Teammates, Gracious Opponents As Well

March 2, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

AUBURN HILLS — It was a surreal scene at the edge of the mat when Austin Eicher and Jacob Gorial met for the 130-pound title in the MHSAA Division 1 wrestling tournament Saturday at The Palace.

Coaches can often get quite animated when their wrestlers are going for a championship. But the coaches in Eicher's and Gorial's corners sat quietly in their chairs, occasionally smiling as they took in the action as passive observers. One coach even got up to grab a cup of water while the match was in progress.

None of the four coaches watching matside was taking sides, not when both competing wrestlers wore the blue and gold of Hartland High School.

"We're both teammates," Gorial said. "It would've been unfair."

In only the sixth MHSAA championship match involving teammates, Eicher won a 5-0 decision over Gorial.

Eicher, a junior who finished 52-1, was the 119-pound runner-up last season. The teammates never met this season, with Eicher winning the District and Regional finals over Gorial by injury default.

"It was definitely different," Eicher said. "He's one of my best friends. We both wanted it. We've been working hard this whole year. It was both of our goals to win the state championship. I took something away from him, but I wasn't going to let him take it away from me.

"Once we're out there, we're just wrestling. We know we're friends before the match when we're warming up, but once we're wrestling, it's go time."

Gorial, a sophomore who finished 56-5, credited Eicher for making him a better wrestler in practice.

"I'm glad Austin won," Gorial said. "He worked hard. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be here right now."

Click for full results, and read below for recaps of each championship match and comments from all the winners.


Champion: Robert Coe, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (45-4)
Decision, 3-0, over Parker Tillman, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Jr. (41-4)

Coe had a tougher battle this year against Tillman, but still prevailed to win the championship. Coe pinned Tillman at the 2:16 mark in a first-round match in last year's MHSAA Final.

Coe used an escape to break a 0-0 stalemate with less than 30 seconds remaining in the match.

"I was a little nervous at the beginning of the match," Coe said. "He came out really strong. He's bigger than I remember. I pinned him last year here. He got better this year."


Champion: Benny Gomez, Holt, Soph. (47-0)
Fall, 1:25, over Michael Volyanyuk, Farmington Hills Harrison, Soph. (45-8)

Gomez got his only pin in four matches at The Palace in the championship, but he was nonetheless dominant with two majority decisions and a 9-3 victory before the final.

He finished fourth at 103 pounds last year.

"It's still kind of hard to believe," Gomez said. "I had a lot of close matches this year, in and out of state. I grew and basically just competed all summer, no breaks, and pushed myself to get to this level."


Champion: Lincoln Olson, Davison, Soph. (46-2)
Decision, 10-4, over Kyle Gillies, Westland John Glenn, Sr. (55-1)

Olson held up two fingers toward the Davison cheering section after adding this year's 112 title to the 103-pound crown he won as a freshman.

He did so by handing Gillies his only loss in 56 matches this season. Olson also beat Gillies in the quarterfinals last year.

"Last season, I kind of shocked the world," Olson said. "No one knew me. Not much was expected of me. This year, they knew who I am. A lot of kids were content just getting beat by a few points."


Champion: Shayne Wireman, Holt, Sr. (46-0)
Decision, 6-3, over Mitch Rogaliner, Temperance Bedford, Sr. (48-3)

Wireman's victory gave him a 2-2 career record against Rogaliner in a rivalry that always seems to take place on a big stage.

Wireman beat Rogaliner 2-1 in the 103-pound final in 2011 before Rogaliner got revenge with a third-period pin in the 112-pound semifinals last year.

"It's always a fun match against him," Wireman said. "We're 2-2 against each other. We've dominated this weight class. We know each other very well."

Wireman will wrestle at Eastern Michigan, while Rogaliner is heading to Michigan State. "So we'll probably meet each other again," Wireman said.


Champion: Zach Henderson, Hudsonville, Sr. (40-7)
Decision, 6-4, over Martin Rodriquez, Holt, Jr. (17-1)

Henderson won three of his four matches at The Palace by two points or fewer to pull the upset.

Rodriquez beat Henderson by seven points in the Regional final to take an unbeaten record to The Palace.

"My brother looked on (Michigan) Grappler and said I wasn't favored to win at all," Henderson said. "I didn't think anything of it. He told me midway through. I'd already won twice. People were just speaking
wisdom and God's word to me. That gave me confidence."


