Six Packer wrestlers will be moving on to the state tournament after their success in the Individual Regionals
RJ Thome (103lbs.), Tee Ward (112), and Trey Breuker (160) each finished first while Trey Myers (130) and Eli Beasley (119) took third and Michael Romero (189) fourth to punch their tickets to Van Andel Arena this Friday.
Matches begin at 10am.
Packer Coaches Craig Zeerip and Doctor Jeffery Thome were named Michigan Wrestling Association Regional Head Coach and Assistant Coach of the Year.
Lion win over Wildcats sets up long awaited showdown with Falcons
Photos by Alexis Mercer
Story by Ken De Laat
Newaygo 47 Montague 37
In a game showcasing the talent and teamwork that brought them a conference title and a District crown the Lions held a determined Wildcat team at bay and brought last season’s disappointing pandemic-related early end full circle.
The win delivered returning players a year-in-the-making matchup with West Catholic the team Newaygo was to meet in last year's Regional finals. The Falcons did their part by dispatching a stubborn but outgunned GR Christian.
But the undefeated Montague team did not go down easily.
Allison Hall opened the scoring and on the next possession was called for a foul on Kayla Fisk who converted both shots to tie the game. Hall soon picked up another resulting in a cautionary early trip to the bench.
The Lion defense began the game in high gear creating turnovers, rejecting shots and picking a few pockets along the way. At the other end they focused on getting the ball in to Emmerson Goodin who responded with a basket and twice finding her way to the stripe hitting 3 of 4 and with a Jaylee Long laser from distance sandwiched between Newaygo went up 10-2.
Wildcat senior Emma Flynn stepped up big for her team breaking the scoring drought with back to back triples that shrunk the lead to 2 but just as the Wildcat team and their fans started to build some momentum Anna Brummel quieted them down with a distance shot of her own to end the quarter with a 15-8 Lion lead.
The second quarter seemed to tell the tale of the game. Montague’s Andie Zamojcin put the team on her back and found a way to score, ripping the nets for 8 of Montague’s next 10 points Despite a couple of 2 point answers from Jaxi Long and Jaylee the Wildcats edged into their first lead since the opening basket.
And it would be the last one they would see on the night.
The Longs took it beyond the arc with Jaxi, then Jaylee connecting to make it a 5 point Lion lead. Fisk, whose defense created problems all night for the Cats took a steal downcourt for a score then Jaxi zeroed in again with a nothing but net buzzer beater and suddenly it was a 9 point Lion lead heading into the break.
This was a physical game between a pair of teams unafraid to mix it up and the second half put it on display. After a pair of trips to the line by Goodin and Lily Ruehmeier, the Osbornes (Braquelle and Kendall) finally entered the scorebook as the sharpshooters who had been stymied through the first half each banged in a three, the last one pulling the ‘Cats within 6 as the clock was winding down.
Except once again the Lions would punctuate the period as Ruehmeier dropped one with the quarter ending to push the margin to 8.
The 4th saw the teams exchange buckets and free throws early. With time winding down Montague began sending the Lions to the line in a last ditch effort to climb back. Again the Lions stepped up as Jaxi drained all 4 shots and Jaylee went 3 for 4.
And Newaygo was moving on.
Coach Thomasma: “Just a great game. We were able to hit our threes, limit our turnovers and stay out of foul trouble. All those simple sounding things that win games. Hall getting in foul trouble early affected them and without her inside presence we were able to run our trap defense more effectively.
“I was real happy with the defense tonight. We knew this was going to be a tough one. Hey, they were 17-0 for a reason. They’re well coached and compete hard.”
And now it’s West Catholic, another highly rated and undefeated team that stands in the way of the Lions and a Regional title.
“Obviously we saw what we have to play next but as our coaches said, it's a good problem to have.We’ll give it our best and let the chips fall where they may and as Jaylee said after the win last week, whatever happens, happens.
“I know it gives us another day to be around these girls. They’re awesome kids and they work their tails off.
“Hopefully we’ll get it done Wednesday but one thing I know is we’ll show up.”
No question there. This is a team built on drive determination and an unquenchable thirst for winning.
They will most certainly show up.
By Ken De Laat
Photo by Alexis Mercer
What a scenario.
Should Newaygo find themselves in the final it will either be a rematch with the GRC Eagle team that last season were shocked by their smaller (but quicker) opponents from the north…
Or a matchup with the Falcons who they missed out on playing last season for a Regional title and a trip to the Quarterfinals.
