Preview: Champs Chasing More, 1st-Time Qualifiers Highlight Team Finals Field

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

February 24, 2023

On one side of this weekend’s MHSAA Team Wrestling Finals at Kalamazoo’s Wings Event Center, we have three reigning repeat champions and some awesome title-winning streaks – Lowell has claimed nine straight in Division 2, Dundee has won the last five in Division 3, and Davison in Division 1 is seeking its third in a row.

On another side, we welcome an impressive three first-time Finals qualifiers – Warren De La Salle Collegiate in Division 1, Plainwell in Division 2 and Benzie Central in Division 4.

And in the middle, 26 more teams are set to compete across four divisions – include 14 more seeking to finish the season with an unforgettable victory for the first time.

Competition begins Friday at noon with the first of four sets of Quarterfinals. Semifinals are Saturday morning and early afternoon, with championship matches on four adjacent mats at 3:45 p.m. Brackets for all four divisions, links to buy tickets and watch online can be found here. Click here to check out the program, and see below for glances at all 32 hopefuls.

Division 1

 25-2, No. 1
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Mitch Hancock, 15th season (351-55)
Championship history: Fifteen MHSAA championships (most recent 2020), four runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Nathan Walkowiak (42-8) soph., 106 Wyatt Lees (35-10) fr., 113 Simon Dominguez (37-8) jr., 120 Michael Cannon (29-16) jr., 132 Drew Heethuis (46-1) sr., 138 Mason Stewart (41-5) jr., 144 Clayton Jones (42-3) sr., 150 Dylan Gilcher (25-0) sr., 157 Darius Marines (29-3) jr., 165 Tatum Bunn (34-11) sr., 165 Cameron Adams (29-3) sr., 175 Steven Shellenberger (35-8) sr., 190 Lee Krueger (30-15) soph., 215 Conner Bercume (42-4) soph.
Outlook: After two straight runner-up finishes and six straight championship match appearances, DCC is the top seed and expected to return and win. It’s not difficult to see why. Gilcher is a three-time Individual Finals champion, and Marines and Heethuis will be seeking their third titles next weekend. Jones also was an individual champion last season and Bunn was runner-up to Marines at 152 pounds. Ten of 14 expected starters this weekend are upperclassmen, but all 27 wrestlers on the roster have at least 12 wins this season.

 25-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West and overall
Coach: Kyle Summerfield, second year (55-3)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2016, five runner-up finishes
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 113 Bohdan Abbey (37-3) fr., 120 Dallas Korponic (35-8) fr., 132 Easton Culver (29-5) soph., 150 Gabe Cappellano (36-4) sr., 157 Vinnie Abbey (42-1) jr., 165 Nick Rochowiak (31-3) sr., 165 James Butzier (30-5) jr., 175 Brayden Bobo (37-2) sr., 215 Jacob Pretzel (26-3) jr., 285 Vincent Cox (34-7) sr.

Outlook: After entering last season’s Finals 28-1 and seeded third, the Eagles are one seed higher with just a single loss again – to DCC in early December. Vinnie Abbey, Cappellano, Rochowiak and Bobo all were Individual Finals placers last season. Three freshmen are among eight wrestlers total with more than 30 wins this winter.  

 30-2, No. 7
League finish: Brian Richardson, 14th season (309-124)
Coach: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2009), three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 120 Braylenn Aulbach (39-8) soph., 126 James Diel (39-8) jr., 132 Liam Fitzpatrick (34-11) fr., 132 Elijah Bunn (45-2) jr., 144 Jak Keller (44-2) sr., 157 Bryce Gordon (36-15) sr., 165 Louis Bosscher (30-15) jr., 190 Ryan Ahern (44-2) jr., 155-G Hailee Budrick (11-7) jr.
Outlook: Rockford is riding five-year league and seven-year District title streaks, and returning to the Finals for the fourth time in five seasons. The Rams ran into league foes Hudsonville and No. 9 Grandville at the Regional and defeated both by four points to advance. Bunn was the runner-up at 130 pounds last season, while Keller and Ahern placed third at their respective 2022 weights.

