St. Johns' Hall Joins Champion Elite

March 1, 2014

By Jeff Chaney
Special to Second Half

AUBURN HILLS, MI – It's a moment Zac Hall said he will never forget.

Hall joined elite company by winning his fourth MHSAA individual wrestling championship, when he beat Greenville's Alec Ward 12-2 in the 140-pound title match in Division 2 at the Finals on Saturday at The Palace of Auburn Hills.

The St. Johns senior became just the 18th Michigan wrestler to win four MHSAA Finals titles, and when the referee raised his hand after his victory, the large crowd at The Palace rose to their feet and applauded loudly in appreciation.

“That is the most amazing feeling in the world. I'll remember that moment for the rest of my life,” Hall said. “I don't know how many people are here, thousands, and they were all clapping for me. That is the most awesome feeling.”

This marks the third straight year a wrestler has won his fourth title. Last year Fowlerville heavyweight Adam Coon accomplished it, and two years ago it was Hall's former St. Johns teammate Taylor Massa.

“All that hard work and time you put in in the (practice room), it pays off,” Hall said. “When your buddies want you to hang out, and instead you are in the room grinding, that all just paid off here.” 


Champion: Dominic LaJoie, Gaylord, Fr. (50-1)
Decision, 11-7 over Dalton Roberts, Fowlerville, Sr. (46-6)

LaJoie is well on his way to becoming a four-time champion, as he built a large early lead over Roberts and held on for a 11-7 win.

LaJoie scored the match's first seven points, and then fought off a furious Roberts rally in the third period.

“I just came out and went as hard as I could,” LaJoie said. “This feels really awesome. I owe a lot to my dad (Jerry LaJoie), my coaches and my partners in the room. This is a great feeling.”


Champion: Lucas Hall, Lowell, Soph. (37-0)
Fall, 2:19 over Bryan LaVearn, Ortonville Brandon, Soph. (50-2)

Hall didn't listen to all the nay-sayers. He knew he had what it takes to win an MHSAA title and went out and proved that by pinning LaVearn in their 112-pound title match.

Hall used one of his signature moves, “the high flyer,” to pin LaVearn for the win.

“People have been trying to get into my head, posting stuff on Twitter and Facebook, but you can't let that get to you,” Hall said. “You just need to keep your head and keep looking forward. I know I had a bull’s eye on my back because I came in undefeated and ranked number one. You can't let all that get in your head; you just have to keep after it.”


Champion: Mason Smith, Clio, Jr. (55-0)
Decision, 3-1 over Jacob Chapman, Flint Kearsley, Jr. (35-6)

Returning champion Smith overcame a bit of familiarity to win his second straight title, as he beat Chapman for the title with a work-man-like 3-1 win.

“The hardest thing is we've wrestled six times, and we both know what both of us are going to do,” Smith said. “So you have to do what you can do.

“I started with a gameplan, and was not that comfortable with it, so I changed it. I said I would do whatever felt right – score more points.”


Champion: Nick Pipes, Warren Woods-Tower, Sr. (48-5)
Decision, 6-1 over Patrick Blommel, Stevensville Lakeshore, Sr. (38-6)

Pipes finally got his medal, and it was a big one.

The four-time Finals qualifier failed to place in the top eight in his first three trips to The Palace, but won a championship on his fourth try.

“I'll take not placing in my first three years to win it now,” Pipes said. “I knew coming in that I qualified three times before this and was always the underdog. But this year being ranked first, and everyone thought I was going to win it, that helped my confidence.”


Champion: Austin Thompson, Marysville, Jr. (52-1)
Decision, 8-7 UTB over Jaedin Sklapsky, Eaton Rapids, Jr. (49-2) 

Thompson chose down in the ultimate tiebreaker and escaped Sklapsky for an 8-7 win. 

“A year ago I wouldn't have chosen down,” said Thompson, who is in his first year at Marysville. “I wasn't very good on the mat, but I've made a lot of improvements on the mat since I've moved to Marysville.”


Champion: Austin Melton, DeWitt, Soph. (48-3)
Major Decision, 13-4 over Collin Lieber, Croswell-Lexington, Fr. (50-2)

The gameplan was simple Melton.

Score, and score early, and that is exactly what he did in winning the 135-pound championship.

A takedown and a near-fall in the first period turned a five-point early lead into a 13-3 win and a title.