( N3 posted a fictional account of the game after the pandemic slammed the door on the season last March)
While at this point in the tourney every Regional tends to be made up of the best of the best with an occasional Cinderella crashing the party, this one has three teams with a collective record of 49-1 and a 5 loss GR Christian squad who took apart a good Catholic Central team to get here.
Here we go.
GR Christian vs. GR West Catholic 5:30pm
Only one team scored over 40 on the Falcons.
And they got beat by 24 points.
West doesn’t win games, they annihilate their opponents by an average of just over 40 points a game.
Christian is a solid, successful squad who has beaten some quality teams this season.
But I doubt they have enough to clip the Falcons.
Montague vs. Newaygo 7pm
These two premier teams have had one common opponent, Shelby.
The Wildcats put a beatdown on the Tigers in the opener then squeaked past them a week and a half ago. The day after that opening day loss to Montague, Shelby met up with the Lions who delivered a similar pummeling.
Montague and Newaygo both are deep in talent.
Hall, Zamojcin, Koetje, Meacham and, of course, Braquelle and Kendall Osborne who can zero in from long range, all provide scoring to be sure but more importantly they are demons on defense. Only 2 teams have scored over 40 on the ‘Cats.
And then there are the Lions.
They win in so many ways. Offensive firepower, relentless and disruptive defensive play, mental toughness and the hearts of champions.
Last year they entered another strong Regional with little chance to get beyond game 1 and found themselves on the cusp of competing for the title.They played with determination and an ocean of heart.
This year they sneak up on no one. They are a well known team, scouted heavily and have played all year with a target on their backs.
And they have persevered.
Jaylee Long was the best player on the floor during the District. She was also the best player on the court during the regular season. She can score defend, pass, and above all lead. Montague will be giving her a lot of attention
Goodin is fearless in the paint. Her aggressiveness can sometimes lead to foul trouble and Monday’s opponents will look to crowd her inside.
Jaxi Long is a stealth weapon who will linger on the perimeter then suddenly explode for points inside and out.
Ruehmeier is adept at positioning which allows her to collect key points and rebounds. The Lions will need her if the ‘Cats collapse on Goodin.
Kayla Fisk is a relentless defender who will mix it up with anyone and has developed a nice touch around the basket. She will need to stay away from unnecessary fouls.
Anna Brummel can rip it from distance with the best of them and defends well. If she gets a hot hand the Lions can benefit from the attention the Longs will be getting.
When Painter and Swinehart enter the game the team doesn’t miss a beat. They both provide key minutes and are integral parts of the collective consciousness of this team. Their steady play will be a huge factor if the officiating gets tight and the whistles begin blowing with any level of frequency.
I unabashedly adore this team.
Have in the three seasons since most of them came together.
They are going up against an excellent Montague team and should they win they will likely, and finally, meet up with West Catholic. Both the Wildcats and Falcons have been and remain in the state rankings while the Lions seem to continue to be overlooked a bit.
That alone is similar to last season.
Let’s hope the result is the same in game one and should they get to game 2 perhaps that piece of fiction we produced last April could become a reality.
North Muskegon 36 Holton 20
After their win over Holton earlier this season the Norse stumbled into the tournament dropping 3 out of their last 4 with only a win over cellar dwelling Mason County Central.
But they regrouped well for the post season running off three straight wins and capturing the District title with a door slamming defensive effort over Holton.
Coach Swanson: “North Muskegon did a great job of taking away our middle touches tonight. We really struggled to get going offensively and it’s a credit to them.”
It was a low scoring contest with NM inching out to an 8-5 lead after one and the teams reaching break with the Norse up 17-11.
“Very proud of the kids in our program and what they accomplished,” added the coach. “ I was very lucky to have great seniors, Poling and Mclean, leading our team to such a great season.
“They leave behind a great legacy.”
Photos by Mike Gesler
Story by Ken De Laat
Coopersville 95 Fremont 53
The Pack took a pasting Saturday afternoon.
After watching the Broncos dominate Grant on Thursday and Fremont today I remain amazed that they lost any games this season much less both matchups with Unity Christian (who, incidentally, dropped their finals contest with undefeated Catholic Central).
Coach Zerfas: “We had a lot of turnovers that got their transition game going and even when they didn’t get transition they made shots.We knew we would have to play mistake free ball to have a chance because we knew how good they are.and we came out and made nothing but mistakes.”
“They were just a lot better than us.”
And yes the Packers made mistakes. And yes,for certain, Coopersville is a good team.
I mean a really, really good team with the lethal combination of that tough to contain brand of quickness, defensive prowess, dominant rebounding and a bevy of players who can shoot out the lights.
