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Lessons and love more important than wins and losses in 2019

 

Brett Bremer

Sports Editor

The real all-county team in 2019 was the one supporting Thornapple Kellogg junior Lydia Cole.

It is a team spread across the county, the state and really the country – teammates, friends, competitors, family, nurses, doctors, coaches, teachers and more.

The Shields of Hope organization of West Michigan led a parade of first responders and Cole's supporters from the Yankee Springs Fire Department to the Cole's home the week before Christmas, with flashing lights, Christmas gifts as well as hope, love and encouragement for Lydia who began a third form for chemotherapy this month in an attempt to slow the spread of her cancer.

Cole, a member of the Delton Kellogg-Thornapple Kellogg-Hastings varsity girls' swimming and diving team became the focus of the program's annual Cancer Awareness Meet this fall. It turned into a fundraising effort throughout most of the OK Rainbow Conference Tier II that has raised thousands of dollars for her family and some of Lydia's favorite support organizations. It is a team effort that continues into the new year.

Cole's former Hammerheads Swim Club coach Mike Schipper continues to share updates with the club. He said he delivered a blanket to Lydia recently that some Hammerheads from the Caledonia High School team made for her.

“This new chemo is really hard. Lydia is often sick and is weak, but her spirit is still so strong,” he said.

Cole is more than a swimmer or a tennis player, or a former cross country runner, just as high school sports are about more than wins and loses, points and penalties, minutes and seconds. Every good high school coach emphasizes the camaraderie and life lessons gained and learned through athletics above everything else. There is learning to be done in loss and in victory.

Most of the rest of the most newsworthy Barry County sports stories from 2019 are victories on the field, court, course or track, or in the pool, but no victory would be a better one to see in 2020 than to see Cole, cheeks pink, goggles tight, popping up to see her time on the board above the starting blocks at the CERC next fall.

The Lakewood varsity volleyball family is one that has dealt with tough situations off the court, but on it the Vikings continue to have more success than any other varsity program around the county.

The Lakewood program made its tenth appearance in the state final four in November, earning its fifth state runner-up trophy. Grand Rapids Christian scored a victory in the final Lakewood varsity volleyball match of the season for the second consecutive season, winning its second consecutive state championship by besting the Vikings 25-21, 25-15, 25-16 in the Division 2 State Final at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

“I couldn't ask for a better program to play for,” Lakewood senior libero Kiana Hummel said after the loss to the Eagles. “It is an honor playing for Lakewood. Yes, it sucks losing, but we made it this far. We made it further this year than last year. It is amazing.”

Grand Rapids Christian bested the Vikings in the state semifinals in 2018. Hummel was one of a few new key contributors for the Lakewood team that brought back all-state towers junior Aubrey O'Gorman and sophomore Maradith O'Gorman. Middle hitter Aubrey and right side Maradith both earned first team all-state honors in Division 2 this season, and their freshman setter Skylar Bump earned a spot on the all-state second team. Lakewood also got big contributions in expanded varsity roles from seniors Jaizah Pyle and Haylee Marks, and junior Sophie Duits.

“I told them, 'do not take this for granted,” Lakewood head coach Cameron Rowland said after the state final. “There is no other program at our school that does this. Do not take for granted that you're a part of the Lakewood volleyball program where the expectation is to be in Battle Creek every single year. It is not a surprise. It is an expectation.' They know that the first day they show up in the summer, and in the fall, that if we're going to do this you have to be dialed in now and you have to know that is the absolute end goal.”

Aubrey O'Gorman said after her team's semifinal victory that it was aways the plan to meet top-ranked Grand Rapids Christian in the state final.

“I have a bracket hung up in my locker,” Aubrey said after her team's state semifinal victory. “I wrote Grand Rapids Christian and Lakewood in the finals in the first week. I think talking about that all the time gives us something to look forward to. We work hard enough in the offseason and the beginning of the season, we see some of the toughest teams in the state, and I think that definitely prepares us to let us know that we will be in the finals.”

