Spidle Sets Up 2020 Run for 4-Title Glory

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

March 2, 2019

DETROIT – A change in divisions couldn’t slow Sean Spidle down.

The Flint Powers Catholic junior claimed his third straight MHSAA individual wrestling championship Saturday, defeating Tecumseh’s Joshua Hilton 9-6 in the Division 2 112-pound final. Spidle won titles in Division 3 the previous two years, at 103 in 2017 and 112 in 2018.

“It feels amazing,” Spidle said. “This is what I train for. I thought about this every single night. I have to give a lot of credit to my parents and coaches; they pushed me to be better every single day.”

Spidle took a 6-2 lead in the match and held off a late charge from Hilton, who scored a pair of takedowns in the final period. Spidle ran into the stands following his win, celebrating with family and friends as he has now given himself a chance to join the ranks of four-time champions.

“It’s time to train and get ready for it,” he said. “It’s awesome. It makes it even better that my friends and parents came to support. This is everything I wanted.”


Champion: Donovan King, Farmington, Sr. (51-2)
Fall, 4:39, over Jaren Johnson, Warren Lincoln, Sr. (37-2)

After missing his entire junior season with a torn knee ligament, King made up for lost time and rolled to his first Finals title.

He racked up three pins in his four matches, including in the final, to become Farmington’s first MHSAA champion since 1995.

“It feels great to come back to win this and be the third person to win states from Farmington High School,” King said. “It was very hard. I had to overcome a lot of pain during the season, my knee shifting out of place during a match. It’s just a mindset. I’m just glad I got through that this whole season.”


Champion: Jacob Brya, St. Johns, Fr. (42-2)
Decision, 9-2, over Jamison Zimmerman, Niles, Jr. (37-7)

In his first high school season, Brya showed that his youth success was no fluke.

The former MYWAY state champion’s run to an MHSAA championship included two pins and a four-takedown performance in the title match.

“I just kind of wanted to be conservative so I could win the match,” Brya said. “I didn’t want to do anything dumb so I could blow a lead, so I just kind of wrestled conservative and beat him off my feet.”


Champion: Vincent Perez, Tecumseh, Sr. (53-0)
Major Decision, 18-8, over Joe Haynes, Warren Woods-Tower, Soph. (34-8)

After finishing second his junior season, Perez wasn’t going to leave anything to chance Saturday night.

He scored nine points in the third period to turn a close match into a major decision and put an exclamation point on a perfect season.

“I didn’t come here just to win, I came here to dominate,” Perez said. “Third period, it was still a decision, and I wasn’t content with that. I wanted to dominate. I’ve been working all year to control, be aggressive and dominate. Last year, it didn’t work out so well, came up a little short. But this year, it’s a better taste leaving.”


Champion: Chaise Mayer, Warren Woods-Tower, Sr. (44-3)
Decision, 3-2, over Chayse Lajoie, Gaylord, Jr. (48-2)

After finishing as a Division 2 runner-up in 2016 and 2017, Mayer made it to the top of the podium, knocking off a two-time returning champion in Lajoie.

The two wrestlers traded a takedown and a reversal in the first period, and a Mayer escape in the second proved to be the difference as he rode Lajoie out for the entirety of the third period.

“It’s much deserved and well-earned,” Mayer said. “I’ve worked my whole life for this. To come so close so many times and not get it, I couldn’t let that happen again. It was just about being gritty and knowing I could do it. Knowing how to win.”


Champion: Kaleob Whitford, St. Johns, Sr. (42-2)
Decision, 6-0, over Nate Young, Holly, Jr. (51-7)

A dominant display in the top position capped a dominant overall tournament for Whitford, who had racked up a pair of pins and a major decision prior to the final.

He scored a takedown late in the first period of his match against Young, and rode him out through the end of the second.

“I feel accomplished,” Whitford said. “My dad was a state champion his senior year, my brother was a four-time state champ, so I had to keep the generation going. I didn’t really think about it. I tried to keep my mind clear. I don’t think about anything when I’m about to wrestle.”


Champion: Christopher Lilly, Croswell-Lexington, Jr. (52-7)
Decision, 6-3, over Matthew Tomsett, Madison Heights Lamphere, Sr. (52-3)

After watching his dad coach a pair of Finals champions in previous years, Lilly was determined to create a father-son moment at Ford Field.

Thanks to a three-takedown performance against Tomsett, he was able to do just that. Lilly was a Regional runner-up, and won each of his matches by three points or fewer, not making it easy on his dad, Cros-Lex coach Joe Lilly, and fans. But in the end, it was well worth it.

“It’s pretty crazy,” Christopher Lilly said. “I wanted to do that since I was little when I watched Donnie Corby win a state title and then I watched Collin Lieber win a state title. I wanted him to be in my corner, then (watch) me win a state title.”


