Strong Finish Seals DCC as 3-Peat Champ

February 22, 2014

By Dan Stickradt
Special to Second Half

BATTLE CREEK — Payback is never tougher than in a championship setting. Ask those around Davison’s wrestling program.

After losing to fellow state powerhouse Detroit Catholic Central in last season’s MHSAA Division 1 title match, 29-26, in a meet that went down to the final weight class, top-ranked Davison sought its revenge on the Shamrocks on Saturday at Battle Creek’s Kellogg Arena.

Catholic Central still proved too much to overcome.

Davison, top-ranked all season and top-seeded for the MHSAA Finals weekend, couldn’t hang on to a 19-13 lead through eight matches, as Catholic Central closed out with a 21-0 run by winning the last six to prevail.

CC’s Drew Garcia outlasted Davison’s Jordan Cooks in overtime, 3-1, at 189 pounds to clinch the title -- Catholic Central's third straight and fourth in five years. Both are reigning two-time Individual Finals champions.

"All season long our coach told us not to talk about a three-peat," said Garcia, who also finished as an MHSAA individual runner-up as a freshman. "He told us that we had to go out and try to win a state championship and not try to defend it. Our goal all along was to win the state title, and we (rose) up and did it.

The win marked Catholic Central’s 11th team title, which ties the MHSAA record for most in Class A/Division 1 lore.

“This ties Temperance-Bedford for the most in Division 1 history. That’s shows how hard the kids work in this wrestling program,” said Catholic Central coach Mitch Hancock, who has guided the Shamrocks to a 149-32 record over seven seasons as head coach. "That's something we take a lot of pride in. But I told the entire team, coaches and parents at the beginning of the season that we were not to mention the (phrase) three-peat. Every year is different and our goal was to go out and try to win a state championship."

Davison defeated Catholic Central, 31-28, in a match in December. But the Cardinals couldn't match up with the Shamrocks this time around.

"They had a couple of guys out the last time, so they had everyone back this time and those guys made a huge difference for them," noted Davison coach Roy Hall, whose program slipped to 8-3 all-time in MHSAA championship matches. "This played out similar to what I thought. We needed a couple of close matches to go our way, and they didn't. That's wrestling. We wanted to get them back (for last year) but came up short."

His team down 19-13 through 140 pounds, Catholic Central's Myles Amine started the comeback at 145 with a 6-4 decision win. Brother Malik Amine (152) continued the momentum swing with a 5-3 decision win that tied the match at 19-19.

"Those guys are amazing. They were in the wrestling room three days after football season ended (with another MHSAA Division 1 championship game) and ready to go at it," said Hancock. "What else can you say about those guys? They are champions on and off the mat. That's the type of dedication that we have here at Catholic Central. These kids never stop working."

Nick Bennett (160) got a pin in 1:40 to put Catholic Central up for good at 25-19. Freshman Tyler Morland  (171) gutted out a 9-5 victory for a 28-19 advantage and set the stage for Garcia.

CC's Nick Geise (215) ended the match with a 4-1 triumph.

"This is all about Catholic Central High school, representing Catholic Central, the administration, the parents, and giving glory to God," added Hancock. "We would not be able to do this without any of them." 

Catholic Central entered the weekend the third seed and finished 18-4, taking down second-seeded Hartland in the Semifinal and sixth-seeded Plymouth in the Quarterfinal on Friday. Davison ended 25-4 and beat Livonia Franklin then Oxford to advance. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Catholic Central's Drew Garcia raises his hands in victory after claiming a 3-1 decision during Saturday's Division 1 Team Final. (Middle) Davison and DCC wrestlers work for position during the championship match. (Click to see more at

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.)