The Vikings swept through the Greater Lansing Activities Conference on their way to the postseason once again, besting the conference runner-up Maple Valley girls and all-state (Division 3 third team) outside hitter Keilyn Carpenter for the title. Carpenter earned her name in the MHSAA state record book a couple more times this fall, notching 34 kills in a four-set match with Lansing Christian and finishing with 690 kills overall on the season.

Carpenter's performance, and that of the whole Lion varsity volleyball team which had one of its best seasons ever despite a quick ousting from the state tournament, was one of the highlights of the fall season at Maple Valley, but nothing was more newsworthy than the Lions' first season of eight-player football.

Low numbers of student-athletes in the program forced the Maple Valley program to make the switch from 11-player football to eight-player football this season. Maple Valley's enrollment numbers are too high though for the Lions to qualify for the MHSAA's eight-player state tournament at the end of the season, so the Lions made the most of their eight regular season contests.

The Lions didn't have an opening week contest, and jumped right into the eight-player pool by taking on Colon in week one – the team that went on to win the Division 1 eight-player state championship.

“When we played (Colon as an 11-player program in 2017) they were a bunch of freshmen and sophomores,” Lion head coach Marty Martin said after his team's 55-0 loss to the Magi. “We put it to them, just like they put it to us tonight. I said, now we have a model. They committed to it. They have worked hard. They got in the weight room. They worked hard  in the summer in five-on-fives and seven-on-ones. They stayed after practice and worked hard on things they needed to work on.”

“I and the other coaches said, there is the model. If they can do it, we can do it too.”

While the Lions were the only county football team that could not qualify for the state playoffs, for the first time in a long time none of the five Barry County varsity football teams did qualify for the state playoffs. Thornapple Kellogg, Hastings and Delton Kellogg led the county with four victories apiece on the gridiron.

Football was one of the few varsity sports where the county did not have student-athletes competing for state championships at the end of the season. Lakewood junior first singles player Brady Gawne to the Division 3 Lower Peninsula Boys' Tennis Finals. The Thornapple Kellogg varsity boys' soccer team won a rare district championship in Division 2, knocking off state ranked Marshall in the regional semifinals before a tough loss to the Mattawan boys in the regional final in Eaton Rapids. The Thornapple Kellogg varsity girls' golf team took the 2019 OK Gold Conference championship and qualified for the Division 2 Lower Peninsula State Finals where it placed eighth at Forest Akers East Golf Course on the campus of Michigan State University. While the Trojans were shooting at MSU, Hastings sisters Rayna Honsowitz and Rylee Honsowitz were competing in the Division 3 Lower Peninsula State Finals at The Meadows on the campus of Grand Valley State University.

“Both Rayna and Rylee really worked hard this season and kept their cool during the tournament,” Hastings varsity girls' golf coach Kristen Laubaugh said. “The course was tough and played deceivingly long. Friday really tested their patience because we had a 90-minute frost delay and the round took over six and a half hours. There was a lot of waiting in between shots which prevented any sort of rhythm in their game to develop.

“Saturday's round went much smoother as we got on the course at the scheduled tee time and played moved much faster.”

Rayna, a senior, finished in a tie for 15th over the course of the two-day, 36-hole event. She scored an 87 Friday and an 86 Saturday to finish at 173 in her third appearance at the state finals. It was the junior Rylee's first appearance in the State Finals. She scored an 89 Friday and followed up with a 93 on Saturday for a tow-day total of 182.

The Delton Kellogg-Thornapple Kellogg-Hastings varsity girls' swimming and diving team sent a pair of athletes to the Division 2 Lower Peninsula State Finals in Holland in November. Senior Hannah Johnson, the OK Rainbow Tier II Conference diving champion, qualified for the state finals in diving for the first time this fall. Her sophomore teammate, Abby Marcukaitis made her second appearance at the state finals this fall.

