Of all the weirdness of the year the sudden slamming on the brakes of the high school sports season was surely among the most surreal. Up until then it was a fun run. Here are a few of the highlights.
Grapplers reach triple figures
A pair of Packers reached wrestling milestones recently as their victory total reached beyond double figures to hit the century mark.
Trey Breuker achieved win number 100 at the Hopkins Invitational on January 18th.
A week later Kyler Kolk collected his 100th at the Shelby Super Duals.
Both grapplers recorded pins in reaching the impressive win total.
It’s the halfway point in the conference season and the Packers sit atop the Gold in girls and boys while Kent City controls both houses of the Silver.
In girls play the Cards of BR are lingering a game behind Fremont and CM’s Hornets rest a game back of the Pack in boys. In the Silver both Morley teams hold second with each losing their lone conference game to the Eagles.
In the end celebrating championships would be a shared experience in the Gold as the Packer girls split the title with Big Rapids and the Tigers using a late season run to share the title with the Hornets. In the Silver Kent City split their games with Morley but a late season loss to a scrappy Red Devil squad cost them a share of the title. The Eagle girls cruised to a title and a district crown but met up with a familiar nemesis in the regionals (Pewamo Westphalia) and bowed out
January 31, 2020 was the 35th anniversary of the Newaygo Lady Lions winning back-to-back State Championships. A recognition ceremony was held in the gymnasium between varsity games.
These women were the first women's team ever to be inducted into the Muskegon Hall of Fame in 2010.
Members of the 1984 team: Dorren (Berger) Hook, Erica (Thomas) Boyd, Keri Thomas, Sandy Wagner, Kristin Long, Sonja (Beckman) Heinzman, Dawn (Bulk) Bourdon, Sheryl (Frye) Presler, Kristen (Westcott) Mast, Coach Stan Thomas.
Members of the 1985 team: Amy (Schenk) Powell, Lori (Mauer) Bruggema, Amy (Saum) Putnam, Erica (Thomas) Boyd, Keri Thomas, Tammy (Morton) Dey, Sandy Wegner, Kristin Long, Assistant Coach Rose Bonk and Head Coach Stan Thomas.
Side note: The first year they defeated Pewamo Westphalia in the finals. The Pirates are likely pretty familiar to Newaygo Supe and Fowler grad Peg Mathis.
N3 has had the privilege of having Mike Gesler cover Grant basketball and he weaves a hoops story with journalistic craftsmanship.
“If you were not in the gym at the Grant Middle School for tonight’s game against Central Montcalm, you missed a game that will certainly go down in Grant basketball lore.
“With the energy and drama cranked all away up to ten and a showdown percolating, the opening tipoff couldn’t come soon enough.”
“Like the Thunderdome from the Mad Max movie, Beyond Thunderdome, two teams entered the court at Grant Middle School, and only one was going to leave.”
as well as
“The Tigers went colder than a block of ice sitting on a frozen pond.”
We only hope there will be a (safe) season and give us the opportunity to see more of Mike’s work
On Saturday February 1st at the annual Legends tournament in Fruitport another historical achievement occurred for the Grant Wrestling program.
Senior Billy Ostyn won his 150th career varsity match. Billy is just the 4th wrestler in Grant's history to win 150 matches. Ostyn won his weight bracket at 125lbs after finishing the day 3-0, he now sits at 38-0 on the season. He is a 3-time State Qualifier.
Billy placed second in regionals punching a ticket to state along with sophomore Brady Jacobs. He went on to finish his Grant wrestling career as the first 4 time state qualifier in school history and tied for second on the all-time career wins list with 165 victories before entering service as part of the U.S. Navy.
State Senator Jon Bumstead welcomed the Fremont boy’s cross-country team to the state Capitol on Wednesday, February 5th to celebrate their 2019 MHSAA Division II state championship.
Will there be a repeat visit to coincide with the repeat title?
The first time around the Red Devils were riding a 4 game win streak and the Eagles were alone atop the Silver having just knocked Morley from the top spot. KC went onto the Holton court and blasted the Devs by 25 points.
A month later and all the Eagles needed to do was to end another 4 game winning streak by the Devils to secure a share of the Silver crown.
And this time they had them on their home court.
Not so fast.
This was the classic spoiler game for Coach Houseman’s gritty group of players led by Nate Slowik and Aiden Poling. They didn’t forget the drubbing the Eagles laid on them in front of their fans and when they arrived at the Aerie there was no question in their minds who would emerge the winner.