“My coaches just told me to do what I've been doing every match, which is to take it to him,” Melton said. “To score as much points as possible, so that I can get up as much as you can.”


Champion: Steve Bleise, Chelsea, Sr. (49-0)
Decision, 12-5 over Mark Bozzo St. Johns, Sr. (38-8)

Last year Bleise was beaten in the Finals by a St. Johns wrestler, Logan Massa. But not this year.

Bleise had a phrase running through his head as he ran to the mat for the 145-pound title match against Bozzo.

“I told myself going out to the mat, I wasn't going to take second again,” Bleise said. “That really got my mindset going. I couldn't imagine coming off that mat not winning again.” 


Champion: Logan Massa, St. Johns, Jr. (51-0)
Fall, 1:56 over Dillon Ellsworth, Lapeer East, Jr. (58-3)

Massa said it helps his psyche to have his brother on the side of the mat for his big matches.

And why not when your brother is a four-time undefeated champion, Taylor Massa.

It's helped two years in a row now, as Logan Massa won his second straight MHSAA championship with his brother in his corner.

“It's awesome to have him in my corner,” Logan Massa said. “It is really cool that (St. Johns coach Derek Phillips) lets me do it. It makes you feel more comfortable having him in my corner.”


Champion: Logan Ritchie, New Boston Huron, Jr. (57-2)
Decision, 2-1 over Tobias Barnes, Romulus Summit Academy, Sr. (56-2)

Ritchie kept the pressure on Barnes, and it paid off with a title.

Ritchie was awarded a penalty point late in the third period that allowed him to beat Barnes 2-1.

“I knew he liked to back up in space, and I just kept keeping the pressure on,” Ritchie said. “I know this time of the year they will call stalling. Maybe not in Districts, but they will down here.”


Champion: Max Dean, Lowell, Soph. (34-2)
Decision, 14-8 over Devon Pingel, North Branch, Soph. (55-2) 

It was a battle of two super sophomores in the 171-pound title match, as Dean got the best of Pingel 14-8.

It was Dean's first MHSAA championship, while Pingel now has a runner-up finish to go with his title from 2013. 

“I have a lot of respect for Devon Pingel,” Dean said. “He is always on the attack, and he is always coming. I got a little broken down last (period), but that is a credit to him. Fortunately, I built a little bit of a lead and was able to counter.”

Dean built a 8-2 lead and held on for the win. 


Champion: Angus Arthur, St. Johns, Jr. (47-0)
Decision, 5-2 over Garett Stehley, Lowell, Sr. (31-2)

Two years ago, Arthur and Stehley were teammates on the Lowell wrestling team. Saturday they were opponents trying to win the 189-pound title. 

And in a match that came down to the wire, Arthur hung on for a 3-2 win to win his second straight title.

Stehley was runner-up for the second straight year. 

“It's the best feeling in the world,” Arthur said. “I know Garett is a hard wrestler, and this is his second year (he has taken second), so I knew he would come out strong. … I just kept on my attacks.”


Champion: Josh Colegrove, Lowell, Jr. (35-1)
Fall, 1:50 over Jacob Alarie, Bay City Western, Sr. (45-7) 

Last year, Colegrove missed the Finals, recovering from surgery on an injured knee he suffered in football.

So when he won the title at 215 pounds with a pin over Alarie, he let out a huge yell and jumped into his coaches’ arms. 

“This feels awesome; all my hard work to get back is paying off,” Colegrove said.

Colegrove also pointed to the sky in his celebration. 

“My grandpa (Bill Colegrove) passed away a couple of years ago, after my freshman year,” Colegrove said. “I won this for him, because he was a big part of my life. He was always there for me.”


Champion: Chris Hendricks, Fruitport, Sr. (45-1)
Decision, 6-3 over Preston Pelham, Tecumseh, Sr. (55-2)

Fruitport has another heavyweight champion. 

Hendricks accomplished that by beating Pelham 6-3 in a hard-fought battle of athletic 285-pounders.

From 1994-97, Matt Brink won three MHSAA titles for the school in the heavyweight division. 

“All the work I put in, it's paying off now,” Hendricks said. “All the people that have come up to work with me, former champions, my coaches, my workout partners, I wouldn't have done this without all of them. I owe this all to them.”

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PHOTO: (Top) St. Johns' Zac Hall was among flag bearers during the grand march before Saturday's MHSAA Individual Finals. (Middle) Hall's hand is raised as he finishes his fourth title. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.) 

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.)