New Lothrop Ends Championship Wait

February 22, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

BATTLE CREEK – Taylor Krupp wasn’t worried as he watched New Lothrop teammates fall by two, three and five-point decisions during Saturday’s MHSAA Division 4 Team Wrestling Final at Kellogg Arena.

He was just waiting for his turn to shine.  

Similarly, his team had been waiting for Saturday's opportunity. The Hornets watched Hudson build on an MHSAA-record five-season championship streak over the last three years, but never got to take on the Tigers in a Final, having fallen in three straight Semifinals that all came down to their final matches. 

Finally Saturday, the Hornets and Krupp advanced to a championship face-off with the Tigers. And Krupp’s pin at 160 pounds keyed a comeback 33-22 win that gave New Lothrop is first MHSAA title since 2004.

“We always wanted to wrestle Hudson. The last five years they’ve been on top of the mountain, and it’s always been a goal,” Krupp said. “We wrestled Hesperia, wrestled Carson City … but we always wanted to wrestle Hudson. We finally got to wrestle, and we’re glad with how it turned out.” 

Hudson last season tied Davison’s record of five straight MHSAA team titles won from 2002-06 and entered Saturday afternoon with a third straight senior class that had never finished lower than first in Finals competition.

New Lothrop, meanwhile, carried a banner during Saturday’s pre-Finals “Grand March” that displayed the years of all 12 Hornets team titles – 11 on the left side and only 2004 on the right, looking almost like it was added there in anticipation of more soon to come.  

That date finally will have company.

Hudson built a 22-10 lead with only five matches left, but it was not enough to carry the Tigers through the Hornets' strongest weights. Senior Josh Wendling at 152 pounds started a run of five straight New Lothrop wins to finish the match.

New Lothrop’s closing run was not without some well-calculated strategy on the part of coach Jeff Campbell. He could’ve left undefeated Krupp wrestling at 171 like he had in the Semifinal and will next weekend at the Individual Finals, and gotten some sure wins – but didn’t feel that lineup would add up to enough points to overtake the Tigers.

Instead, he wrestled Krupp at 160, followed with sophomore Caleb Symons at 171 and then continued with 189-pounder Cody Symons. Krupp got the pin, Caleb Symons – with only about 25 matches to his credit this season – got a major decision to put the Hornets ahead, and Cody Symons followed with another pin to guarantee the championship.

“The job Caleb Symons has been doing in practice, we decided this was the way we wanted to go a couple weeks ago. He’s really earned the chance to go and gave us the confidence to do that,” Campbell said. “He’s kinda been our secret weapon.”

Total, New Lothrop won at eight weights. Freshman Connor Krupp (103), junior Dalton Birchmeier (125), sophomore Steven Garza II (135) and senior Owen Wilson (215) also added points into the Hornets’ team total.

But some losses also were wins. New Lothrop freshman Erik Birchmeier did fall to reigning MHSAA Individual Finals champion JD Waters by major decision – but avoided a pin. Senior Aaron Bauman fell to Hudson two-time individual champion Cole Weaver, but only 4-1. Sophomore Cole Hersch fell to 2013 individual runner-up Isaac Dusseau, but only 3-1.

“Hudson obviously is a great team, but if you wrestle your game, anything can happen. And that was a perfect example,” Krupp said. “Me, Cody, (we) didn’t win us the match. What won us the match were the guys who stayed off their backs and didn’t give up bonus points.”

Nine of the Division 4 Final’s matches pitted Individual Finals qualifiers. Three matches remained scoreless after the first round.

Seniors Weaver, Waters and Dusseau all wrestled in their fourth team championship matches for Hudson, all also part of the lineup during their freshman season of 2011. 

“I’m always proud of them, win, lose or draw. These boys have tasted victory; now they’ve tasted defeat,” Hudson coach Scott Marry said. “That builds character for later on. They’re going to have to pick themselves up and they’re going to have to act like classy young men now.

“You can’t always win. Now it’s the other side of the fence. It’s OK.”

Hudson, top-ranked entering the postseason and top seeded going into this weekend, finished 35-5 and will have 14 participants at next weekend’s Individual Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

New Lothrop, ranked No. 2 and the second seed, finished 31-1 with its only loss by five to Lowell – which beat St. Johns to win Division 2 on Saturday.

The Hornets have 13 Individual Finals qualifiers and have made the MHSAA Team Quarterfinals all 13 seasons under Campbell.

“Jeff Campbell is the classiest guy I’ve ever met,” Marry said. “If there’s anybody in the state who I would want to have the state title if it wasn’t my kids, I’d want it to be Jeff Campbell. I’m so happy for him and his program.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Taylor Krupp has his hand raised in victory after a pin in his 160-pound match during Saturday’s Division 4 Final. (Middle) Hudson coach Scott Marry (left) and New Lothrop coach Jeff Campbell shake hands after the Hornets' victory. (Click to see more at

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.)