Champion: Avry Mutschler, Lowell, Sr. (37-2)
Decision, 5-2, over Nick Matusko, Chelsea, Jr. (45-1)

Mutschler felt that at previous MHSAA Finals he hadn’t wrestled at his best through the end of matches. This time, he finished the job.

The Lowell senior capped off a career that already included four team Finals championships with his first individual title, securing a takedown with nine seconds left to seal the match.

“Those last 30 seconds, every year that I’m here I tend to quit wrestling and I start hanging on and that’s when bad things happen,” Mutschler said. “I kept trying to remind myself, ‘You have to keep going forward, you have to keep moving your feet, you have to keep hand fighting when you’re trying to score, 0-0 in the first.’ That’s what I did, I got a takedown and I iced it.”


Champion: Caleb Fish, Eaton Rapids, Jr. (44-1)
Major Decision, 17-5, over Nick Gates, Marysville, Sr. (40-4)

Fish closed out a dominant tournament performance, earning his third major decision of the weekend and first championship.

A year ago, Fish was the runner-up at 135 pounds, and this year he wasn’t going to let anything get in his way.

“I felt pretty great,” Fish said. “I felt that I had control in my hands. He was not shooting his shot and I shot mine.

“It feels pretty darn great. I’ve worked hard. I took second last year and that really hurt, so I went even a step further and worked harder and finally got my success that I was working for.”


Champion: Austin Boone, Lowell, Jr. (31-4)
Fall, 2:57, over Devin Spears, Melvindale, Sr. (47-6)

Nobody bothered to send out a wrestler against Boone a week ago at the Team Finals as Lowell picked up its sixth straight championship. This is why.

The Lowell junior earned his third individual title in three tries, putting an exclamation point on his season with a second-period pin against Spears.

“It was a fun season,” Boone said. “I definitely think we had more fun in the room than we have in the past. Obviously it’s still working. It’s a great feeling to know that the team can celebrate along with you.”


Champion: Omari Embree, Warren Woods-Tower, Fr. (37-5)
Decision, 5-2, over Nelson Poet, New Boston Huron, Jr. (35-10)

Embree was tired after winning his first championship. But he found one more burst of energy to pull off a flawless backflip.

“At the time I was really tired, so it was hard,” he said. “But it just played out well. Everybody was yelling.”

Embree took an early lead in the match, and led 3-2 late in the third before another takedown sealed it.

“I felt in control,” Embree said. “I knew it was going to be close because obviously it’s the state finals, and we wrestled before in the Regional Semifinal, so he knew what I was going to do. I just knew I had to manage the match, and I managed the match really well.”


Champion: Ryan Ringler, Cedar Springs, Sr. (48-0)
Decision, 4-2, over James Penfold, Goodrich, Sr. (46-4)

Penfold was one of the few wrestlers to push Ringler this season, as this was a rematch of Ringler’s 3-2 win at the Goodrich Tournament of Champions.

Ringler was again able to come out on top Saturday, getting a takedown with 11 seconds remaining to claim his second straight title.

“I had a plan coming into it,” Ringler said. “I knew he was going to be a little more defensive. ... I just had to push the pace and get to my stuff.

“I love wrestling the great guys. It only makes you better, too. It’s great to have that rivalry between two guys.”


Champion: Sage Serbenta, Cedar Springs, Jr. (46-1)
Decision, 3-2, over John Shelton, East Grand Rapids, Jr. (46-2)

Neither wrestler had to go a full six minutes to get to the final, but it took every second to decide this Regional Final rematch.

Like he did in that Regional, Serbenta came out on top, getting in on a leg late and holding on to keep Shelton off the board.

“I knew what he was going to do. I knew he was going to switch his style up on me,” Serbenta said. “Last time, he didn’t take a single shot, so I knew he was going to start coming in, and he did. I knew he liked those underhooks, so I was trying to avoid those. I feel like I deserve (the title) with how much I work. … You realize that those last 30 minutes of practice when you don’t feel like practicing, those are when you practice.”


Champion: Taye Ghadiali, Warren Fitzgerald, Sr. (45-0)
Decision, 11-4, over Honour Kline, Goodrich, Sr. (52-2)

A dominant weekend for Ghadiali ended with a championship and an unbeaten season.

Ghadiali won by first-period pin in each of his first three matches, and used a pair of first-period takedowns to take control of his match with Kline.

“All the work that I’ve been doing through MYWAY – I wasn’t always good in MYWAY – I just kept working and working, I always wanted to be a state champ, and now today I am,” Ghadiali said. “My mindset was, after that semifinal match (a year ago), I just felt like I wasn’t setting up my shots, I was just shooting to shoot. I was always wrestling just to win and now my wrestling style, I wanted to dominate. I wrestled to score the most points I can.”

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PHOTO: Flint Powers Catholic’s Sean Spidle works to gain control during his Division 2 championship match at 112 pounds. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Constantine Football All-Stater, Wrestling Champ Aiming for Grand Finale

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)