 11-4, No. 3
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Zac Hall, third season (39-8)
Championship history: Ten MHSAA championships (most recent 2022), six runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 120 Calvin Martz (21-12) fr., 126 Caden Horwath (17-1) sr., 132 Jacob Garris (20-14) fr., 138 Kyle Jelinek (19-10) soph., 138 Justin Gates (29-2) jr., 144 Evan Herriman (27-4) sr., 165 Max Callahan (15-4) sr., 175 Josh Barr (28-0) sr.
Outlook: Davison has won the last two Division 1 championships and probably boasts as much star power as any fourth seed in Finals history. Horwath and Barr will wrestle next weekend to join the four-time champions club. Gates won a championship as a freshman and was runner-up at his weight as a sophomore, while Herriman has been a Finals runner-up the last two seasons, senior Remy Cotton (10-1) is the reigning champion at 189 and Callahan and Jelinek also are returning placers. The anticipated starting lineup also has just five seniors, so the Cardinals will gain valuable experience wherever they finish.

 32-6, No. 6
League finish: Second in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Jim Cali, 31st season (703-312-7)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Bryce Holt (41-8) fr., 113 Owen Perry (22-18) fr., 126 Owen Youngblood (37-11) jr., 132 Alex Angelo (40-7) sr., 138 Marcus Donovan (25-11) sr., 144 Jack Zehnder (26-4) jr., 150 Joshua McMillan (28-5) sr., 157 Nathan Miller (29-18) sr., 157 James Rivers (35-9) sr., 165 Tyler Pressel (36-15) sr., 190 Brayden Mirjavadi (47-3) sr., 190 Ian Antonelli (24-20) sr., 285 Iban Contreras (38-7) sr.
Outlook: Romeo is returning to the Finals for the first time since 2011, having defeated No. 4 Macomb Dakota along the way and bringing 13 individual qualifiers who helped the program take that next big step after winning District titles the last two seasons as well. Nine seniors set the pace; Mirjavadi was a the runner-up at 160 last season, and Rivers placed at 152.

 21-6, unranked
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Coach: Stan Granger, second season (42-9)
Championship history: Four MHSAA championships (most recent 2008), two runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Sawyer Hosford (34-12) sr., 113 Ryan Mosher (39-1) sr., 120 Mariano Lopez (35-4) sr., 138 Ayden Mosher (32-17) soph., 175 Ty Hafke (37-7) sr., 190 Jackson Bremer (40-7) sr., 285 Connor Crepeau (35-10) sr.
Outlook: The Rams have won District championships an astounding 36 straight seasons and reached the Finals both seasons under Granger. Lopez was runner-up and Ryan Mosher fifth at 112 last season, and they are among nine seniors who start and seven who will finish next weekend at Ford Field. 

 31-6, No. 8
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference
Coach: Kevin Vogel, 12th season (286-65)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA championships (most recent 2001), seven runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Tristan King (40-13) fr., 126 Nathan Gerber (38-14) sr., 132 Brock Jandasek (34-3) sr., 138 Noah Benore (41-13) soph., 144 Caleb Jagielski (19-3) sr., 190 Robbie Gossard (35-19) sr., 215 Conner Green (43-11) jr.
Outlook: The Kicking Mules are back at the Finals for the second-straight season and third in four years with eight seniors bolstering the lineup that has 12 starters with at least 30 wins and five topping 40. Jandasek was an individual placer last season, finishing seventh at 119.

 31-5, unranked
League finish: Second in Detroit Catholic League Central
Co-coaches: David Prince & Brendan Hazelton, third seasons (58-30)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 113 Max Krug (35-9) soph., 150 Joseph Montilla (31-4) jr., 150 Nathan O`Donnell (43-8) sr., 165 Mason Collins (37-13) sr., 190 Vincent Lertola (40-9) sr., 215 Casey Beleshi (22-9) sr., 285 Gjon Nikollaj (33-6) sr.
Outlook: De La Salle will be making its first appearance at an MHSAA Team Finals, continuing an impressive rise from 11 wins two seasons ago to 16 last season and nearly double that this winter. A string of seniors, including five Individual Finals qualifiers, anchors the middle and heavier weights – with Michael Motowski I27-6) and Cody Beleshi (33-5) also bolstering that part of the lineup.

