With contests set to start on Aug. 16, here are five teams to watch this season, all of whom either won state titles or made deep runs in 2016.
Spring Lake girls golf
The three-time defending Division 3 state champions will be favorites once again to hoist the state championship trophy on the links this fall, but it won’t come easy. The Lakers will have to replace four-time All-State performer Anna Kramer, as well as key seniors Jackie Olszewski and Jaedyn Shelton.
The good news is that the cupboard is far from bare for longtime coach George Bitner.
Senior Madelyn Nelson and junior Hannah Klein will likely be the top performers for the Lakers this fall, after All-State seasons last fall.
Sophomore Phoebe Saunders, who was second-team All-Conference as a freshman, will jump into a bigger role for the squad, as well.
The Lakers won the O-K Blue Conference by 331 strokes last season. While they might not be as dominant, they will likely capture the league again this fall.
Muskegon Catholic Central football
The Muskegon Catholic Central football program is coming off a historic fourth straight Division 8 state championship last fall. The team used a dominating defense and a talented trio of running backs to run wild over the Lakes Eight Conference and the rest of the Division 8 field in the postseason.
The team will have plenty of talent to replace, but sophomore standout Cameron Martinez, who already has scholarship offers from Central Michigan University and the University of Buffalo, will help ease that transition. The do-it-all playmaker for the Crusaders will be the full-time quarterback on offense, after splitting time with then-senior Trenton Bordeaux last season. Martinez will likely double as the team’s starting safety this fall, as well.
With Martinez at the helm as a playmaker on offense and defense, the Crusaders will be a hard team to slow down. They should have no problem in the Lakes Eight Conference, but non-conference tilts with Frankfort (Sept. 1) and Montague (Oct. 20) will be good gauges as to how solid the team will be once the postseason begins.
Grand Haven volleyball
The Grand Haven volleyball team is coming off a fantastic finish to its 2016 season. The Buccaneers won their 10th consecutive Class A district title, and came within a fifth set of knocking off Rockford in the regional finals.
The challenge for the 2017 squad will be attempting to replace eight seniors in their rotation that all played key roles in the program’s run of success. Senior outside hitter Olivia Boeve and junior middle blocker Avolyn Lepo will likely step into lead roles this fall. Both Boeve and Lepo were starters on the team last year, with Boeve collecting All-Conference, All-Region and Honorable Mention All-State honors.
The team will open its season with the annual Battle on the Boardwalk tournament at the Grand Haven Waterfront Stadium on Aug. 25.
Grand Haven boys water polo
The Grand Haven boys water polo team finished the year at 24-17 in 2016 with a successful postseason run to their name. After falling out of the top-10 rankings over the course of the season, Grand Haven accelerated through the playoffs, finishing third in the district and fourth in the regional to sneak into the eight-team state tournament, finish sixth.
The Bucs graduated just two players from the program, both of which served on the junior varsity team for most of the regular season before taking over as “emotional leaders” for the postseason, according to head coach Bill Hamm.
The firepower of their run through the postseason came from rising seniors Mason Fritz and Grant Ruster. Fritz led the way on offense, while Ruster anchored a stalwart defense. They are joined by returning impact field players Joshua Koornneef, Reilly Wisniewski, Jordan DeVries and keeper Matt Beals.
After their inspiring playoff run, the Bucs have high hopes for the 2017 season. Team chemistry is already created with the entire starting lineup returning and recent history is on their side.
Grand Haven boys tennis
The Grand Haven boys tennis team just missed qualifying for the Division 1 state meet last fall, despite several strong individual performances. The Buccaneers recorded 15 points to finish third at the regional competition, just behind O-K Red Conference foes West Ottawa (21) and Rockford (20).
The 2017 squad will feature plenty of returning contributors, including sophomore Noah Bachmann (No. 1 singles), senior Spencer Sortman (No. 2 singles) and senior Riley Wilton (No. 3 singles).
Bachmann advanced to the semifinal round of the No. 1 singles bracket at last year’s regional, while Sortman finished runner-up at No. 2 singles and Wilton took home the No. 3 singles crown.
If the team can balance out its strong singles field with competitive doubles tandems, the Buccaneers will be a frontrunner for the O-K Red Conference title this fall.