Champion: Ken Bade, Detroit Catholic Central, Sr. (40-7)
Decision, 4-3 OT, over Matt Miller, Davison, Jr. (29-7)

A point awarded for stalling sent this match to overtime, and another awarded for grabbing head gear decided the title winner.

It was a strange ending for Bade's third MHSAA championship. He won at 125 in 2011 and 130 in 2012.

"There's no way you can prepare for that, except coach telling us throughout the year that you have to stay composed, you have to keep your cool," Bade said. "I stayed composed and was ready to go and went back on the line."


Champion: Malik Amine, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (40-6)
Decision, 11-6, over Eric Rybarz, New Baltimore Anchor Bay, Sr. (54-3)

Amine lost 9-6 to Alex Pantaleo of Canton in last year's 135-pound final, a loss that fueled the Catholic Central junior for the past 12 months.

"I used it as a driving force to have it affect my head in practice when I didn't want to do any more sprints or didn't want to do more shots," Amine said. "I had to push myself to be better."

Amine was fifth at 112 pounds in 2011.


Champion: Travis Mann, Westland John Glenn, Sr. (32-3)
Decision, 10-4, over Andrew Napieraj, Birmingham Brother Rice, Sr. (50-3)

Most high school wrestlers don't drop a weight class the following season, but Mann did so successfully.

Mann was fourth at 152 pounds last year before winning the 145 title on Saturday. Two of Mann's three losses were to Livonia Franklin's Jordan Atienza, the 152-pound runner-up.

"It's the greatest feeling ever," Mann said. "I've been training for this since I was 4 years old. I finally got it my senior year."


Champion: Nick Vandermeer, Clarkston, Sr. (44-5)
Fall, 4:17, over Jordan Atienza, Livonia Franklin, Jr. (58-1)

Vandermeer averted disaster and turned it into a championship, rolling out of a near-pin to record a pin of his own against the previously-unbeaten Atienza.

"I almost felt myself getting pinned," Vandermeer said. "I was warned he throws with his upper body. I didn't expect to be rolling. I had to get out, but I was able to re-roll him and catch him pretty much."

Vandermeer joined his brother, Matt, as MHSAA champions. Matt was the 171-pound champion in 2011.


Champion: Jordan Cooks, Davison, Jr. (43-1)
Decision, 8-5, over Logan Marcicki, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (35-6)

Cooks beat Marcicki for the second straight week to repeat as 160-pound champion.

Cooks scored a 5-3 decision over Marcicki in the team championship match, one that Catholic Central ultimately won.

"It feels amazing," Cooks said. "It feels a lot better than the first one. It means a lot, being my second one."


Champion: Drew Garcia, Detroit Catholic Central, Jr. (52-0)
Decision, 8-2, over Mitchel Thomas, Hartland, Sr. (59-2)

Garcia won Catholic Central's fourth and final individual championship of the day, repeating as the 171-pound winner.

Garcia brought big-time experience to The Palace, having also finished as the 152-pound runner-up in 2011. Thomas gave Garcia one of his tougher matches in a perfect junior campaign.

"He was good," Garcia said. "I wrestled him early in the year. He was one of the only kids who didn't gas in the third period, so I knew I'd have to wrestle a full six minutes. He's a tough kid."


Champion: Shwan Shadaia, Rochester, Jr. (54-1)
Decision,  4-3, over Chris Calvano, Clarkston, Sr. (40-5)

Shadaia became only the second Rochester wrestler to win an MHSAA title when he broke a 3-3 tie with an escape in the final seconds. Calvano had tied the match moments earlier.

"We drill these kinds of situations in practice all the time – 20 seconds, 15 seconds to win the state championship," Shadaia said. "That's what I took it as - another practice."

Rochester's only other champion was Shane Camera, a Class A winner in 1987 and 1989.


Champion: Brandon Sunday, Temperance Bedford, Sr. (51-1)
Decision, 5-4 OT, over Jordon Brandon, Westland John Glenn, Jr. (55-5)

Sunday stayed alive when Brandon was penalized for stalling with 10 seconds left in the third period, tying the match at 3-3. Sunday won by getting an escape with 20 seconds left in the final overtime

"It was crazy," Sunday said. "I just wrestled that kid in the team Regionals and individual Regionals. It was close every single time, two or less points. Definitely, he's my toughest opponent this year.
He's only a junior. He wrestles like he's in college."

Sunday was the 189-pound runner-up last year.

PHOTO: Hartland's Austin Eicher (right) works to take down teammate, and for this match opponent, Jacob Gorial during Saturday's Division 1 Individual Finals. (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.)