Division 2

 12-3, No. 1
League finish: First in O-K White
Coach: R.J. Boudro, 10th season (174-27)
Championship history: Twelve MHSAA championships (most recent 2022), six runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Mason Saylor (21-3) fr., 106 Jarrett Smith (28-8) fr., 113 Carter Cichocki (26-8) soph., 120 Logan Dawson (31-8) fr., 120 Jackson Blum (33-3) soph., 132 Trevor Boone (25-11) fr., 138 Owen Segorski (24-6) soph., 144 CJ Poole (25-8) sr., 150 Landon Miller (23-12) sr., 150 Maddox Simcoe (28-5) sr., 157 Tacho Gonzales (21-7) jr., 175 Carson Crace (28-4) sr., 285 Juan Acosta (26-8) soph.
Outlook: Lowell can stretch its record championship streak to a complete decade this weekend and has won the last three title matches all by at least 30 points. Blum and Segorski won individual championships last season as freshmen, and Cichocki was runner-up at his weight as a freshmen as well. Crace, Miller, junior Jared Boone (18-9) and sophomore Landon Musgrave (6-2) also were Finals placers, and Crace was an individual runner-up in 2021 as well.

 30-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Flint Metro League
Coach: Kenneth Sirignano, 13th season (record N/A).
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2009), five runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Dylen Angelo (32-8) jr., 132 Brody Orcutt (34-3) jr., 157 John Golec (25-8) fr., 165 Max Macklem (28-3) soph., 175 Brady Benson (35-2) sr., 190 Easton Phipps (35-3) jr., 285 James Mahon (7-0) soph., 140-G Ryen Allen (3-2) jr.
Outlook: Goodrich has reached the championship match the last two seasons and finished Division 2 runner-up three of the last four, last winter as the third seed. Ten of this weekend’s anticipated starters are upperclassmen, led by Phipps who finished third at 160 last season. Although not slated as starters this time, sophomores Jaden Davis and James Mahon were both Finals placers as well this season, and Allen was the runner-up in the girls 125 bracket.

 21-1, No. 5
League finish: First in Wolverine Conference
Coach: Rodd Leonard, seventh season (121-52)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 126 Austin Gyorkos (41-9) fr., 138 Steele Madison (30-19) sr., 165 Trammel Robinson (46-1) sr., 285 Adin Young (37-10) soph., 100-G Madison Nieuwenhuis (30-7) fr., 110-G Avery Lynch (20-7) fr.
Outlook: Plainwell also is making its first trip to the Finals, and as a third seed, after edging No. 4 Allendale 32-30 in the Regional Final. The Trojans are coming off their second-straight league title and third District championship in four seasons as they’ve built toward this moment. Half the lineup is seniors, including at five straight middle and heavier weights and with all five of those wrestlers topping 30 wins this winter.

 22-5, unranked
League finish: First in Big North Conference
Coach: Jerry LaJoie, 29th season (800-137-2)
Championship history: Division 2 runner-up 2020 and 2018.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Jaron Bensinger (42-9) fr., 144 Louden Stradling (45-0) sr., 157 Zane Willobee (31-9) fr., 175 Brayden Gautreau (46-1) sr., 190 Ty Bensinger (34-2) jr., 215 Riley Hush (19-1) jr., 285 Caiden Sides (36-8) soph., 110-G Sunni LaFond (27-13) soph.
Outlook: The Blue Devils are up to six Semifinals appearances over the last eight seasons and enter this weekend coming off a 37-36 win over No. 6 Bay City John Glenn in a Regional Final. Stradling is the reigning individual champion at 130 and Gautreau is the reigning champion at 171, and LaFond was the runner-up last season in the girls 105 division and starts at 113 during team competition. Bensinger also is a returning Finals placer, as is senior Gus James (37-14).

 26-6, unranked
League finish: Second in CAAC Red
Coach: Dan Coon, 26th season (427-274-2)
Championship history: Class B champion 1994.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 126 Dalton Daniel (41-6) sr., 126 Levi Baker (32-14) soph., 150 Ben Blyveis (42-2) jr., 175 Layne O’Neil (37-16) fr., 190 Richard Davis (37-15) jr., 125-G Margaret Buurma (26-7) soph., 130-G Hannah Blyveis (21-3) soph.
Outlook: Coon is 14 seasons into his second tenure as coach and has the Gladiators back to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1998. The Gladiators finished second to No. 3 Mason in the CAAC Red, but emerged with a 36-35 Regional Final win over No. 9 Jackson Northwest. Baker placed fifth at 112 last season, and Buurma is the reigning champion at girls 115.

