No Slowing Embree On 2nd Title Run

March 4, 2017

By Jeff Chaney
Special for Second Half

AUBURN HILLS – Warren Lincoln senior Jelani Embree is an explosive and powerful force on the wrestling mat, showing off his superb athleticism.

He showed he is also very smart on the mat, too.

Wrestling an unorthodox style by his standards, Embree won his second straight MHSAA championship by beating Dexter's Will Feldkamp 7-2 in their 189-pound championship match at the Division 2 Individual Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday.

Feldkamp did a solid job of slowing down the pace and explosiveness of Embree, and that was just fine with him.

"I knew going in that he would have a gameplan for me," said Embree, who completed his senior season with a 36-0 record. "I didn't know what it was, but when he decided to go 189, I knew he was training to beat me.

"I didn't take a lot of shots in that match where I usually do. But he was getting me in a front headlock situation. He was trying to slow me down."

It didn't work.


Champion: Chayse LaJoie, Gaylord, Fr. (52-3)
Decision, 3-2, over Riley Bettich, Stevensville-Lakeshore, Fr. (38-2)

LaJoie would have rather controlled his own destiny, but he did say he controlled the match.

LaJoie was awarded the 103-pound title when a stalling penalty point was awarded to him late.

"I felt like I brought the pressure most of the match," LaJoie said. "The stalling calls, that is a weird way to win, but I feel like it was definitely deserved. He was backing up and making sure I couldn't get into my offense. But I thought it was a good match."


Champion: Corey Gamet, Parma Western, Soph. (50-0)
Decision, 4-3, over Chaise Mayer, Warren Woods Tower, Soph. (51-2)

After winning an MHSAA title last season, it may have been a given that the bulls eye would have been on Gamet's back.

But he used reverse psychology in his match with Mayer.

"He was probably a little nervous, because he was the guy that beat me last year," Gamet said. "I'm positive he was saying to himself I can beat this guy, because I did it last year. It actually helped motivate me."

The psychology worked, as Gamet beat Mayer 4-3 in a tightly contested battle.

"I just kept following him and working his head, and eventually he got tired and gave up that late (two points)," Gamet said.


Champion: Branson Proudlock, Gibraltar Carlson, Jr. (53-0)
Decision, 6-3, over Austin Franco, Niles, Jr. (22-3)

An emotional Proudlock had a hard time catching his breath and calming his emotions after winning his first championship.

A lifetime of work and dedication was part of the emotion spilled out of him after his victory.

"There is no better feeling in the world than this," Proudlock said. "I have been training my whole life for this. Last year I took second, and I have been working the entire year to do this. This is the best feeling in life."

His runner-up finish in 2016 helped motivate him.

"This has been on my mind the last year," Proudlock said. "I worked hard for this."


Champion: Dominic LaJoie, Gaylord, Sr. (52-0)
Decision, 16-12, over Corbyn Munson, Chelsea, Jr. (52-3)

LaJoie won his third championship with an impressive offense that put up 16 points. But a less thrilled LaJoie reflected on the match that saw him give up 12 points to Munson.

"I felt like I dominated most of the match, but I kind of went for something at the end and then fell into a tilt and I was kind of mad," LaJoie said. "I have been really looking forward to this, and it was good to end my career with a state championship."

LaJoie said his loss in last year's Final helped get him ready for his senior season.

"That was disappointing at first; I shut down for two weeks," LaJoie said. "But then after that I used it as a motivating factor. I learned a lot about myself, and I used that to drive myself."

LaJoie won his third just three matches after his little brother won his first.

"I wasn't watching him because I was focusing on my match," LaJoie said. "But it's going to be pretty fun tonight with two brothers winning state championships."


Champion: Drew Marten, Tecumseh, Sr. (55-1)
Fall, 1:49, over Chris Fausen, Charlotte, Jr. (40-2)

Returning champion Marten found himself in an unfamiliar place at the start of his 130-pound match.

He was down 4-1.

But like any good champion, he gathered himself and went right after his opponent for a first-period pin and second title.

"I just got back on my offense after being down, got my shot in and turned him, which is what I do best," Marten said. "I threw in the chicken wing, that works in high school, but it won't work in college, so I have to fix that.”


Champion: Austin Boone, Lowell, Fr. (40-3)
Decision, 6-3, over Joshua Edmond, Orchard Lake St. Mary's, Fr. (53-1)

It was a battle of talented freshmen in the 135-pound Final, in a weight class that usually is dominated by upperclassmen.

But the two ninth graders put on a decent show, won by Boone over the previously undefeated Edmond.

