Both teams feature a strong group of seniors to complement a dominating junior class. Both teams have solid players up and down the field, and both are making a rare appearance in the semifinal round of the state tournament.
In fact, Mattawan is making its first-ever semifinal trip while the Lakers have been to this point twice before.
“The regional championship is as far as we’ve ever gotten,” said Mattawan coach Kirt Brown, whose team is 17-3-1 entering Wednesday’s game, which will take place at 6 p.m. at Plainwell High School.
Brown and Thelen even have a little bit of history. Brown was the coach of a Parchment a decade ago that beat the Lakers in the regional tournament during Thelen’s first year.
Mattawan advanced to its first semifinals by beating favored Mason in a shootout this past Saturday. Mason controlled much of the game, but couldn’t get a ball in the net during regulation or overtime.
Brown said his team prepared for a deep tournament run by playing a difficult regular-season schedule.
“We played Portage Central, Portage Northern, Lakeshore, plus in the (Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference) tournament, we play the best of two brackets against each other, so in that top bracket you’re playing three more stud games right there,” Brown said. “Unfortunately for us, we got a little beat up in the conference tournament, so Wednesday will be as healthy as we’ve been in a month.”
Brown said he doesn’t know a lot of specifics about the Lakers, although one of his student-athletes plays on a Grand Rapids-area club team and knows some of the Spring Lake boys.
“He’s played against some of these kids, and at this point in time, the four teams left didn’t get here by accident,” Brown said.
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