Rematch of Champs Brings Classic Conclusion to D1 Finals

By Drew Ellis
Special for

March 5, 2022

DETROIT – It was fitting that Josh Barr versus Manuel Rojas was the last bout of the night at Saturday’s Division 1 Individual Wrestling Finals, because that’s the match everyone was most excited to see.

Two of the best in the country at 171 pounds, with a combined four state titles between them, Davison’s Barr emerged victorious with a 5-2 win over Detroit Catholic Central’s Rojas, with all eyes on them.

“This is what I’ve been talking about for a long time. I couldn’t wait to be part of something like this. Practically main eventing the state championships against one of the best wrestlers in the state, it’s amazing,” Barr said. “Having all these people around watching, it was awesome.”

Barr (28-1), a junior, set the tone right away with a takedown in the first period to lead 2-0.

Rojas (37-3) managed an escape in the first and another in the second to even the match at 2-2. Barr would answer with an escape to start the third and then drive home the win with a takedown in the final minute to earn his third title.

“It means a lot,” Barr said of his third championship. “It means what we’re doing is right, it’s working. Going to bed early, waking up early, eating clean. It all adds up.”

Rojas had just two losses in-state during his senior season, both coming to Barr over the last eight days. Barr edged Rojas 4-3 in last weekend’s Division 1 Team Final while leading Davison to a 29-21 victory.

“I think it just shows my character. I got right back to it last week. Winning that team state title was cool, but as soon as I got in my car, it was over,” Barr said. “I started training again right away. I knew (Rojas) was going to be sitting here waiting for me, so I got right back to it.”

Champion: Conor McAlary, Hudsonville, Fr. (45-1)
Decision, 4-2 (OT), over Ozia Wilson, Macomb Dakota, Fr. (47-1)

In a thrilling finish, McAlary scored a takedown in sudden victory to hand Wilson his only loss of the season.

“I knew going into this match that I had to take (Wilson) into deep waters to win this match,” McAlary said. “Heading into overtime, my coach told me this is right where we wanted to be. I knew I had it.”

The first two periods were scoreless, but McAlary got a takedown in the third to counter a pair of escapes from Wilson. It then came down to a quick takedown from McAlary in OT to earn the state title.

“I still can’t believe it,” he said. “The goal is always to win, but sometimes you can’t really wrap your head around it even after you win. I don’t really know what to feel. It’s wild.”

Champion: Caleb Weiand, Macomb Dakota, Jr. (48-0)
Decision, 3-1, over Mariano Lopez, Holt, Jr. (35-5)

After suffering his only loss of the 2021 season in a championship match, Weiand was determined not to suffer the same fate this year.

“Losing in the state finals was the worst feeling I ever had. I didn’t want to experience that again,” Weiand said.

His takedown in the first period proved to be the difference, as he held off a game Lopez over the final minutes.

“I just had to stay tough,” Weiand said. “I knew I could ride him out for most of the period. I feel very confident on top.”

Champion: Drew Heethuis, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (32-3)
Decision, 4-1, over Justin Gates, Davison, Soph. (30-4)

In a match that featured a pair of 2021 champions, Heethuis scored a takedown in the first period and a reversal in the second to secure his second title.

“It’s awesome. I had a couple of bumps in the road earlier in the year, and I wasn’t in the right mindset,” Heethuis said. “Over the past couple of months, because of my coaches, I was able to dial it in for the last half of the year. It feels great.”

The two met in last week’s Division 1 Team Final, with Heethuis grinding out a 2-1 victory over Gates.

“We wrestled last weekend and I knew it would be a tough match this time, too,” Heethuis said. “I knew that if I was able to get into a good attack in the first, it would be key.”

Champion: Cade Horwath, Davison, Jr. (30-0)
Decision, 10-5, over Fritz Mueller, Macomb Dakota, Sr. (40-7)

Horvath earned his 100th career win and locked up his third championship while also capping his second-consecutive undefeated season.

“This one means a little more,” Horwath said of his third title. “We had some team adversity this year, so it took a lot of hard work by the team to get everyone at their best.”

Horwath scored two takedowns early in the first period to set the tone and never trailed in the match.

“Honestly, I just wanted to have fun and score some points,” Horwath said. “It was a nice environment, being able to wrestle in front of my family and fans.” 

Champion: Clayton Jones, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (36-3)
Decision, 9-2, over Elijah Bunn, Rockford, Jr. (42-2)

Jones secured his first championship with a dominant effort at 130 pounds, earning a 9-2 win over the top-seeded Bunn.

“I’m just thinking that all the hard work that we’ve been putting in got (me) the state championship,” Jones said.

Jones came out aggressive with an early takedown in the first and added two more in the second to keep in control.

“I made sure to get the first takedown,” Jones said. “I came out the gates and just kept going at him, going at him.”

Champion: Aidan Smith, Brighton, Sr. (44-1)
Decision, 8-4, over Caleb Youngblood, Romeo, Sr. (26-4)

Smith added his name to Brighton’s championship history with a hard-fought win.