 20-5, unranked
League finish: First in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference
Coach: Ryan Quinn, first season (20-5)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1994 and 1986.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Brady Baker (44-2) soph., 120 Vernon Riggins (32-13) soph., 132 Aaron Lucio (45-1) sr., 157 Andrew Byerle (36-15) jr.
Outlook: Quinn, who formerly coached three seasons at Oak Hills in Cincinnati, took over this winter for Michigan’s all-time winningest coach Bruce Bittenbender and has Lakeshore back at Finals weekend for the first time since 2020. Lucio is one of the state’s best and the reigning champion at 135 after finishing runner-up at 125 as a sophomore. Riggins also was an individual placer last season.

 18-1, unranked
League finish: First in Huron League
Coach: Ryan Nadeau, first season (18-1)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Daniel Allen (28-14) soph., 126 Ryder Mulherin (38-12) soph., 138 John Allen (46-1) sr., 144 Carter Simota (39-7) jr., 165 Martre Pearson (35-9) jr., 175 Anthony Cousino (34-12) jr., 190 Seth Minney (44-2) sr., 215 Nathan Masserant (43-5) sr., 120-G Morgan Simota (9-4) fr.
Outlook: Nadeau was a two-time Finals qualifier at Jefferson during the mid-1990s and coached in the program for two decades in advance of taking over this season. He has the Bears at Finals weekend for the third year in a row, and they were ranked for most of it with a starting lineup that will graduate only three (plus the top sub) – and with nine junior starters gaining more valuable experience.  

 17-7, unranked
League finish: Fourth in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Scott Kolesky, fourth season (58-32)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Richie Davis (32-6) fr., 106 Joe Hakim (30-19) soph., 126 Ricardo Saenz (42-5) soph., 132 Deacon MacNeill (38-9) fr., 157 Brennan Parent (36-15) sr.

Outlook: After reaching the Finals last season for the first time since 1988, Brother Rice is making a return trip to Kalamazoo as one of three teams competing this weekend from the Catholic League Central. A young team last time is a little older with six senior starters and Saenz coming off a fifth place at 119 last year as a freshman.

Division 3

 16-2, No. 1
League finish: First in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Co-coaches: Garrett Stevens & Nate Hall, first season (16-2)
Championship history: Fourteen MHSAA championships (most recent 2022), eight runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Mason Haines (24-7) fr., 106 Haydn Nutt (33-6) fr., 113 Braden Broderick (29-9) fr., 120 Kade Kluce (35-5) jr., 126 Cameron Chinavare (31-2) jr., 132 Braeden Davis (34-0) sr., 132 Donny Beaufait (21-9) fr., 138 Rocco Redmon (24-4) fr., 138 Kaden Chinavare (34-6) sr., 144 Trey Parker (36-7) jr., 144 Blake Cosby (37-6) fr., 150 Kole Katschor (36-9) soph., 157 Aiden Davis (37-2) sr., 165 Jacob Fenbert (32-11) sr.
Outlook: Stevens and Hall took over this season after previously assisting longtime coach Tim Roberts, and Stevens also wrestled at Dundee while Hall wrestled at Blissfield. The Vikings can boast wins over Lowell and Hudson this season and a lineup that includes reigning individual champions Kluce (112), Braeden Davis (119), Cameron Chinavare (125) and Aiden Davis (145). Braeden Davis actually will wrestle next weekend for his fourth individual championship, while Kluce and Aiden Davis will be wrestling for a third. Kaden Chinavare and Fenbert also were Finals placers last winter.

 37-1, No. 3
League finish: First in Blue Water Area Conference
Coach: Brian Ranger, 12th season (250-98)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 113 Chris Campbell (48-4) soph., 120 Lucky Gartin (46-6) soph., 126 Steven Shannon (43-10) soph., 132 Alex Bright (45-10) soph., 138 David Clemons (48-4) jr., 165 Mark Romanowski (32-20) jr., 175 Josh Kasner (45-0) jr., 190 Reid Hiltunen (40-2) jr., 285 Andrew Ferrara (21-15) fr., 285 Derik Maciag (15-7) sr., 110-G Sky Langewicz (40-5) soph.
Outlook: Ranger, a four-time Finals qualifier and two-time placer at Richmond from 1999-2002, has led Algonac to incredible heights this winter including its first league and Regional championships as the Muskrats finished just ahead of the No. 5 Blue Devils to claim both – defeating Richmond 34-31 in the Regional Final. Campbell, Clemons and Kasner were Finals placers last season, and Langewicz is the reigning champion at girls 105 and starts at 106 for team competition.  

