Expect more of the same tonight when many of the same players meet on the hardcourt at Grand Haven Fieldhouse for the fifth annual meeting between the Buccaneers and the Lakers.
“A bunch of us soccer players especially want to get that game,” said Lakers’ senior Michael Zietlow. “It’s a big game. It’s one we circle on our schedule. We really want that game.”
Adding to the rivalry this winter is the fact that a pair of former Lakers are now key contributors in the Buccaneers’ rotation. Junior Sean Steffel is a starting point guard for the Buccaneers while classmate Ethan Groothuis is one of the first players off coach Steve Hewitt’s bench.
Both played at Spring Lake as freshmen before moving to Grand Haven.
“It’s going to be a crazy atmosphere, especially since Ethan and Sean used to be Spring Lake guys,” Zietlow said with a smile.
Lakers’ coach Bill Core readily admitted that his guys were excited to play against two of their own. From his point of view, Core feels he’s got a pretty good scouting report on the two new Buccaneers since he watched them play as youngsters.
“Sean’s gotten a little bigger and seems to be a little more aggressive, and Ethan is taking the ball to the hole more,” Core said. “As a JV player, Ethan hit seven 3’s for us in one game, so we know he can shoot it. Sean’s doing a nice job running the point for them and getting to the free throw line a lot.”
Core is more concerned with the Buccaneers’ Alex Eidson, who leads the team in scoring at around 15 points per game.
“I saw the Traverse City game in person, and one thing that stood out to me is that Eidson’s bigger than I thought, and he’s so strong,” Core said. “When he got trapped a couple times, he was big enough, strong enough that he can go over top all the way to the other end of the court. He’s an outstanding player. He’s a scorer because he does it in all facets.”
On the other sideline, Hewitt has his own worries, primarily how to slow down the Lakers’ Austin Johnson.
“Austin Johnson is an outstanding player, and we’re trying to look at how to slow him down,” Hewitt said. “He’s going to get his points. He’s going to score. We’ve just got to hopefully try to contain him. It’s going to be a tall order. He’s scoring 23-24 points a game, and that’s a lot. Not many high school players can do that.”
The problem, according to Hewitt, is how to slow Johnson while still paying attention to the Lakers’ other strong players.
“Zietlow can shoot it, and (Adam) Clauss,” Hewitt said. “Then they bring some kids off the bench who can shoot it. Plus, their ability to rebound concerns us. They’re not a huge team, but they rebound pretty well.”
The two teams began playing over the holiday break five years ago, and Grand Haven has won each of the first four contests. Core is hoping this is the year the Lakers break through with a landmark victory.
“There are a lot of bragging rights in there,” Core said. “Obviously, we would gladly trade it for a conference championship, but this is the single biggest game of the year. This is the biggest crowd we’ll play in front of. We know that we come in every year as an underdog, but we also know it’s a great event, a great atmosphere. It’s a memorable night.
“We’ll have an opportunity to reverse our fate tonight, and we like our chances. Of course, I’ve been confident every year, but maybe this one will be our year.”