Mumford's Smith Caps Career as Detroit PSL's 1st Finals Champ

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 5, 2022

DETROIT – Ja'Marcus Smith felt an immense sense of pride Saturday after becoming the first wrestler from a Detroit Public School to win an Individual Wrestling Finals title.

But he doesn’t plan to be the last to do it.

“It means so much to me,” the Detroit Mumford senior said. “Everything I worked for my freshman year, my 10th-grade year, my 11th-grade year, it’s finally paying off. There’s going to be more than me. There’s going to be a whole ’nother generation.”

Smith defeated Lowell freshman Carter Cichocki (32-5) by pinfall in the 103-pound Division 2 final at Ford Field. Smith was leading 10-1 before getting the pin with two seconds remaining in the third period.

As the referee's hand slapped the mat, the crowd roared. Suddenly, a collection of wrestling fans from all parts of the state joined together in cheering the achievement.

Smith placed fifth at 112 pounds a year ago, and admitted that he felt some pressure to accomplish the feat for his school and city.

“Everybody was on my back about it,” Smith said with a laugh.

Champion: Jackson Blum, Lowell, Fr. (37-3)
Fall, 3:02 over Connor Greer, Bay City John Glenn, Fr. (40-1)

Blum was dominant before finishing off his freshman year with a pinfall victory.

“I don’t think I surprised myself,” Blum said. “Obviously, he’s a really good wrestler, undefeated this year and only a freshman. But, just the way that we’ve trained all year and our schedule, I’ve been the most prepared I’ve ever been for this match.”

Blum attacked early and often in the match, and had amassed enough points for the technical fall prior to getting the pin.

Champion: Nolan Wertanen, St. Joseph, Sr. (53-0)
Decision, 7-3, over Tee Ward, Fremont, Soph. (49-3)

It took a couple shots to the nose, and a wrap that covered most of his face to get it done, but Wertanen left Ford Field as a three-time champion.

“Going into this match, I knew I was going to have a tough match, as always. It’s the state finals,” Wertanen said. “I wanted to make a point that I’m dominant. Unfortunately, I’ve never wrestled not being able to breathe entirely, so that was tough. But I got the job done.”

Wertanen won at 112 pounds in 2021 and 103 in 2020.

“If you would have told me a long time ago when I would get in every MYWA tournament, when I would get pinned and I was hiding under the bleachers, that I would be a three-time state champion, I would have been stoked,” he said. 

Champion: Owen Segorski, Lowell, Fr. (28-11)
Decision, 6-1, over Bryce Shingleton, Linden, Jr. (45-3)

Despite wrestling in his first Individual Finals and falling behind, Segorski was unfazed.

“I felt good the whole time,” Segorski said. “I was never scared. I knew he was going to back up and keep diving in, so I just wanted to keep going forward and stay in my stance.”

He trailed 1-0 heading into the third period, but an escape, takedown and nearfall secured the victory and an individual title to go along with Lowell’s team championship won last weekend.

Champion: Louden Stradling, Gaylord, Jr. (24-1)
Decision, 3-2 (2OT), over Ramsy Mutschler, Lowell, Sr. (31-6)

Stradling avenged a loss from the week before, and needed to hold on into the final seconds of the second ultimate tiebreaker period.

“Last week I wrestled Ramsy, and it was a really close one,” Stradling said. “I couldn’t open up on him because his defense is amazing. This week, I took it slow, I focused on how to get out on bottom from him, and me getting out on bottom changed the match.”

Mutschler scored an escape early in the first ultimate tiebreaker period, and entered the second with a 2-1 lead. Stradling scored a reversal midway through the second, and held on for his first title.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Stradling said. “I plan on doing it again, but this year meant a lot to me.”

Champion: Aaron Lucio, Stevensville Lakeshore, Jr. (54-0)
Decision, 7-4, over James Link, Lowell, Sr. (38-6)

A year after finishing second in the Finals, Lucio broke through, finishing off an unbeaten season with his first title.

“It means a lot,” Lucio said. “I knew I put the work in. I knew I could get it done. I knew that my coaches told me to stay tough in close matches, and if that would happen, I would win.”

Lucio scored an early takedown in the match, and never trailed, but he used a three-point third period to give himself some space before Link scored an escape in the final minute.

“More points were on the board than I thought,” Lucio said. “But as I opened up and I got to feel him and he could feel me, I knew I could get to his legs a lot easier.”

St. Johns wrestling

Champion: Jacob Brya, St. Johns, Sr. (42-0)
Decision, 1-0, over Carsen Richards, Goodrich, Sr. (45-3)

After a positive COVID-19 test ended his junior season and a potential run at four individual titles, Brya came into his senior season with something to prove – after a nudge from his dad.

“I was sitting around for a while, then my dad started yelling at me,” Brya said. “Ever since then I’ve been doing two-a-days and lifting all the time. I just feel like I have more motivation than I’ve ever had.”

