Lowell Breaks Tie, Regains D2 Title

February 22, 2014

By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half

BATTLE CREEK – To say every point was worth its weight in gold would not be much of an overstatement for Lowell Red Arrows during its MHSAA Division 2 Team Final against four-time defending champion St. Johns on Saturday.

In a dual that ended in a 34-34 deadlock, the Red Arrows ended up with the championship trophy as they won the dual on the fifth criteria – or tie-breaker – total six-point wins.

The victory gave Lowell its first MHSAA Finals team title since 2009 and sent veteran coach Dave Dean out with the second title during his tenure.

“It hasn’t hit me yet,” said Dean, who earlier this season accepted the position as head of the Olympic Development Program at Cornell University. “Right now I’m just feeling so happy for my kids and staff. They worked so hard for this. I might think about what it means to me later, but right now I’m so happy for the kids.”

The phrase `total team effort’ can sometimes be overused. But in the case of Lowell it was truly the deciding factor.

The final match was at 215 pounds, and Lowell senior Garrett Stehley won by disqualification. Stehley needed a six-point win to tie the dual and create a situation where the winner came down to criteria.

“I just went out there to wrestle,” Stehley said. “I knew if I just go out there and wrestle and not think about a pin or anything that something would open up.”

Stehley kept the pressure on the entire match, and after a succession of stalling warnings on his opponent, won the six-point disqualification.

For Stehley and the other Lowell seniors, the MHSAA title ended three years of frustration against their rivals from down the road on M-21. St. Johns had ended Lowell’s seasons the past three years, including the last two in MHSAA Finals.

“We’ve been here every year, and it has come down to us and St. Johns,” Stehley said. “We knew what we had to do. Everybody knew what they had to do.” 

What the Red Arrows needed more than anything was to win as many points as possible while giving up as few as possible in matches they lost.

“It was a point here and a point there, and it all added up,” Dean said. “In the end everybody contributed. Every match was big. (Dan) Kruse not getting pinned against Zac Hall was big. Everybody stepped up.” 

Dean’s son, sophomore Max Dean, also did his part. Going up junior Angus Arthur, a returning MHSAA individual champion, Max Dean gave up only three team points as he dropped an 8-6 decision. 

“I just wanted to give (Arthur) the worst six minutes of his life,” Max Dean said. “I knew the pressure was on. This (team title) means everything. This is what we’ve been working for.”

Both teams won seven matches during the dual that went back and forth from beginning to end. The deciding factor was six-point wins (earned by pins or disqualification), and Lowell had four while St. Johns recorded three. 

Lucas Hall (103 pounds), Jordan Hall (135) and Kanon Dean (171) earned pins while Stehley earned the disqualification.

St. Johns received pins from Ian Parker (112), Drew Wixson (152) and Logan Massa (160). 

“I feel sad for the guys, but hats off to Lowell,” St. Johns coach Derek Phillips said. “They wrestled a great match. Our guys have a lot to be proud of. They were the ones who put in all the blood, sweat and tears. At the end of the day we are still second in the state.”

St. Johns had crucial wins of its own. The Redwings grabbed the early momentum when Ty Wildmo won an 8-4 decision against Josh Colegrove in the first match of the dual at 285 pounds. 

The two teams traded pins in the next two matches with Lucas Hall winning at 103 pounds for Lowell and Ian Parker winning at 112 for St. Johns.

At 119 pounds, Zeth Dean, brother of Kanon and Max’s cousin, won a major decision putting Lowell up 10-9. The Red Arrows then methodically added to the lead with decisions from seniors Derek Krajewski (125) and Bailey Jack (130). 

For those seniors, the win over St. Johns was extra sweet.

“I can’t describe this feeling,” Jack said. “It’s surreal. It’s better then winning individual state last year. Winning individual state is nothing compared to this.” 

Jordan Hall’s pin at 135 put Lowell up 22-9, but the lead was short-lived as St. Johns came roaring back. Senior Zac Hall, a three-time individual champion who will be looking to win a fourth straight next weekend, won by technical fall at 140 pounds. Mark Bozzo added a technical fall at 145 pounds to trim the Lowell lead to 22-19.

St. Johns then surged ahead when Drew Wixson (152) and Logan Massa (160) came through with pins giving the Redwings a 31-22 lead. 

With their backs against the wall, Kanon Dean came through with his pin at 171 to bring the Red Arrows to within three points at 31-28.

Arthur followed with his decision against Max Dean at 189, putting St. Johns up by three points. That set the stage for Stehley coming through with the deciding final six points. 

“We were on a mission,” Stehley said. “We want to send the seniors out with a win and we wanted to send Coach Dean out on top.”   

Click for full results. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Lowell wrestlers celebrate their first MHSAA team championship since 2009. (Middle) A Lowell wrestler focuses on his St. Johns opponent during Saturday’s match. (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.)