Boone, who is used to wrestling on a big stage with a full offseason national schedule, said he was calm throughout his match.

"I think I have wrestled him before this, and it was a great match," Boone said. "I have great coaching. They told me what I had to do, and I went out and did that. Keep it close, because he likes to tie up and go for the outside double leg. And he almost got me with it a couple of times."


Champion: Luke Raczkowski, Parma Western, Sr. (56-3)
Major decision, 22-9, over Trent Lashuay, St. Johns, Sr. (32-7)

Raczkowski was expecting a little tighter match.

But he definitely will take what he earned.

Raczkowski put on an offensive display, winning his first Finals championship.

"That was crazy," Raczkowski said. "I did not expect to put 22 points on the board; I thought I would put about six. But my gameplan going into it, stop his little roll, which I did and he didn't have anything else for me so I kept going."


Champion: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids, Jr. (48-3)
Decision, 3-2 (2 OT), over Alec Rees, Sparta, Soph. (48-1)

O'Hearon proved that wrestling to the last second of every period is very important in his 145-pound championship match.

At the end of regulation, O'Hearon forced a penalty point on a stalling call, and then came back and reversed Rees in the second ride-out overtime for the win and championship.

"I have to thank my coaches for pushing me so hard in practice," O'Hearon said. "Without them, I wouldn't have been able to do that. And I have to thank my mom and my family; they are the reason I do this."


Champion: Bret Fedewa, St. Johns, Sr. (53-0)
Decision, 7-4, over Dustin Gross, Dearborn Heights Annapolis, Jr. (56-1)

Somebody had to lose.

A pair of undefeated wrestlers went at it for the 152-pound title Saturday night, and Fedewa came out on top.

That title kept a St. Johns streak alive, as now it has been nine straight years that the Redwings have had a champion.

"I wanted to continue the tradition at St. Johns," Fedewa said. "We have to have a state champ every year, at least one. And I wanted to continue that and keep it going."


Champion: Lucas McFarland, DeWitt, Sr. (54-2)
Decision 6-5, over Dylan Terrence, Flint Kearsley, Sr. (44-2)

McFarland had no idea he had just won a championship.

"I thought I only got the (two near-fall count) and we were going to go into overtime," McFarland said.

But he was awarded a three near-fall count, capping a comeback that saw him down 5-0 but walk off the mat victorious, 6-5.

"I had no idea I won," McFarland said. "I just kept pushing the pace, and I knew that he couldn't hang in there."


Champion: Nino Bastianelli, Marysville, Sr. (53-4)
Decision, 5-2, over Kane Williams, Clio, Sr. (20-5)

It's been a solid postseason for the Marysville wrestling team.

The Vikings made it through the regular season undefeated, advanced all the way to the Team Semifinals, and then on Saturday saw a champion crowned as Bastianelli beat Clio's Williams 5-2.

"This feels awesome, I just wrestled as hard as I could for all six minutes," Bastianelli said. "I was just trying to up the match, and see whatever happens, happens, and just have fun with it."


Champion: Nick Humphrey, Monroe Jefferson, Sr. (51-2)
Decision 3-2, over Elijah Boulton, Lowell, Sr. (40-4)

Humphrey rushed off the mat and jumped into his father Mike Humphrey's arms after winning the 215-pound championship with a tough 3-2 win.

"I have been waiting for that leap in my dad's arms for 14 years," Humphrey said.

And thanks to a late takedown, he earned the opportunity.

"I knew he wasn't going to do anything flashy," Humphrey said. "He is a solid wrestler, but he does a lot on defense and that made it hard to work my shot in that I was getting in my earlier matches. I got one, though, and that was enough."


Champion: Chase Beard, Allegan, Sr. (48-3)
Decision, 2-1, over Patrick DePiazza, Cedar Springs, Sr. (47-1)

Beard he knew he had to do something different.

Two weeks ago at Regionals, he lost a tight decision to DePiazza. And Saturday night, those two found themselves wresting for a heavyweight championship.

This time Beard got the best thanks to a stalling penalty point awarded to him late.

"I had to push the pace, because I didn't do it last time," Beard said. "At Regionals I stood up the whole match, didn't move. I knew I had to move this match, and I had to move him, because he wasn't doing anything on his feet. I knew he wasn't going to do anything, so I had to push him around."

Click for full brackets.

PHOTO: Warren Lincoln’s Jelani Embree (right) takes on Dexter's Will Feldkamp in a Division 2 Final at 189 pounds. (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.)