Marcukaitis captured a state medal for her seventh-place time of 57.23 seconds in the 100-yard backstroke final, earning all-state honors for her finish. She set a new school record with her time of 57.14 seconds in the event's preliminary race. She also broke the DK-TK-HHS record in the 50-yard freestyle during the preliminary heats, placing 25th in the race with a time of 24.81 seconds. That was the oldest DK-TK-HHS record left on the board in the Community Education and Recreation Center, set at 24.95 in 2009 by Natalie VanDenack. Marcukaitis bested VanDenack's 100-yard freestyle record at the OK Rainbow Tier II Conference Meet earlier in the month.

The county was also well represented at the 2019 Lower Peninsula Cross Country Finals. Every varsity cross country team in the county sent at least one boy to the state finals at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, and a few girls accompanied them as well.

“It was kind of magical,” Hastings senior Jon Arnold said of getting to finish his senior cross country season at the Division 2 Lower Peninsula State Finals. “It was a faster race than I expected. It was a very fast race. We all stuck it out and did better than we expected.”

Arnold, Blake Harris, Aidan Makled, Josh Brown, Braden Tolles, Tyler Dull and Braxton McKenna all closed out their senior season with the Hastings varsity boys' cross country team at MIS.

Makled, running in the finals for the second straight season, scored his first state medal, placing 22nd in the field of 245 runners. Makled hit the finish line in 16 minutes 26.2 seconds.

The Hastings boys were 17th in the final team standings, just a couple of spots behind the 1986 Saxon boys' team that was the only other one to ever qualify for the state finals. The Saxon boys were joined in the Division 2 race by Thornapple Kellogg senior Nick Bushman and Lakewood junior Nathan Alford. TK sophomore Jessica Durkee ran in the Division 2 girls' race along with Hastings' Carissa Strouse.

In the Division 3 boys' race earlier in the day, Delton Kellogg junior Mycah Ordway, DK senior Matt Lester and Maple Valley freshman Ashton Ripley were among the competitors. It was the second year in a row both Ordway and Lester qualified for the finals, but the first time Ordway was able to compete at MIS.

Ordway didn't get to run at MIS at the end of his sophomore season because of an emergency appendectomy. He made the most of this chance in 2019. He was just one of five runners in the top 30 to set a personal record in the D3 boys' race this year, earning a state medal with his 30th-place time of 16:47.8. A soggy course from recent rains slowed everyone down a bit – everyone but Lester and a handful of others.

With talented young pitchers, strong bats and good fundamentals both the Delton Kellogg and Thornapple Kellogg varsity softball teams took district championships in the spring of 2019.

The Thornapple Kellogg girls bested OK Gold Conference nemesis Wayland to win the outright OK Gold Conference championship, a year after sharing the conference title with the Wildcats, and then followed that up by knocking off the Wayland girls 11-5 in the Division 2 District Final at Hopkins High School in June to earn their first district championship since 2000.

The Delton Kellogg girls made it back-to-back district championships with Delton Kellogg with a 10-0 six-inning victory over host Union City in its Division 3 District Final the first Saturday in June. The two victories upped the Panthers' victory total to 30 on the season.

Panther junior pitcher Erin Kapteyn struck out ten Chargers, scattering five hits and a walk in the shut out victory. She threw all 13 innings for her team to earn the two wins in the circle. Junior catcher Katie Tobias, who recently signed her National Letter of Intent to join the Central Michigan University softball program, was 4-of-8 at the plate with four runs scored and five RBI in the two games for the Panthers, belting a pair of home runs over the right field fence in the opener to push her team past the Vikings.

Delton Kellogg returned every starter from its 2018 district championship team, that put together a 20-13 record, adding talented freshman Aubrey Aukerman who opened the year as the team's centerfielder and moved to shortstop late in the season because of an injury to Hailey Bucker – who has been the team's DH in recent games.

“It builds stronger bonds with people,” Tobias said of bringing back such a big group of ballplayers. “We know each other's strengths and weaknesses more. We know how they like to be picked up and how they react to different situations. We understand each other more I feel.”

