Lowell Rides Fast Start to D2 Repeat

February 28, 2015

By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half

BATTLE CREEK – The Lowell wrestling team couldn’t have drawn up a better start to its match against Eaton Rapids in the Division 2 Final at Kellogg Arena on Saturday.

Just 14 seconds in, junior Lucas Hall whipped the Lowell fans into a frenzy when he delivered a pin, giving the Red Arrows a lightning-quick 6-0 lead. The fall ignited a 15-0 run by Lowell and paved the way to a 40-16 victory and a second consecutive title.

“I was just thinking I had to go out there and do everything in my power to get six,” Hall said. “I wanted to give us an early lead. I just didn’t think it would happen that fast.”

The quick pin was the perfect way for first-year Lowell coach R.J. Boudro to begin his head coaching experience in the Finals. Boudro formerly served as an assistant to previous coach Dave Dean, who stepped down after last season’s championship win.

“Lucas going out and getting six right off the bat was huge,” Boudro said. “It just so happened that the starting weight (119) was at Lucas’ weight class. That pin just lifted the whole team.”

Hall’s pin was one of two by Lowell in the first three matches of the dual. After a decision by Aaron Ward at 125 pounds, Lowell junior Zeth Dean added another quick pin in 1:39 giving the Red Arrows a 15-0 lead.

Bonus points were crucial for Lowell throughout the dual as the Red Arrows recorded four falls and one major decision in the nine matches they won.

Not only did Lowell pick up extra bonus points, but its wrestlers also kept Eaton Rapids from scoring bonus points of their own. Of the five Eaton Rapids wins, all but one came on a decision, and the fifth was a major decision.

“We were hoping to get more bonus points,” Eaton Rapids coach Joe Ray Barry said. “We just didn’t get them. We didn’t get the bonus points that we were looking for and they got the bonus points where they were looking for them.”

It was the performances of some young, un-sung Red Arrows that prevented Eaton Rapids from piling up those needed bonus points. One of those young grinders for Lowell was freshman Garret Pratt.

Wrestling at 135 pounds against Eaton Rapids senior Jaedin Sklapsky, an expected contender at next weekend’s Individual Finals, Pratt was able to stay off his back and surrender just a four-point major decision.

“Garret was going up against arguably one of the best 135-pounders in the state,” Boudro said. “You heard the cheers from our fans after that match. We have some of the smartest wrestling fans around, and they knew how big that was.”

Lowell upped its lead to 21-4 when Jordan Hall delivered a pin in 2:48.

Eaton Rapids reeled off three straight wins in the next three matches. All three were by decision with Lane McVicker winning at 145, Blaine Milheim at 152 and Caleb Norris at 160 pounds.

Lowell picked up a second win by a freshman at 171. George Gonzales, who came into the match with a sub-.500 record, showed just how deep the Red Arrows are as he won 5-2.

“George has stepped up all year for us,” Boudro said. “He actually weighs 160, but he has wrestled 171 and 189 for us this year. He is another one of those kids who just goes out there and wrestles hard.”

Lowell closed out the dual on a roll as it won the final four matches. Senior Josh Colegrove kept his record perfect for the season as he won by fall at 215 pounds. Senior heavyweight Logan Wilcox won by decision while sophomore Sam Russell won by a major decision at 103 pounds and junior Kyle Washburn closed out the win with a decision at 112.

The MHSAA title was the fifth for Lowell since 2002. The Red Arrows finished the season with a 29-2 record that was forged against some of the best wrestling programs in the Midwest.

“I firmly believe we have one of the hardest schedules in the state,” Boudro said. “One of our losses was to Chicago Oak Forest, who is one of the best teams in Illinois. Our other loss was to Hartland and they are in the Division 1 state finals. We also wrestled Brighton and Richmond and Hudson. We wrestled five of the eight teams in the state finals this year, and that’s the same for many of those schools also.”

The bad news for the rest of the Division 2 is that the Red Arrows may be even better next year.

“Next year we will have one of our better teams returning,” Boudro said. “We only lose four seniors out of our starting lineup and we had a lot of freshmen step up for us this year.”

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PHOTO: Lowell and Eaton Rapids competitors wrestle for the Division 2 championship Saturday at Kellogg Arena. (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.)