Past Shepherd Standout Moeggenberg Directs Wrestling's Return to Glen Lake

By Tom Spencer
Special for

February 2, 2024

Showing support for school athletic programs is nothing new for the Glen Lake community.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAnd the Lakers faithful have welcomed back another team this winter that’s earning those cheers for the first time in more than 20 years.

That’s because wrestling hasn’t been offered at Maple City Glen Lake High School since 2001. But it’s back now, and quickly gaining momentum at a school known in part for its longstanding athletic success.

Nobody understands all of this more than Liz Moeggenberg, perhaps the most decorated athlete in the school’s history. As Liz Shimek and a graduate of the class of 2002, she was the winner of the statewide Miss Basketball Award. Her senior year also was the last that Glen Lake offered wrestling before the program returned this winter.

She went on to Michigan State University where she was a two-time All-America selection.  She led the Spartans to the 2005 NCAA championship game, and later played in the WNBA. At MSU, she met her future husband Luke, a wrestler for the Spartans. The Moeggenbergs returned to the Glen Lake area after college and Liz’s professional and international basketball career.

Today the Moeggenbergs have five children — three of whom are competitive wrestlers. And Luke is the Lakers' head wrestling coach. 

Liz, who served as the Lakers assistant basketball coach for years leading up to last season’s Division 4 championship run, was in an unfamiliar place Jan. 24 when Glen Lake hosted its first wrestling match in decades – the bleachers. The long-awaited moment featured Frankfort, Mancelona and Grayling in a quad meet.

“The community support has been pretty phenomenal,” Liz said. “It was amazing to see all the people that came out to that first home meet, and it was pretty cool to see that energy in the gym.”

Luke Moeggenberg wrestled in high school for Shepherd and was the Division 3 runner-up at 140 pounds in 2001 before going on to compete at MSU. He started the Glen Lake youth program a few years back and had dreams and hopes of starting a varsity program.

Originally the Moeggenbergs joined the Benzie County youth program. They wrestled there until they had enough wrestlers to start one for Glen Lake. The Lakers launched both a middle school and varsity program this winter.

Glen Lake coach Luke Moeggenberg instructs one of his wrestlers on the mat.For years, the young Moeggenberg wrestlers – Lamdin, 12, Fletcher, 10 and Cade, 8 – traveled for practices and competitions with their father, who recalls some very special times. The car rides regularly included discussions on how the boys and their youth teammates might impact the future of Glen Lake high school sports.

“The question would come up from my three boys, ‘When are we going to get wrestling at Glen Lake?’” the coach recalled. “I said actually, if we were ever to get wresting at Glen Lake, it would be because of you guys and all the three boys … they just got quiet.”

Coach Moeggenberg noted it may be years before the boys fully comprehend what they helped start.

“It got pretty emotional when wrestling got voted in by the school board,” he said. “I still don’t think the boys realize what they’ve done.”

The interest shown in wrestling by their oldest son, Lamdin, now a sixth grader on the middle school team, sparked the effort to bring wrestling back to the school’s athletic offerings. Also helping provide momentum was Josh Bullard, who comes from a long line of outstanding Bullard wrestlers in Shepherd’s history. He’s been a big help to Moeggenberg since getting his two sons involved way back in the Benzie travel days. Greg Ford and Kaleb Foss serve as youth coaches, and Moeggenberg has built a varsity staff including assistants Ethan Smith, Jaime Smith and Lance Bies. Ethan Smith is the middle school coach as well.

“I made it pretty clear if we’re going to get a program going I need everybody’s support and everybody to buy in and give it a chance,” Moeggenberg said.  

Administrative changes played a big role in Glen Lake bringing back wrestling, Moeggenberg noted.  Of particular significance was Jaimie Smith coming aboard as the Lakers’ athletic director. Smith, who now serves as the high school principal, was Frankfort’s wrestling coach previously. Her husband Ethan was previously an assistant coach at Frankfort and Traverse City Central.

The Smiths’ adopted daughter Emily Alaimo is one of 13 student-athletes on the roster. Alaimo, a junior, entered the season as the only Glen Laked competitor with high school wrestling experience. She was a part of the Frankfort program when her parents coached, and then on last year’s Glen Lake championship basketball team.

“Emily is the only one who’s had experience competing at all,” Moeggenberg said. “She has really been our most successful wrestler.”

Glen Lake’s Emily Alaimo takes on her Mancelona opponent.The Lakers will compete this weekend in the Highland/Mid Michigan Conference Tournament against Evart, Lake City, Manton, Mancelona, Roscommon, LeRoy Pine River, Kingsley, Benzie Central, McBain, Frankfort and Houghton Lake. They’ll be led by freshman Abraham Feeney (132 pounds) and sophomore Caden Sheehan (138). Feeney is leading the team in wins, and Sheehan joined the Lakers after the holiday break. They are practice partners.

“Those kids go 100 percent every day in practice, and it shows when they get into competition,” Moeggenberg pointed out. “They figured out amongst themselves what it takes to be successful already.”

Conference titles and postseason accomplishments are not yet on the Lakers’ radar. They are taking one day at a time, learning how to compete on the mat safely.

“My focus has been really trying to get our team into a position where they are safe to compete,” the first-year coach said. “When you’re talking three months of wrestling experience to this point and you are competing against kids that have maybe been wrestling 12 years, our focus has been getting our kids to compete with a little bit of confidence and in a safe manner.”

Glen Lake has a rich history of success – including MHSAA Finals titles – in sports like football, basketball, soccer, softball and track. The gym is full of banners recognizing those accomplishments.

There also is a banner recognizing Lakers with individual state wrestling titles – and Coach Moeggenberg is expecting the other sports’ successes to bode well for the restarted wrestling program.  

“I think all the past successes and the current successes of our sports programs reflect heavy community support of student-athletes,” he said. “That basically makes the coach’s job easier.

“Having the support of the community and the support of the administration, ultimately it allows you to focus on what’s important – teaching student-athletes,” he continued. “It is helping us to create a good foundation for a successful program in the future.”

The measurement for success right now is simply experience and daily individual improvement.

“The kids know what this does for the community and what it has done for our family,” Moeggenberg said. “I don’t want our kids to have their mindset to be on wins and losses and conference titles and District championships.  

“I want their mindset to be on progress every match,” he continued. “As we get more experience and have some of our middle school kids who are products of our youth program with some more mat time, it will start to evolve into more of a competitive-based goal.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Glen Lake's Max Galla and his Mancelona opponent lock up Jan. 24 during the Lakers' first home meet in more than two decades. (Middle) Glen Lake coach Luke Moeggenberg instructs one of his wrestlers on the mat. (Below) Glen Lake’s Emily Alaimo takes on her Mancelona opponent. (Photos by Trudy Galla Photography.)

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.)