With Milestone Win, Lynch Continues to Help Fuel SMCC's Wrestling Resurgence

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

January 9, 2024

When her brother started wrestling in grade school, MaryAlice Lynch figured she would pick up the sport as well. 

Southeast & Border“I originally started wrestling with the Belleville wrestling club when I was in second or third grade,” Lynch said. “I wanted to do it because my brother was doing it, and I wanted to do everything my brother was doing. I really looked up to him. We did everything together.” 

It did not take long, and Lynch – and her family – were hooked on the sport.  

“I think it started off as just being something my brother (Michael) and I had in common, then it kind of grew into a whole family,” she said. “I still talk to a lot of people I met when I first started wrestling. It is like a family now. I still love it.” 

She has stuck with wrestling over the years and today, Lynch is reaching milestones as a senior wrestler at Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central.  

Last weekend she took part in a girls tournament Friday, then wrestled as part of an SMCC team tournament Saturday. Along the way, Lynch won her 100th career match, putting her in select company as one of the few female wrestlers in the state to reach the milestone. She is the first female wrestler in Monroe County Region history to reach 100 wins. 

“It shows her dedication to the sport,” SMCC coach Nick Eby said. 

Lynch went 11-9 as a freshman, 31-13 as a sophomore, 42-13 as a junior and is 17-5 this season, putting her at 101 wins going into this week. 

“It’s cool to see all of the work I put in since my freshman year and how it all added up,” she said.  

Lynch isn’t sure how many of those wins were against boys or came against girls. 

“I don’t mind competing against the boys because that’s what I started with,” she said. “When I started, there were maybe one or two girls on my team, but there weren’t hardly any on the other teams.” 

“At the end of the day, it’s still wrestling,” Lynch added. “I don’t really notice anything substantially different. I wrestle when I’m supposed to.” 

Lynch’s teammates and spectators celebrate her 100th career win. Getting to 100 wins was no easy task. As a freshman, Lynch and SMCC had to navigate through COVID-19.  

“We missed out on a whole bunch of meets,” she said. “I didn’t get many matches that year.” 

She’s also experienced massive changes in Michigan high school wrestling. During her sophomore year, the MHSAA began sponsoring a postseason individual wrestling tournament for girls, something she was eager to take part in. For the few seasons prior, there was a girls state tournament hosted by the state coaches association. 

“It was a big improvement,” she said. “The year prior we were wrestling in an old supermarket. I was really happy to be included with the guys and be at Ford Field.” 

Lynch placed fourth at 105 pounds at last year’s Individual Finals. She is part of a wrestling rebirth of sorts at SMCC. 

During the 1980s, the school – Monroe Catholic Central then – was a wrestling powerhouse, winning Class B titles in 1982 and 1983 and finishing runner-up in 1985.

There also was a season about six years ago, about the time current head coach Eby was graduating, when the team had just three wrestlers total. 

“We didn’t have a youth program and there wasn’t much interest in the sport, honestly,” Eby said.  

SMCC went 0-7 in duals in 2018-19, and Eby was hired the next year. His first season, the team consisted mainly of freshmen.

With his help – and athletes like Lynch dedicating themselves to the sport – SMCC wrestling is taking off again. Last season, SMCC won 17 matches. This year, Eby’s sixth as head coach, the Falcons have 24 wrestlers on the squad, and they are filling up every weight class and competing at a much higher level.  

“I feel like last year really kicked it off,” Lynch said. “Last year, we got a lot of new people and they worked hard, and that brought in a lot of new people this year. 

“I think as a team this year, things are going better than I anticipated. We lost a couple of good wrestlers, including my brother, but the newer guys have definitely stepped up. We are just making our way through the season. 

Eby said Lynch has played a big part in the program’s rise. 

“She’s definitely the most technical on the team and one of, if not the hardest workers, on the team,” he said. “She always has a good mindset going into her matches. For a couple of years, we didn’t have very many wrestlers, but we could always count on her to go out and fight.” 

Lynch wrestles at 113 for the most part this season. Her sister, Brianna, occupies the 106-pound class. 

“It’s an adjustment for her knowing she is carrying that weight class on her own, but she is doing well with it,” she said. 

MaryAlice is the daughter of Collin and Christina Lynch. Her mom attended SMCC, and her dad went to Woodhaven. “My mom didn’t wrestle, but she did Tae Kwan Do in high school,” Lynch said. “My dad wrestled at Woodhaven.” 

Lynch, 17, is a lifeguard during the summer at a park near her Belleville home. She is considering wrestling in college but also might have an opportunity to run track.  

“It would be really weird if I wasn’t wrestling at this point,” she said. 

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Monroe St. Mary’s MaryAlice Lynch, in green, works to gain control during a match. (Middle) Lynch’s teammates and spectators celebrate her 100th career win. (Photos by Tom Hawley/Monroe News.)

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.)