 30-3, No. 4
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference Lakes
Co-coaches: Justin Zeerip & Collin Zeerip, fifth seasons (131-11)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2021, Class C runner-up 1984. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 150 Darnell Mack (44-6) jr., 165 Ryan Goodrich (37-8) soph., 175 Wyatt Jenkins (46-5) soph., 215 Jackson Cook (42-2) sr., 285 Shane Cook (53-0) sr.
Outlook: Whitehall is back in Division 3 after reaching the Division 2 Semifinals last season and has reached Finals weekend four of five seasons under the Zeerips. They have a lineup built to continue their successful string as the Cooks are the only seniors anticipated to start this weekend. Shane Cook finished third at 215 last winter and is a combined 103-3 over the last two.

 19-4, No. 2
League finish: Tied for second in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Casey Randolph, 10th season (266-56)
Championship history: Two MHSAA championships (most recent 2021), one runner-up finish.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 113 Braylon Long (35-7) soph., 120 Connor Busz (39-2) sr., 126 Connor Younts (40-3) jr., 138 Maurice Ames (36-8) jr., 150 Ethan Younts (28-12) sr., 165 Bryce Randolph (39-5) fr., 130-G Faith Blackburn (7-3) jr., 135-G Raven Aldridge (22-8) soph.
Outlook: Clinton is making its seventh-straight trip to Finals weekend, last year having reached the Semifinals and fallen just four points shy of making the championship match. Busz was a Division 3 runner-up last season and Division 4 runner-up in 2021, while Younts won a Division 4 title two years ago and placed in Division 3 last winter along with Long. Blackburn was the girls 135 runner-up last year, while Aldridge and senior Leanne Mercier (15-6) also placed in girls brackets. Clinton will graduate only three starters and has four freshmen in the anticipated weekend lineup.

 26-3, No. 8
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference
Coach: Dale Davidhizar III, ninth season (163-73)
Championship history: 1993 Class C-D champion, 2002 Division 3 runner-up. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 126 Bear Geibe (41-3) fr., 144 Brody Jones (45-8) soph., 190 Troy Demas (44-1) sr., 215 Bennett VandenBerg (48-1) jr., 285 Gregg Reed (41-6) jr.
Outlook: Constantine is making its third-straight trip to Finals weekend, with a 32-28 District win over No. 6 Three Rivers along the way. The Falcons have moved up three seeds from 2022, and a young lineup last year still has only three starters who will graduate. VandenBerg and Demas are returning Finals placers and among six 40-match winners.

 17-2, unranked
League finish: Does not compete in a league.
Coach: Jeff Brazeau, fourth season (61-14)
Championship history: Upper Peninsula Finals champion 1987, two UP Finals runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 113 Eli Terrien (32-8) sr., 113 Drew Hansen (38-1) jr., 144 Austin Solis (41-4) jr., 190 Cole Potier (35-4) sr.
Outlook: Gladstone repeated as Upper Peninsula Championships winner earlier this season and has moved up a seed from last year in making its return to Kalamazoo – and with a lineup with just three senior starters and eight underclassmen gaining valuable experience. Hanson finished third at 112 last winter.

 27-4, No. 9
League finish: First in CAAC White
Coach: Andy Pulling, fourth season (83-21)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 126 Ethan Webert (27-5) sr., 132 Drew Miller (46-6) sr., 144 Isaiah Pelc (26-2) sr., 157 John Dodson (43-12) sr., 190 Branson Goodman (37-10) sr.
Outlook: Portland is making its first trip to Finals weekend since 2010, led by past Raiders three-time Individual Finals qualifier Pulling. He brings a lineup with eight senior starters including all five of his individual qualifiers. The Raiders defeated No. 10 Freeland in a Regional Semifinal along the way. Pelc recently was named one of 32 statewide MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Award winners.