“I have waited for this for a very long time,” Smith said. “I had previous teammates ahead of me that won state titles, and that was a lot of pressure on me. I just feel like all of that pressure has been lifted.”

Smith never trailed, as he scored the opening takedown and sprinkled in a few more throughout the bout.

“I knew the match was going to be tough. I just had to wrestle all six minutes hard,” he said. “I felt like I was getting into my attacks really well, and I just kept chain wrestling. I was really happy with my performance.” 

Champion: Dylan Gilcher, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (39-0)
Decision, 7-1, over Evan Herriman, Davison, Jr. (20-4)

A quiet and composed Gilcher won his third championship at a third different weight class Saturday.

After winning at 112 pounds in 2020 and 135 pounds in 2021, Gilcher controlled his match from start-to-finish to earn the 140-pound crown.

This Finals matchup was a rematch from the 135-pound final in 2021. Gilcher won that 3-0. These two also met in last weekend’s D1 Team Final, a 7-5 victory for Gilcher.

“I had him last week and last year. I’ve been wrestling him since we were little, growing up. He was always kind of bigger than me, so he could beat me up a little bit,” Gilcher said. “It feels good.”

Woodhaven/Davison wrestling

Champion: Nathan Jerore, Brownstown Woodhaven, Sr. (38-1)
Decision, 8-4, over Owen Payne, Davison, Sr. (15-2)

After seeing previous title bids ended prematurely by injuries and the pandemic, Jerore now can call himself a Finals champion.

“I literally can’t believe it. I wanted it so bad. It’s been taken from me for so long,” Jerore said. “Injuries and COVID, it’s been crazy, but I just kept working toward this goal.”

Jerore scored four takedowns in the match and was relentless on his feet against Payne.

“I knew he was going to be tough, but I knew that if I was as tough as I can be, anyone that I wrestled I could break,” Jerore said. “That’s what happened.”

Champion: Darius Marines, Detroit Catholic Central, Soph. (35-4)
Decision, 1-0, over Tatum Bunn, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (25-12)

For the second consecutive season, Marines had to face a teammate in a championship match.

For the second consecutive season, Marines came out victorious.

“It’s unfortunate, but it had to happen,” Marines said of facing a teammate in the final again. “(Bunn) was one of my best friends on the team. It kind of hurt. But, I had to set all that stuff aside.”

The match didn’t have much action. Marines rode out Bunn in the second period and then earned an escape in the third for the lone point.

“I felt pretty good (after the second period),” Marines said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this, so it feels pretty good (to win).”

Champion: Rollie Denker, Temperance Bedford, Sr. (55-2)
Decision, 3-1, over Brayden Mirjavadi, Romeo, Jr. (41-4)

A takedown in the closing second of the third period broke a 1-1 tie and gave Denker his first championship.

Mirjavadi got an escape in the second to take a 1-0 lead, and Denker answered with an escape of his own to start the third. He then turned up the heat late in the match to earn his title.

“I knew late in matches, we all get tired, but I knew (Mirjavadi) would be the exception, so I had to keep going and eventually I just got him,” Denker said.

Champion: Remey Cotton, Davison, Jr. (27-3)
Decision, 7-4, over Aidan Wardell, Midland Dow, Sr. (44-4)

Cotton got a takedown early in the bout and built a 5-1 lead in the second period before hanging on for the victory.

“I’ve trained for this my whole life,” Cotton said of the win. “Being able to come out here and get it done just feels amazing.”

Along with his first championship, Cotton also avenged a prior loss to Wardell to cap off his season.

“I practice every day to win every match,” Cotton said. “If I lose one match, I just look forward to the next one to be able to move that to the past.”

Champion: Jimmy Colley, Davison, Sr. (32-2)
Decision, 14-7, over Avery Dickerson, Hartland, Sr. (45-2)

Colley collected his second consecutive championship at 215 pounds in a wild scramble of a match.

“It feels great to come back here and end your career as a state champ two times in a row, as well as a team champ two times in a row,” Colley said. “It shows you are one of the best.”

The two contenders traded position often, but it was Colley who found himself with the advantage more consistently. He led 8-5 after two periods and then handled his business in the third.

“We both had that same funky style, and we always put on an exciting match,” Colley said. “You never know what (Dickerson) is going to do. It looks like we are just rolling around sometimes.”

Champion: Joshua Terrill, Holt, Sr. (43-2)
Decision, 6-2, over Giulian Bodiu, Canton, Sr. (28-1)

After finishing runner-up in 2021, Terrill grinded his way to a championship.

“I just kept telling myself to not be content. I wasn’t content, and I just won a state title,” Terrill said.

After a scoreless opening period, Terrill turned up the aggression and scored a pair of takedowns in the second period to take control. He credited his coaches for his strong finish.

“This means a whole lot to me, but this really goes to my coaches,” Terrill said. “None of this is about me, it’s about the coaches that got me here.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Davison’s Josh Barr (right) and Detroit Catholic Central’s Manuel Rojas contend for the 171-pound title Saturday at Ford Field. (Middle) Woodhaven’s Nathan Jerore, left, works toward a win at 145 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.)