The Broncos opened the scoring and were quickly answered with a bucket by Payton Mansfield.
Another basket by C-ville then Mansfield drew a foul and converted both throws to tie it again.
And that was that.
The Broncos put their athleticism on display for the rest of the period as they ran off the next 19 points including 14 from breakaway layups. Joshua Zerfas put the Pack back on the board with a late triple but the quarter ended with the Broncs up 25-7.
The second was more of the same from Coopersville as they seemed to score at will and while Fremont tallied a respectable 18 points from Braiden McDonald, Lane Converse, Logan Nelson and Zerfas the team fell further behind and hit intermission trailing 52-25.
Everything seemed to go the Broncos’ way. The turnovers were almost nonexistent; they ruled the glass on both ends of the court and Bronco Blake Stewart had already drained 22 points by the break.
The third quarter saw Fremont toss in 19 points but their opponents once again outscored them getting 25 points from 7 different players. Jordon and Braiden McDonald combined for a dozen, for the Packers while Zerfas hit for 5 and Mansfield added a bucket.
The 4th showed some of the character the Packer team possesses as despite being swamped in the scoring department the team continued to compete.
Halfway through the final frame the 40 point lead called for a running clock, perhaps the only thing that prevented the Broncos from reaching 100.
And when Elijah Shears dropped in a pair from the stripe to end the Packer scoring second later their season came to an end.
14 wins, second place in the conference and an appearance in the District Finals.
Despite today’s thumping from a team that may have a few more games left to play Zerfas’ squad has put together another successful season
Coach Zerfas:”I’m proud of this team, especially our seniors. They’ve had a good run with 50 wins the last 3 years. It can be hard not to look at just this game, but I hope they look at their careers and how much they.ve accomplished.”
Packers attempt to corral Broncos; Devils Get rematch with Norse
Coopersville vs. Fremont 1pm
At Comstock Park
The Packers staved off a relentless Comstock Park squad and thanks to a Braiden McDonald buzzer beater advanced to the finals.
The Broncos absolutely dominated in their semi against Grant utilizing their size and strength in the paint as well as some stifling defense. They are the top seed for a reason and as Mike Gesler observed in his story on the Bronco/Tiger game,
“Coopersville left a statement for their next opponent that a District title runs through Coopersville and you better bring your A game.”
The Packers do indeed have an A game and though it starts with McDonald (Braiden), it also involves the inside play of Payton Mansfield, Jordon McDonald’s ability to get open and convert his shots, Martin Curiel's outside shooting and a long, strong cast of players that extends the length of the bench.
But the key might be the play of their floor captain Joshua Zerfas. C-ville has a wicked outside game and can rain down triples when needed. They score in bunches and create turnovers and chaos on defense. Zerfas will need to keep his team on point and find ways to get the ball into the hands of the McDonalds or available options since Braiden will more than likely see a lot of attention and the Bronco brain trust saw enough of Jordon to not let him disappear.
The teams have one common opponent on their records. Fremont lost to Ludington by 14 points.
The Broncs bested the Orioles by 26.
The Packers have a tough one here. C-ville has played a brutal schedule in the powerful OK Blue and beaten some good teams along the way. They play better when they get some early traction and an early lead and they will pressure the ball relentlessly.
Fremont is a quality team who has also competed with a rugged schedule.
Coach Zerfas said in our tourney preview that he felt the team was peaking at the right time.
The result this afternoon will depend on whether his team has continued that climb.
The winner gets a trip to South Christian next week.
Holton vs. North Muskegon
At Holton 7pm
The Norse knocked out #1 seed Ravenna a team they lost to twice during the conference season. They also bested the Red Devils when they met about 3 weeks ago coming back from a 6 point deficit entering the fourth.
Brennan and Troy McManus, Belmonte, Panucci, and Gallo each provide problems for defenders and the team doesn’t stop there.
Poling and Monette have played well all year and served as the primary point producers. Fowler, Fialek and the others can also score and help provide the defense that has been a key to the Devil success this season.
This one shapes up pretty even. Coach Swanson’s team will remember the way NM grabbed that comeback win on the very court this final will be played.
So will the Norse.
The winner heads south to Fennville next week where they will face the winner of St. Louis/Ithaca.
Lions Capture Second Straight District Crown
Team will face Montague Monday in Fremont
Photos by Alexis Mercer
Story by Ken De Laat
It wasn’t easy.
