Top local sports stories of 2011: Area soccer teams' trip to state finals is No. 1

1. Soccer teams from Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Western Michigan Christian each entered the 2011 season with high expectations, but few could have imagined the combined success the three teams would enjoy, especially in the state tournament as all three programs advanced to the state championship game.
Tribune Staff
Dec 31, 2011

The Buccaneers’ boys overcame several stiff tests in the state tournament, including an overtime victory against Forest Hills Central in the regional tournament. A 1-0 win over Troy in the state semifinals propelled Grand Haven into the state title game against Canton. The two teams waged a tremendous back-and-forth battle before Canton scored in the closing minutes to end the Buccaneers’ dreams of the school’s first-ever state title.
Senior midfielder Jacob VanderLaan was named to the state’s Dream Team following the season, and goalie Ethan Beswick was also named first-team all-state.
Spring Lake’s state tournament run was nearly derailed in the district tournament. The Lakers received a serious scare from Reeths-Puffer in the district finals before winning in a penalty kick shootout. Spring Lake went on to handily beat No. 1-ranked Mason in the regional tournament. A 2-0 win over Mattawan pushed the Lakers into the finals, and they took a 1-0 lead over Auburn Hills Avondale before coming up short, 2-1.
Western Michigan Christian is no stranger to deep runs in the state tournament, and the Warriors made another strong run this fall. They dominated the competition throughout the district and regional tournaments, and blanked Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central in the semifinals, 2-0.
The Warriors looked to be the better of the two teams in their Division 4 championship game against Allen Park Inter-City Baptist, but they couldn’t put a ball in the net and eventually suffered a 1-0 overtime loss.
The fact that all three teams came up short in the state finals was vastly disappointing, but the fact that all three reached that lofty spot was a tremendous accomplishment.

2. Grand Haven’s varsity girls basketball team reached new heights last winter under the guidance of head coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer.

The Bucs completed the program’s first-ever 20-0 regular season and reached the Class A state semifinals at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center for the first time as well, where they were handed a heart-breaking 39-38 loss to Detroit Renaissance.
Kowalczyk-Fulmer was named the Class A Coach of the Year, while junior point guard Shar’Rae Davis and junior wing Alex Law each earned Class A All-State recognition.

3. Fruitport’s volleyball team entered the fall as favorites at repeating as champions in Class B and the Trojans didn’t disappoint. Behind the coaching of Nicole Bayle, and the senior leadership of setter Lauren Hazekamp, outside hitter Bre Geile and defensive wiz Amber Carmean, the Trojans persevered through a tough regular season that saw them challenged by not only a brutal schedule, but also an assortment of injuries. It all came together for Fruitport in the postseason; however, as they cruised back to the state semifinals at Kellogg Arena in Battle Creek.

East Grand Rapids gave the Trojans everything they could handle in a memorable five-game match in the state semifinals, but Fruitport’s experience on the big stage help them pull out the nail-biter. The finals lacked the drama the semifinals provided, as Fruitport swept away Tecumseh in a quick three games to become the first team to repeat as champions in Class B since Marysville in 2004.
 

4. Greg Russick built the Grand Haven girls cross country program into one of the best in the state over the past decade. The Bucs reached the pinnacle by winning the Division 1 state championship in 2010. Russick announced his retirement before the 2011 season, and despite a rash of injuries, Russick and the Buccaneers put together another tremendous season this fall. The Buccaneers came up  just short of defending the state title, the Bucs still managed to place third behind Grosse Pointe South and Saline. Russick has guided the Bucs to tremendous success on the dirt tracks across Michigan, but his impact has been felt even more in the influence he’s had on the young women he’s coached over the past few decades.

 

5. Grand Haven’s varsity football team entered the 2010 season with plenty of questions. The Buccaneers answered those concerns emphatically, putting together a record-breaking season on the offensive side of the ball. All-state quarterback Scott Stall, who missed his junior season with a broken elbow, stormed onto the scene with a big game in the Bucs’ season-opening win at Traverse City Central, and he never slowed down. Stall threw for 2,293 yards and 21 touchdowns as the Bucs posted an 8-2 record. Most of those balls went to senior Danny Cotter, a first-team all-stater who hauled in 62 catches for 1,099 yards and 14 touchdowns. When coach Mike Farley decided to run the ball, the Bucs found plenty of success in the form of Dakota Smith, who carried the ball 245 times for 1,292 yards and 19 scores.

That trio was the main reason the Bucs scored a school-record 347 points this fall.
 

6. Steve Wilson helped turn the Fruitport varsity football program into one of the top programs in West Michigan. Wilson announced his retirement on Nov. 4, capping off a 23-year career in which he guided the Trojans to a 148-79 record, including a trip to the state championship game in 2001. In his final season on the sidelines, Wilson guided the Trojans to a share of the Lakes Eight Conference title and a trip to the Division 3 state playoffs. Wilson will be replaced by Fruitport defensive coordinator Greg Vargas.

 

7. Grand Haven’s varsity hockey team had its most successful season in its decade-long existence in 2010-11. The Buccaneers lost just once throughout the entire regular-season (at Cadillac), and swept through the O-K Tier II conference, winning the outright league championship. The Bucs advanced to the state tournament, where they were handed a surprising 5-0 loss by an outstanding Mona Shores squad.

 

8. John Potter’s record-breaking career as the place kicker at Western Michigan University came to a disappointing close earlier this week as the Broncos came up just short against Purdue in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit. He finished his career holding the school record for consecutive point-after tries with 128, and also holds the school record for tackles by a kicker with 36. He led the team in scoring all four years and became the school’s all-time scoring leader during the team’s win at Miami on Nov. 16. Potter’s success has stretched far beyond the football field — he was named first-team Capital One Academic All-American after posting a grade-point average of 3.98.

 

9. Spring Lake’s swimming and diving team turned in an eighth-place finish at the Division 3 state finals on March 12 at the Holland Aquatic Center, capping its most successful season in program history.

Spring Lake set four new school records at the finals, and standout Nick Zacek had a hand in all four. He teamed up with Andrew Hintz, Peter Rick and Thomas Kramer in the 200 medley relay that finished seventh overall in 1:41.16. Zacek also placed second in the 200-yard freestyle, third in the 100 butterfly, and helped the Lakers’ 200 freestyle relay place eighth and break the school record that had stood since 1981.
 

10. For more than 20 years, the finish line for the Queen’s Cup yacht race across Lake Michigan has alternated between Muskegon and Grand Haven. In June, that tradition was scrapped, as South Haven — instead of Grand Haven — was chosen to host the end of the 74th-annual event that begins in Milwaukee. Queen’s Cup Committee chairman Dave Wehnes said that crowded conditions at Grand Haven made it difficult to accommodate the 200-plus boats that typically compete in the race.

Disappointed members of the Grand River Sailing Club hoped it will be just a brief period before Grand Haven welcomes the event back. “We have what the presented to us,” said GRSC commodore George “Skip” VerDuin. “From our board’s perspective, we decided not to burn any bridges. We’ll let their experimentation take its course and we’ll give them a couple years, see if there’s any interest in a couple years.”
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Honorable Mention:

Spring Lake tennis team continues postseason streak by reaching Division 3 state finals. Grand Haven graduate Becca Addison becomes a  three-time Big Ten champion in track and field at the University of Michigan. She won the distance medley relay and 800-meters in indoor and  the 1,500 during the outdoor season. Grand Haven’s Jordan Keefe narrowly misses winning an individual state title in pole vault during the Division 1 state track and field finals. Grand Haven boys cross country reaches back-to-back state finals for first time in 14 years. 

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