Brya won at 112 pounds in 2020 and 103 in 2019. He held a slim 1-0 advantage in Saturday’s final, but rode Richards out to get the victory.

It was the third time the two had wrestled this season, and while each match was close, Brya was able to win the battle while on top, giving him the confidence to do it again.

Champion: Zamuel Thompson, Stevensville Lakeshore, Sr. (51-3)
Decision, 8-6, over Timmy Simons, Gibraltar Carlson, Jr. (37-4)

Thompson joined his sister, Sydney, of Eaton Rapids in winning a Finals title (110 pounds), becoming the first brother-sister combination to win MHSAA wrestling titles in the same season.

“It’s amazing,” Zamuel Thompson said. “I didn’t even know she was going to do it until three or four weeks ago. That made my day.”

In his own match, Thompson needed a third-period takedown to hold off Simons.

“I knew I shouldn’t have let him take me down in the first place,” Thompson said. “I was wrestling sloppy. Just conditioning we’re doing, I knew that in the end I would get him, there was no doubt in my mind. It was just a matter of when.”

Champion: Micah Hanau, Stevensville Lakeshore, Sr. (52-2)
Decision, 3-2, over Julius Polk, Pontiac, Sr. (36-2)

Hanau felt he was too reckless his junior season, which didn’t allow him to repeat as an individual champion.

But he was well under control Saturday as he was able to wrap up a second title.

“I feel great,” Hanau said. “I wrestled the match I wanted to. Last year, I didn’t do how I wanted because of how (out-of-control) my wrestling style was. I took time to control that, and I feel like I won the match I planned on winning.”

Hanau was the champion at 130 pounds in 2020.

Champion: Jacob Gonzales, Holly, Sr. (49-0)
Decision, 7-3, over William Bradley, Paw Paw, Sr. (51-2)

Gonzales became a three-time individual champion with his victory. The Holly senior won at 152 pounds in 2021 and 2020.

“It’s everything I wanted,” Gonzales said. “I wanted four, I had to settle for three, but history isn’t easy.”

Gonzales was in control for most of the match, but Bradley was able to put a little scare into the Holly fans near the end. Gonzales was less scared.

“I knew he was a funky wrestler,” Gonzales said. “I knew I was going to have to be flexible and ready for everything he threw at me, and I was.”

Champion: Brayden Gatreau, Gaylord, Jr. (42-1)
Major decision, 10-2, over Derek Badgley, Mason, Soph. (49-3)

Gatreau turned up the heat in the third period, making what was a tight match a major decision.

“I felt great,” he said. “I worked towards my cardio all season. I knew that, no matter what, I’m working harder than anybody else. At the end of the day, it comes down to who wants it more, and I want it more than anyone else in this state. No matter what time, I’m going to close out the match and I’m going to win it.”

Gatreau scored six points in the third period, including a takedown and nearfall during the final 20 seconds.

Champion: Adam Haselius, Jackson Northwest, Jr. (45-1)
Decision, 7-2, over Kael Wisler, New Boston Huron, Sr. (54-2)

Haselius won the match on his feet, getting three takedowns to Wisler’s zero. And as the match was ending, he was still pushing for a pin, despite having it wrapped up.

“Can’t let up, that’s letting the other guy into the match,” Haselius said. “I have to keep grinding no matter what the score is. It’s the feeling of accomplishment.

“This right here is what you work for. It feels so good to finally complete that goal. To finally reach that high point. I just wrestled my match; it’s a great feeling.”

Champion: Carter Blough, Lowell, Sr. (37-2)
Decision, 4-0, over James Campbell, Mattawan, Sr. (36-1)

As Blough walked off the mat following his first individual title, he was mobbed by his family.

“That’s crazy,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this since I was like 6. It couldn’t be any better. This is what I’ve been wanting since I started wrestling. This is the best moment of my life right here.”

Blough got an early takedown in the first period, and while there wasn’t much scoring afterward, he appeared to be in control throughout.

“I just had to be careful, cautious,” Blough said. “I was just being stingy on top. Just keeping my hips up so he couldn’t hit any big moves, and I knew the match was mine.”

Champion: Ira Jenkins, Whitehall, Sr. (51-0)
Fall 0:38, over Joshua Cook, Ferndale, Sr. (52-1)

Jenkins had a dominant run through the tournament, pinning each of his opponents, including the final three in the opening minute.

“I just knew I had to go out there and do what I do,” Jenkins said. “I was just taking it one thing at a time, and I guess that’s what it ended up being.”

It was the second-straight individual title for Jenkins, who pinned through the 285-pound bracket in Division 3 a year ago.

“Being able to pin through the state tournament two years in a row, that’s pretty cool, I think,” Jenkins said.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Mumford’s Jamarcus Smith works toward a pin in his 103-pound championship match Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) St. Johns’ Jacob Brya maintains a hold on his way to winning at 140. (Click for more from

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

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.)