 31-5, unranked
League finish: First in West Michigan Conference Rivers
Coach: Elijah Flores, first season (31-5)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 120 Halen Boos (34-20) fr., 132 Trayce Tate (26-3) sr., 144 Josue Salgado Velazquez (37-11) jr., 150 Guillermo Ortega (33-9) sr., 157 Alex Hicks (43-8) soph., 175 Zane Thomas (39-8) sr.
Outlook: Hart has run its Finals streak to four straight seasons with this first trip under 2013 graduate Flores. Eight of his wrestlers have topped 30 wins, and Tate was a Finals placer as a sophomore.

Division 4

 25-3, No. 1
League finish: Tied for second in Lenawee County Athletic Association
Coach: Scott Marry, 35th season (887-201)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA championships (most recent 2022), four runner-up finishes. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Nicholas Sorrow (43-1) fr., 113 Colt Perry (32-7) fr., 120 Julien Kimling (21-13) soph., 132 Beckett McCaskey (24-9) soph., 132 Cole Marry (42-6) jr., 138 Austin Marry (39-9) jr., 144 Coy Perry (33-8) jr., 150 Aden Barrett (36-12) sr., 150 Jacob Pickford (23-15) soph., 165 Calix Campbell (39-7) sr., 165 Logan Ryan (34-14) jr., 190 Logan Sallows (36-10) sr.
Outlook: Hudson reclaimed the Division 4 title last season and is seeking its fifth in seven seasons under Marry, the second-winningest wrestling coach in MHSAA history and winningest among those still active. Austin Marry was the runner-up at 125 last year, while Sallows, Cole Marry, Barrett, Campbell and senior Kannon Marry (9-2) all were placers. Perry finished seventh at 135 pounds in Division 3 for Clinton.

 23-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference West
Coach: Kevin Kuhn, 17th season (231-106)
Championship history: Class C-D runner-up 1995.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Colin Kuhn (41-5) soph., 106 Owen Fogel (20-5) fr., 113 Alex Rodriguez (40-6) fr., 120 Genaro Soto (29-13) soph., 126 Laythan Haworth (32-13) fr., 138 Martine Wiggins (22-4) soph., 190 Justice Onstott (40-7) sr., 285 Ramon Anguiano (34-14) jr., 100-G Olesya Mullins (21-4) fr.
Outlook: The Sharks are making their second-straight Finals trip to go with eight straight District championships and league titles 10 of the last 11 seasons. They are up to the second seed after entering as the fourth seed last February and reaching the Semifinals. Colin Kuhn, Wiggins, Onstott and senior Dylan Marr (8-5) all were Finals placers last season.

 37-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Big 8 Conference
Coach: Chad Butters, 10th season (265-61)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2003 and 2002. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 113 Aiden Fill (18-4) jr., 120 Owen Kimmons (35-13) soph., 126 Perry Lake (42-5) sr., 126 Logan Long (33-17) jr., 138 Layne Knisely (42-8) fr., 144 Gabriel Erwin (35-12) fr., 150 Drew Seekman (35-11) sr., 157 Mason Lindsey (25-12) soph., 157 Carson Norton (43-7) jr., 175 Jacob Britten (45-5) jr., 190 Jacob Dixon (42-7) sr., 215 Matthew Blankenship (41-9) sr., 140-G Mackenna Webster (19-1) fr.
Outlook: Bronson is the third seed for the second-straight season after a run that’s included a 39-30 District Final victory over No. 7 Union City. The Vikings just missed their first Final in nearly two decades last year, falling to eventual runner-up New Lothrop 31-30 in a Semifinal. Dixon and Fill were Finals placers last season and lead a large contingent of qualifiers as Bronson is sending more than twice as many to Individual Finals as a year ago.  

 17-0, No. 2
League finish: First in Mid-Michigan Activities Conference
Coach: Jeff Campbell, 22nd season (544-98)
Championship history: Fifteen MHSAA championships (most recent 2016), eight runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Blake Wendling (28-11) soph., 120 Daven Lockwood (26-6) sr., 132 Dalton Birchmeier (29-12) soph., 138 Caleb Sharp (28-11) sr., 144 Parker Noonan (31-11) sr., 175 Colton Symons (34-8) jr., 190 Joseph Torres (21-9) sr., 285 Grayson Orr (34-2) sr.
Outlook: New Lothrop has finished runner-up the last two seasons and four of the last six. The Hornets have given up only 28 points over four postseason matches this time, shutting out both District opponents. Birchmeier and Orr were Individual Finals runners-up last season at 130 and 215, respectively, and Lockwood also was a placer.