It was a great start overall to 2019 for the Delton Kellogg girls, who also won soccer and basketball district championships in 2019.

Junior attacker Holly McManus scored her 48th, 49th and 50th goals of the varsity soccer season to power the Delton Kellogg varsity girls' soccer team to a 3-0 win over Leslie in its Division 3 District Final at Olivet High School in May. It is the Panther girls' first district championship, and it was from a team whose only two seniors were foreign exchange students and Kassandra Wilson from Martin – one of four Clippers on the co-op team with the Panthers.

“A lot of us juniors have played together since we were four, really young, and a few others from Martin have been playing together since a really young age too,” McManus said. “I think it is one of the best things. It is the first time in Delton history and I've been able to do it playing with them. I have been playing with them my entire life. Coach (Alan) Mabie has been my coach since I don't even know when – a long time ago.”

McManus was also a part of the Delton Kellogg varsity girls' basketball team that won its first district championship since back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 in March.

Bronson led by as many as five points in the third quarter of the district final at DKHS, before the Panthers finished the period strong to get within 30-28. The Panthers dominated the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter going on a 7-0 run to take a five-point lead of their own at 35-30.

Despite losing senior center Lexi Parsons to foul trouble, the Panthers held on for a 37-36 win.

Parsons, who sits near the top of the Panthers’ all-time scoring and rebounding lists, had to sit for the final 47.6 seconds after picking up her fourth and fifth fouls in quick succession late in the fourth quarter. Parsons had already spent the entirety of the second quarter on the bench after being whistled for he second foul of the ballgame in the closing moments of the first quarter.

“It was tough, but I knew the girls would pull through,” Parsons said. “We have been waiting and preparing for this game specifically all week. We just had so much energy coming in we were so positive. They knew what we needed to do. We needed to shut down the outside shooter and the big girl, so that is what we did and we were successful. It was a tough game, but we came out on top and that is all that matters.”

McManus led Delton Kellogg with 13 points in the win, while DK also got strong contributions from softball stars Kapteyn and Tobias in the ballgame.

The Thornapple Kellogg girls weren't the only Trojans celebrating in Hopkins in early June. The same day the TK girls were winning a softball district championship, the TK varsity baseball team was winning its Division 2 District tournament as well. The Thornapple Kellogg varsity baseball team clinched its third consecutive district championship, taking a 6-5 walk-off win over the Allegan Tigers in what was a wild finish.

Evan Sidebotham strode a couple of steps off the bag at second and Levi Vanderheide worked his own lead off of first.

Allegan pitcher Jayden Smith fired a low strike in on Thornapple Kellogg senior Matt McNee, working the count full after being in a 3-1 hole with their teams knotted at 5-5.

McNee knocked Smith's next offering towards the Tigers' second baseman Tristan Jacobs - not quite hard enough to be a line drive and not quite high enough to be a pop up.

That's when all heck broke loose. McNee's batted ball glanced off the Tigers' second baseman, who spun around to snag it.

“I was looking from second,” Sidebotham said. “I had myself turned around. It hit off (Jacobs’) glove and then it hit the ground. I looked to Dylan (Podbevsek) and he was just sitting on the bag (at third) and then he took off for a little bit, and then he got back. I was confused.”

From the Tigers’ dugout along the third baseline, the angle where the Allegan fans and Podbevsek were watching from, it appeared Jacobs had spun and snagged the deflection out of the air.

Podbevsek initially broke for home from third, then turn back to the bag to tag up. Jacobs fired to Tiger catcher Hayden Kruithoff at the plate, forcing out Podbevsek. Sidebotham knew Podbevsek had been forced out at the plate, and broke safely for third.

With his entire bench in his ear screaming for him to throw to first, thinking Jacobs had made the catch initially, Kruithoff fired the ball to first expecting to double off Vanderheide who’d rushed to second.

“They were all confused if he caught the ball or if he didn’t catch the ball,” Sidebotham said. “I took advantage of the confusion and I just took off. My coach didn’t say go or don’t, but I just took off. At home plate I kind of just moved out of the way and got in.”