Sparta came out hitting some key shots and forcing the Lions to play their game as they fashioned a 16-10 lead spurred by Vallone who knocked down 9 points in the quarter. The Lions got a pair of triples from the Long sisters and buckets by Kayla Fisk and Emmerson Goodin to stay within range of the surging Spartans.
The teams played even in the second and when they hit the locker rooms Sparta continued to be in front with an 23-18 edge.
But the Lions flew out of the break as Lily Ruehmeier hit two quick baskets before Cowdery reached from long range for the hosts.
Jaylee Long proceeded to bang in three buckets in a row and gave the Lions their first lead at 28-26. It spelled a turning point in the game because after her third strike Sparta had just watched their last lead of the game vanish.
It was as if the Newaygo girls had taken control. The game took on a different feel as Jaxi Long and Ruehmeier added to the score and the team entered the last frame with a 6 point lead after their 14-3 run.
From there they put the pedal to the metal as Jaylee hit a three to open the period and Goodin and Jaxi Long added scores. Fisk, who once again tossed out some righteous defense on the night, stole the ball and found Goodin who converted to make it a 15 point game.
Sparta fought back with a pair of free throws and yet another triple by Vallone but the Lions were in charge at this point and with Sparta four fouls away from sending Newaygo to the line they worked at collecting those fouls as the Lions speed made this task difficult
When the dust settled the Lions achieved their second straight District title a well deserved reward for what has been a rugged couple of games.
Coach Thomasma: “Unbelievable win. Sparta came to play tonight. They play with such energy and toughness.
"What a great game by our girls though. Played great defense in the second half which really gave us our energy.I thought LIly Ruehmeier made some great plays in the third quarter to really spark us.
"Winning Back to Back Districts is a great accomplishment. Just so proud of these girls. They have worked extremely hard and it's fun to see it pay off for them. They just play for each other and they don't care about stats, they just want to win.
“Sometimes it's hard to live up to expectations. You’re supposed to win and teams are coming after you, but these girls handled it well. I can’t say enough about this team..
"We'll enjoy it tonight and get ready for a great Montague team on Monday."
Jaylee Long: ”It was so nerve wracking at first. We got to halftime behind and knew we needed to come out with energy and concentrate on defense. Kayla (Fisk) really helped with that. I’m always so happy she’s on my team because if we had to play against her it would be so annoying.
“I love this team. I’m glad we came out with a win.”
N3- You have a tough Regional ahead.
“Yeah, we always do. We’re going to give it everything we have like always and what happens, happens.”
Senior Lily Ruehmeier.” I love my team. We get along so great and back to back District Champs is just awesome! We’re excited for the next few games and to take up where we left off last year.
“And I’m so ready to keep it going. I’m not ready to be done yet.”
And they are certainly not done yet.
Monday this group of players who exemplify what happens when you combine talent, hard work and leadership will head to Fremont where they will face an undefeated Montague team in the first round of Regional play.
Kayla Fisk was asked about the upcoming game and whether playing against one of the best teams around would bother her squad.
“Not really. We’ll be ready,” she said with utter confidence.
Of course they will.
Because when it comes to talking about the best teams in the region?
The Lions cannot be kept out of that conversation.
Newaygo seeks return to the Regionals but Sparta has other ideas
By Ken De Laat
Photos by Alexis Mercer
The Spartans haven’t lost a game since a 3 point setback against Kelloggsville 5 weeks ago the day after a loss to Allendale. Their only other defeat was a 1 pointer in the season opener with Comstock Park.
And the 42-21 smothering they did to the Panthers Wednesday gives you an idea of how this team has gotten stronger as the season has progressed, notching 10 wins in a row as they enter the District Final game with Newaygo.
And likely some of the Spartans recall last year when the Lions defense slammed the door on Armock and co. with a 49-30 win.
But that was last year.
Cowdrey, Vallone, and Peot along with Armock can all score in bunches and Sparta has some bangers in the paint. It will be a physical game but the Lions have been in their share of physical games and won’t be outmuscled with Goodin, Fisk, Ruehmeier doing time down under.
Jaylee Long has been masterful during her senior season providing leadership and a mental toughness on the court. Brummel has added another 3 point weapon to the arsenal and Jaxi Long wants the ball when the games on the line.Swinehart and Painter coming off the bench gives them depth they have needed when players get into trouble early.
This one looks to be close. Two teams with quickness and two teams loaded with scrappers.
The Spartans avenged their earlier losses to K-ville and Park and a win would salve some wounds from last season. They have a good deal of confidence going into this one with those 10 wins behind them, although the only team with a winning record in that span was Park.