 28-3, No. 5
League finish: Second in Southwestern Athletic Conference
Co-coaches: Logan Curry, first season; Jason Wade, 19th season
Championship history: Martin was Class D champion 1998, with three runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Logan Gilbert, Martin (42-4) soph., 113 Kristian Heighton (33-15) jr., 120 Jayce Ritchie (40-9) soph., 132 Haylen Buell (46-4) fr., 150 Jack Bagwell (40-12) soph., 175 JR Hildebrand (31-2) sr.
Outlook: Martin was last a Finals runner-up in 2004, and its cooperative with Climax-Scotts was formed in 2015. The team defeated No. 8 Lawton 42-23 in a Regional Semifinal and then edged Decatur 32-27 to advance. Gilbert is the reigning champion at 103, and Hildebrand – who quarterbacked Martin’s 8-player Division 1 football champion in the fall – placed fourth at 171 last season.

 23-6, No. 9
League finish: First in Cascades Conference
Coach: Steve Vlcek, 33rd season (700-228)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Onyx Ostum (39-11) soph., 113 Chase Conklin (26-20) fr., 113 Sammy Stewart (14-1) fr., 132 Mason Schmitt (35-9) sr., 138 Blake Sloan (48-3) fr., 157 Gunner Carson (41-14) soph., 175 Ben Gautz (34-18) sr., 215 Nathan Fletcher (33-20) soph., 285 Dylan Gauss (26-15) soph.
Outlook: Manchester is back at the Finals for the first time since 2020, an especially impressive effort with a starting lineup with just three seniors but eight sophomores and three freshmen. The Flying Dutchmen are sending two seniors and seven underclassmen to Ford Field next weekend.

 25-3, No. 10
League finish: Second in Northwest Conference
Coach: Josh Lovendusky, 10th season (134-133)
Championship history: Has never advanced to an MHSAA Final. 
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 106 Dayne Gillison (28-14) fr., 113 Benjamin DeRidder (29-15) soph., 132 Landen Pangborn (44-7) sr., 138 Jacob Gillison (39-9) jr., 144 Owen Cruden (38-14) jr., 150 Dalton Geetings (36-14) jr., 165 Cael Katt (37-13) sr., 175 Michael Pfeiffer (36-16) jr., 190 Lane Sanchez (33-16) fr., 215 Liam Jones (28-12) sr., 125-G Cambrie Lawrence (24-8) jr.
Outlook: Benzie is a third first-time Finals qualifier, as the team has produced its winningest season under alum Lovendusky and third District title over the last five years. The good news should continue with 11 qualifiers heading to Ford Field and only three seniors in this weekend’s anticipated starting lineup.

 9-5, unranked
League finish: First in Mid-Peninsula Conference
Coach: Cory McLaren, sixth season (75-48)
Championship history: Five Upper Peninsula Finals championships, three UP Finals runner-up finishes.
Individual Finals qualifiers:
 113 Alexander Wilson (30-9) jr., 126 Tyler Winch (26-9) jr., 126 Shawn McGuire (35-1) sr., 132 Daniel Manier (19-6) soph., 150 Evan Haferkorn (34-0) sr., 165 Fulton Stroud (32-6) jr., 105-G Shayna Hruska (24-8) jr.

Outlook: After reaching the Finals last year for the first time since 2011, Iron Mountain is headed back for the second-straight season and with some star power despite only 12 athletes on the roster. McGuire is the reigning individual champion at 119 after defeating teammate Winch in last year’s title match, and Haferkorn, Stroud and Wilson also were Finals placers in 2022. Hruska, who starts at 106, was the first female title winner at the annual Upper Peninsula Championships in January.

PHOTO Temperance Bedford’s Brock Jandasek wrestles Westland John Glenn’s Kyle Wilson in a Division 1 Individual District championship match Feb. 11. (Photo by Douglas Bargerstock.)

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.)