All three teams have been to the national tournament before. This will be the 21st year in a row that Grand Haven High School has made it to the national competition, GHHS head coach Mike Reed said. Lakeshore Middle School has gone nine out of the 13 years that Grand Haven’s two middle schools have split, and White Pines has gone 10 out of the 13 years — said Nate Mihalek, head coach for Lakeshore’s team.
The schools will also be joined at nationals by their neighbors to the south. West Ottawa High School placed second in Division C.
While the scores are tentative until later today, the excitement on Saturday was very real.
“I feel great,” Mihalek said after the awards ceremony. “I’m always impressed year after year with the students. They dig in and work hard. We took fifth in regionals, so we had a lot of work to do.”
Reed, along with Rhonda Bird, head coach for White Pines’ team, also said they were proud of their students.
If the excitement was real, so too were the nerves earlier in the day. When Lakeshore Middle School students Braeton Ardell and Nick Johnson set up their tower for the Towers competition, both were visibly shaking. After their structure held the full 15 kilograms of sand, Ardell let out a sigh.
Lindsey Dufford, an alternate for the GHHS team, explained the feeling as she sat in the grass near the Computer Center.
“State is definitely the most nerve-wracking,” she said. “Regionals, for us, is not that much of a challenge. We’re usually pretty confident in our abilities at regionals — and state is a lot harder, since only the top two teams can go on to nationals.”
After that, she said, there are no more competitions to worry about.
After finishing the Battery Buggy event, in which students have to build a car that will arch around a bucket and hit a target at the end of a course, Lakeshore student Eric VanDyke said he felt like he and partner Perry Benson did well.
“We did pretty good, (but) not as good as we did in practice,” VanDyke said.
“The battery was not as charged, so it wasn’t as fast,” Benson added.
Their confidence was not misplaced. Several team members from all three schools took first place in individual events. This contributed to Grand Haven High School’s new tournament record of 85 points, Reed said. Since teams are given one point for first-place winners, the lower score is the better one.
“We had set (the record) last year at 116 points,” Reed said. “We knew we had a great team.”
Reed added that he was happier for the two middle school teams.
“I can honestly say that was the sweetest victory in a long time,” Bird said. “The kids worked extremely hard, and I’m glad to be back in the top.”