The Lions are great fun to watch. Their defense is intimidating and while they are known to make a few mistakes along the way, they don’t make many. Goodin got in foul trouble Wednesday and that might be a concern. After watching some 7-8 Girls and Boys tourney games this week I can safely say the refereeing, while not in any way biased, seems to lack consistency, particularly when it comes to offensive fouls being called in the paint. (Just ask Fremont's Braiden McDonald)
Tonight we're hoping they 'let 'em play'.
With the Regionals set for Fremont next week the winner of this one moves on to take on the survivor of an old rivalry as Whitehall faces Montague in Spring Lake.
Sparta is hungry to reach the Regionals. The last time the school got there was 2016 and that team won the district on the home court this year’s version will be playing on.
But the Lions are eager for a return after last year’s magic carpet ride ended, not at the hands of another team but by the pandemic. During that run they proved they belonged with the region’s best teams.
And tonight they get a chance to punch that return ticket.
Monette shot sends Holton to District Finals
Trailing 18-5 after the first quarter it looked to many like it could be the beginning of the end for the Red Devil team that had battled their way to a conference title and reached this game via a come from behind victory on Tuesday.
But not to the players wearing the Holton unis.
“We took a punch early tonight and we were able to get back up,” said Coach Keith Swanson.
And get up they did.
By halftime they had carved into that lead and gained the ever precious commodity known as momentum.
The second half began with the Devs clawing their way in front behind the hot hand of Wyatt Monette and the Warriors responded with some balanced scoring from Owen Varnado , Micah TerHaar and Brekken Fairfield. When the third quarter ended the hosts were sitting with a 3 point edge. The teams traded punches throughout the fourth but it came down to one shot with seconds remaining.
And Monette hit that shot.
Coach Swanson: “Our guys are so mentally tough. They’ve been that way all year. Our defense, as a team, was outstanding, and our two leaders, (Aidan) Poling and Monette, came through huge for us”
As a result the Red Devils avenged an earlier home loss to WMC and have been given the sweet opportunity to compete in a District Final on their home court.
And should they keep the run rolling on Saturday?
Monette finished with 21 points to go with his 4 steals and 5 boards while Poling dropped in 13 and dished out 5 dimes.
Varnado and TerHaar notched a dozen apiece for WMC.
McDonald cans game winner; Team to face Coopersville in District Finals
Story and photos by Ken De Laat
Fremont 47 Comstock Park 45
The Packers survived a determined Panther team that fought their way back from a 12 point deficit to take a late lead before Braiden McDonald sealed the deal with a game winning bucket at the 2 second mark.
Park grabbed an early lead behind the scoring of Ben Ryan who dropped 10 first quarter points on the Pack.
Braiden McDonald shook off three fouls in the second quarter to score 9 and after Jordon McDonald converted the three point play after a basket and foul, Chase Rasmussen and Joshua Zerfas each tallied and Fremont hit intermission with a 25-19 lead.
The Packers scored the first 6 points of the second half and looked to put the game away but Etahan Rodriguez shot CP back into the game and when Kaden Tofferi hit a bucket before the end of the third it gave CP their first lead since early in the second quarter.
Zerfas got to the foul line and sank 2 then Jordon McDonald scored then split from the line giving Fremont a 2 point lead, but Ryan tied it up again.
Lane Converse converted twice from the stripe and Braiden Mcdonald split but Gonzales brought Park within one with a basket then after a missed Fremont free throw he drew a foul and split the pair to knot the score at 45.
Coach Zerfas called time out and drew up the play that gave Braiden McDonald the ball the shot and the game winner.
Coach Zerfas: “ Pretty exciting game. I thought we built up a nice lead and our bench had been doing well throughout the game. We struggled a little with size when Braiden and Payton got into foul trouble.
"I’ll tell you what, Comstock Park is good. They played a tough schedule and that’s the quickest team we’ve played, especially their guards. We held our composure well even when we got tied late in the game.
“The play we ran at the end they’ve never run. We drew it up in the huddle and all 5 guys ran it to perfection. Even if Braiden wasn’t open we had an option but he was able to get the ball and go.
“Boy, what a money player he is.”
And Saturday’s opponent?
“Coopersville is a good team with a lot of height and quickness and they beat Ludington (who defeated Fremont) by 30.
"We'll be ready to play on Saturday.”
Braiden McDonald finished with 22 points while brother Jordon fired in a dozen to go with a dozen he took off the glass. Jordan also rejected 5 Panther shots. Zerfas dished out 8 assists while canning 6 points and pilfering 6 steals.
Fremont will play Coopersville for the title and a trip to the regionals Saturday at 1pm.