It took a moment before the Trojans erupted in celebration and many of the stunned Tigers headed for their dugout still wondering what had happened or upset by it. The umpires made no signal for an infield fly.

“That last play, I swear he caught it,” Podbevsek said. “I was all ready to sprint home, but then I saw him catch the ball and I was like I have got to go back. It was just the one thing that I had to do. Next thing I know, he throws down to home and I realize I messed up.

“Then I see Evan coming up the sideline, just cookin'! When he touched that plate I knew it was all over. I was about to cry. There is no better feeling in the world. That was amazing. Seeing my coach like that, back-to-back-to-back, that must be a great feeling.”

Before long, Sidebotham was lifted off the turf with his fists raised to the sky by Colson Brummel, who had been awaiting his turn in the batter’s box.

Brummel, a junior, is the only Trojan player who has been a part of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 district championships.

“They just play hard. These kids have worked hard all year. Don't even look at our record. We're a better baseball team that what our record is,” TK head coach Jack Hobert said. “We just come together. These guys wanted another one. That's three in a row.

“We had great practices leading up to this weekend. You could see the kids were really focused. You can't look at the record. If you look at the record you're going to go 'ah, it's a fluke,' but these kids are better than that. They just finally put it together. I always say districts are a brand new season. Forget about everything else and that is what they did.”

It was a solid spring for the Thornapple Kellogg varsity girls' track and field team as well. TK sent its 4x400-meter relay team to the Division 2 Lower Peninsula State Finals, along with a handful of individual state qualifiers. Trojan junior Claudia Wilkinson was a part of that relay team that placed 19th at the finals, placed 16th in the 300-meter low hurdles, and earned a state runner-up in the high jump by clearing the bar at 5 feet 2 inches. Wilkinson was one of five girls to tie for the runner-up spot in the event that was interrupted by thunderstorms that rolled across the state on what is annually the MHSAA's busiest tournament day of the year.

Wilkinson was one of two Trojans to earn all-state honors at the D2 finals for a top eight finish. Senior teammate Kaylee Spencer placed sixth in the 100-meter dash with a time of 13.09 seconds in another event fraught with delays, while also teaming with Wilkinson on the Trojans' 4x400 relay team.

They were joined at the D2 finals by Hastings high jumper Erin Dalman, Trojan pole vaulter Paige Zellmer and pole vaulter Payne Hanna from the Lakewood varsity boys' track and field team.

A handful of Delton Kellogg guys were a part of the Division 3 Lower Peninsula Track and Field Finals. Junior Jordan Rench earned the Panthers' lone state medal, placing seventh in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles. He was joined at the finals by sprinter Nicolas Dumas who was 24th in the 100-meter dash and sophomore discus thrower Cole Pape.

Handfuls of individuals qualified for the state finals and earned state honors at the end of the 2018-19 winter season as well.

The county had six wrestlers score state medals, a group led by Lakewood junior heavyweight Grant Clarkson who placed third in Division 3's 285-pound weight class at the Individual State Finals at Ford Field in downtown Detroit.

Clarkson was one of four Lakewood wrestlers to earn state medals. Zac Gibson was fifth at 103 pounds, Kanon Atwell fourth at 112 pounds and Jon Clack sixth at 189 pounds. Delton Kellogg freshman Caden Ferris placed eighth in the 215-pound weight class in Division 3. Maple Valley had two state medalists in Division 4. Lion freshman Matthew Slaght was sixth at 103 pounds and sophomore Jesse Brumm sixth at 119 pounds.

Thornapple Kellogg senior Christian Wright was the area's lone state medalist in Division 2, placing sixth at 171 pounds.