And they were right. The win clipped the Eagles chances at a shared title and the Red Devils finished third.
A strong third.
Beyond his basketball coverage Mr. Gesler has reviewed GR Opera performances for us, reviews that are favorites with the GRO folks given that they ask for him each time they put on a new show. Hopefully there will be another Opera season soon.
Mike was also willing to cover a cheer competition delivering not only the results but also a most welcome bit of a tutorial on just how those results are achieved.
On Monday evening, the Grant High School Varsity Competitive Cheer played host to a CSAA Conference meet. In attendance were four other varsity teams from Big Rapids, Ludington, Tri County, and West Michigan Christian. Also in attendance were two middle school teams representing Big Rapids and Tri County. The meet was the second in four years for Grant to host.“I think they did really good,” stated Grant’s coach, Ashley Chesebro. “We actually had our best round one score and best round two score of the whole season so far so I think they really gave great performances today.”
The Panther girls finished middle of the pack among some strong Silver teams but one player proved to be prolific on the boards as well as putting the ball in the net.
The ‘Hawks won the regular season finale for both teams by racing past the Panthers in the second quarter with a 19-2 run to balloon their 8 point lead to a 39-14 advantage at the break.
Meanwhile with another year left to pull on the Panther jersey Emily Bayle hit the 1000 point mark for Hesperia part of the 25 points poured in to go with a dominant performance on the glass that saw her haul down 22 boards.
It had been a long time since the Packers finished a season in first place. Long before their current players were born and since it was well into the last century (1980) more than likely longer than some of their parents even knew each other. The streak spread across four conferences from the Seaway and WWAC to the Lakes 8 and finally the CSAA -Gold. There were years they came close but each time the title eluded their grasp
Not this year.
Outside of splitting their contests with co-champion Big Rapids, the Packer girls team swept through the conference schedule to earn a share of the CSAA Gold crown and capped the regular season off with a convincing win over the Warriors Friday night.
The Packers were rolling into district play where they would face Newaygo and Coach Wes Zerlauts said “Now we turn our attention to District play. There are no guarantees beyond the next game. We will give our best effort to keep things rolling.”
Yep. No guarantees
The Packer season indeed came to an end in the District opener. It’s tough to beat a good team twice much less three times and the Lions were a good team.
In our tourney preview of this game we talked about the struggles Newaygo had with finishing in their first two matchups with Fremont.
Boy, did they ever finish.
This was an epic matchup featuring a pair of quality teams with ample heroics on both sides of the court. Goodin and Vandenberg battled in the paint all night. Goodin finished with 10 points and 11 boards and Vandenberg swatted away 6 Lion attempts while dropping in a dozen and snaring 9 rebounds. Shriver (11) and Miller (10) reached double figures and put on display their patented defense while Jaylee Long dished out 6 assists, scored 8 points and finished with 6 off the glass. Avery Curnett and Kayla Fisk came off their respective benches to slap on some needed defense at critical times and Jaxi Long knocked it down in the clutch more than once.
But it was Frisbie who would lead the Lions on this night. The senior seemed to will her Lion career to extend with tireless defense that led to 5 steals and a game high 15 points, hitting the needed shots when her team had gone cold.
The season ends for the Packers but they depart with a share of the conference title and the pride that comes with a stellar season of play.
The younger Tiger players had this one circled on their calendar after a heartbreaking loss in early January.
Like the Thunderdome from the Mad Max movie, Beyond Thunderdome, two teams entered the court at Grant Middle School, and only one was going to leave.
Well, leave with a share of the CSAA Gold Conference title that is.
Tonight was the much anticipated rematch of the Grant Tigers and the Fremont Packers. Because of illness, this game was postponed a week and a half from the originally schedule date. And over that week and a half, both the Packers and the Tigers took care of the business they needed to in order to come into tonight with the share of the conference title on the line. The last time these two teams met back in mid-January, Fremont rose as the victors in a close and hotly contested game. The last time the Tigers also had the help of their top defender, Brett Long. Tonight, Grant would have to do without his services.As the final buzzer sounded, Grant secured its share of the CSAA Gold Conference title with Central Montcalm, and the Packers found themselves alone in second.
Then came the Districts.
The gym in the Grant Middle School was a packed house in this much anticipated, opening round of district play, rubber match of the Grant Tigers and Fremont Packers. Last week, the Tigers swiped a share of the conference title for themselves and away from the Packers. The Packers, for their part, felt they didn’t put their best foot forward, and were looking to kill any hope the Tigers may have had at a district title to add to their season. With the energy and drama cranked all away up to ten, a showdown percolating, the opening tipoff couldn’t come soon enough.
