individual champions and will be in the 140 bracket next weekend.

Click for full results.

The MHSAA Wrestling Finals are presented by the Michigan Army National Guard

PHOTO: Lowell and St. Johns met in the Division 2 Final for the fourth time in five seasons Saturday. (Click to see more at 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.)