While Hastings didn't send an individual to the state finals, the Saxons had one of three teams to win a district wrestling championship in 2019. The Thornapple Kellogg varsity wrestling team scored a 60-15 victory over the Hastings boys in the opening dual of the season in December 2018, but after a couple months of wrestling and a couple weeks with very limited amounts of wrestling or wrestling practice even because of winter storms the Saxons got their revenge. Hastings bested the Trojans 40-36 in the Division 2 District Final in Middleville in mid-February.

The Saxons had a handful of freshmen in their line-up improve tremendously as the season went on. TK had a few injuries it was dealing with.

It all added up to a very different outcome. In the opening dual, TK won every bout between 130 pounds and 215 pounds. Hastings took four of the five matches from 135 pounds to 160 Thursday, getting huge pins from senior Jacob Pennington at 145 pounds and Kenny Smith at 160 who were both pinned by Trojans in December. Tyler Dull also scored a pin for the Saxons at 152 pounds, and Gabe Trick switched his result with TK's Matthew Middleton with a 5-0 win Thursday in the 135-pound match.

“We made a point of it. We've got nothing to lose, why not do something special,” Hastings first-year head coach Darrell Slaughter said. “Who ever thinks that is going to work out? But it did.”

Eventually, it came down to the final bout of the evening, with Hastings' Mason Denton pinning TK's Camren Zoet 1 minute 34.1 seconds into their 119-pound match.

Lakewood and Maple Valley also won district wrestling championships. For the Lions in Division 4 it was their first district championship since a string of four consecutive titles from 2004-2007. Lakewood upset tenth-ranked Portland 31-28 to win its Division 3 district title.

“It was a great quality win and it is what we worked all season for,” Lakewood head coach Tony Harmer said. “We wrestled tougher tournaments this year and it definitely got us ready for this one. I am extremely proud of each and every one of these wrestlers, especially the ones that didn't wrestle that night. They push our kids in the room to be the best they can be.”

Lakewood and Thornapple Kellogg both won conference wrestling championships in 2019.

Lakewood was the only varsity competitive cheerleading team from the county to earn a conference championship in 2019, sweeping its way through the Greater Lansing Activities Conference once again. But in a race occurrence the county did not have a team competing in the state cheer finals. Lakewood, Hastings, Thornapple Kellogg and Delton Kellogg all advanced through districts to the regional round of the state tournament, but couldn't break through to earn a spot at the DeltaPlex.

The county did get a couple bowlers to the state finals though. The Lakewood varsity boys' bowling team captured the GLAC Championship and then earned a spot in the Division 3 Team Finals at Northway Lanes in Muskegon, earning a tenth-place finish in qualifying.

In Division 2, Thornapple Kellogg's Carly Snyder and Hastings' Ashlyn Hoyt both qualified for the state singles competition. For Hoyt it was the culmination to the long process in 2018 of getting a bowling program started once again at Hastings High School. Hoyt rolled her way to a regional championship in 2019.

“I knew that I could win, and that is what I did. I went out there and I bowled the best that I could. It was challenging, definitely, trying to see the transitions and trying to see everything when things were breaking down. It was just really hard, but I worked through that and came out strong,” Hoyt said.

Snyder advanced all the way through to the state quarterfinals of the singles tournament at the D2 finals at Century Bowl in Waterford. She had already helped lead a young TK girls' team to an OK Gold Conference championship in 2019.

While there were some bittersweet moments around the pool deck for the DK-TK-HHS girls' swimming and diving team in the fall of 2019 there were some for the DK-TK-HHS boys' last winter as well. Head coach Tyler Bultema coached his final meets for the program, retiring from coaching after 15 years.

He was showered with gifts from former athletes during the OK Rainbow Tier II Conference Meet, and also tossed into the pool with the conference champion coaches from Wayland and Caledonia-Lowell-South Christian at the conclusion of the meet.

The conclusion of the conference meet wasn't the end for DK-TK-HHS senior Alex Fabiano though, who went on to face in the Division 1 State Finals in both the 100-yard backstroke and the 100-yard freestyle. Fabiano closed out a stellar varsity swimming career by medaling in 15th-place in the 100-yard backstroke at the finals in Holland.

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