Fremont came out hot, mainly due to three 3s put up by Joshua Zerfas, and went up fifteen points to Grant’s four. But Grant didn’t hit the panic button, and continued to play their game. With a boost from Gage Burrows, who shot five 3s, Grant pulled within two by the end of the half. And even though Fremont went into the locker room with a 45-43 lead, this game felt like it would go down to the final buzzer.
The second half however was solely Fremont’s. The Tigers went colder than a block of ice sitting on a frozen pond. “The second half felt like it got away when we had empty offensive trips in the third, and then it was kind of a runaway train. We just tried to do a little bit of desperation shoot and foul, and that didn’t work either,” stated Grant’s coach, Joel Schuitema
Few I know can capture a story like N3 Editor Alexis Mercer. This one’s a beaut.
April 4, 2016 was a day Trevir Kral won't forget: the day he was diagnosed with cancer. 3 years, 336 days later, Kral walked on to the floor as a starting senior for the Newaygo Lions basketball team, cancer free.
"I was nervous. I haven't played basketball since 7th grade. High school basketball is a lot different than middle school." But his nervousness didn't last long as he took a pass from his teammate and drained a shot. The insanity that ensued from the crowd was epic. There weren't many dry eyes in the gym from the Newaygo fans.
Trevir's advice? "You gotta stay positive through anything that tries to overcome you. Live your best life while you have the chance."
Here’s the whole piece.
The magical run by the Lions got some traction with a convincing win over a strong Sparta squad, but part of the prize was a trip to what was expected to be a brutal regional with two GR powerhouses focusing on a finals rematch. This was our game preview.
The smart money on the Sparta Regional says the final will be a classic matchup between the dominating Eagles and the juggernaut known as the West Catholic Falcons.
After all, competing in the vaunted OK Gold GRC brought back nearly everyone from an 11-11 season to defeat all but 2 teams. There was the puzzling loss to Middleville to open the New Year after a 2 ½ week layoff and 2 defeats at the hands of OK Gold champ East GR. Other than that they have employed a tough defense to amass 20 wins including blowing their way through the Districts.
But now they face the lone survivor of another Gold division...this one from the CSAA.The Lions won’t have the height of the Eagles, nor likely the depth of the senior laden team.
But they have heart.
Miles and miles and miles of heart.
Then came one of the most exciting games I’ve ever witnessed.
They simply refuse to lose.
After a grueling and heart pounding 31 minutes and 50+ seconds of defensive wizardry at its best, a back and forth game that left players and fans emotionally spent, the Lions found themselves down 2. They needed a bucket to send the game into overtime.
Jaxi Long who moments before kept her team in the game with a triple, took the ball down court and launched a high arcing shot from several feet behind the three point line as time seemed to stop and the gym fell silent for a split second.
And she burned it.
Bring on the Falcons.
Fremont was poised to battle for a District title and a trip to the Regionals.
The Packers came to play.
Facing a physical Bronco squad and with a chance to make it to the District finals Fremont came up big behind a strong defensive effort that led to an outpouring of transition scoring.
And now the Packers move on to face Comstock Park, the team that knocked the 19-1 Fremont team out of the tournament in the opening game last season coming back from a 7 point deficit in the last 2 minutes to win in overtime.
The game still stings some of the Packer players who were on that squad last year.
And now is their chance to avenge that loss.
And then it all came to an end. A sudden end. As I left the Grant gym following the Fremont win the buzz indicated the games would be played without fans and allow only media. By the next day all games were shelved. The pandemic tossed away the Cinderella slipper that had been fitting the Lions so well and cheated the Pack from a revenge game and a possible trip to the Regionals. It’s one thing to end the season with disappointment because you lost. After all out of over 1400 teams there are only 8 that don’t lose their final game. It's another thing altogether to watch your season, your magical run, come to a sputtering end just when the excitement was reaching fever pitch. I feel deeply for these players.
Oh, there were all conference lists and we did a ‘what if’ article about the Lion girls but high school sports, the best show in town, ground to a halt. Spring sports never got underway and schools remained empty.
Now we have the fall seasons wrapping up in January with some schools opting out of the final leg of the tournaments. Basketball and wrestling are unknowns at this point with some tentative dates for starting in the coming weeks but nothing set in stone.
Our hope is that teams will again be able to compete without the spectre of the virus looming over their seasons.