The Grand Haven varsity ski teams will get their first runs on the packed powder at Cannonsburg Ski Area tonight during the opening meet of the Greater Grand Rapids Ski Conference.
One Buccaneer who won’t compete but is undoubtedly one of the most inspiring on the varsity girls squad is senior Brittney Olds.
Olds suffered serious injuries during a single-car accident on March 16 as she and four of her classmates were traveling to the Grand Haven girls’ basketball team’s Class A state semifinals game at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.
Olds spent nearly 3 ½ months recovering from her injuries and receiving physical and speech therapy before retuning home on June 2.
Grand Haven coaches said Olds is on the team but isn’t competing in meets yet.
“Down the line, it’s a definite possibility,” said coach Tim Graham, who primarily guides the Bucs’ boys squad. “There are still some skills that she’ll have to improve, but it’s simply amazing that she’s been able to ski.”
Olds was placed into a medically induced coma to relieve pressure on her brain following the accident. Once out of the coma, she eventually began her rehabilitation in early April at Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids.
“She’s been out west, so we haven’t been able to see her ski over Christmas break (at the Grand Haven Ski Bowl), but earlier, we did some dry land training and she showed a very positive attitude,” Graham said. “She helped out some of the younger kids waxing and tuning their skis. The freshmen don’t really know her, but they were happy to be able to get that information from someone who obviously is very skilled in the sport.”
Olds helped lead the Bucs’ girls to the Division 1 state finals last season, where they placed sixth overall. Olds was the team’s top finisher in both the giant slalom (15th), and the slalom (9th).
Losing Olds this season — at least in the short term — is a tough blow to the Bucs, although first-year head coach Anna Braymer likes the talent of returning seniors Bailey Coval and Lindy Vallier. Vallier placed 41st in the giant slalom at the state finals, which were held at Nub’s Nob Ski Area in Harbor Springs.
“I’d say this is more of a rebuilding year for us,” said Braymer, an Austria native who was a pro ski racer until her early 20s. “We have nine freshmen who are going to be really talented. I’m excited to build them into a team.”
Braymer, who served as the Bucs’ assistant coach a year ago, said there are also seven sophomores on the Bucs’ squad who could fill in the starting lineup, but until they compete, it’s too early to tell who will emerge.
“We’ve had four practices (over Christmas break) at the Ski Bowl, so I feel they’re very prepared for our first meet,” Braymer said.
Graham is excited about the potential of his boys’ squad, which had three key seniors leading the way — Greg Page, Lucas Walling and Kevin Stolarski.
“It’s going to be close (in the league),” Graham said. “I know our seniors are going to ski well, but it’s a matter of picking up a fourth.
“East Grand Rapids is going to be really tough, but the kids aren’t going to let that slow them down. They’re shooting for first.”
Graham said an influx of talented freshman could make the Bucs’ serious contenders not only in the Greater Grand Rapids Ski Conference, but also in their quest for a trip to the state finals. The “fab five” freshmen include Sam Riegler, Avery Hirdes, Cody Gust, Luke Blauvelt, and Ethan Nass. Graham is also interested to see the talent of Tristan Tongue, who just moved to the district from Great Britain.
SL FIELDING FIRST VARSITY SQUAD
After competing as a club sport the past two seasons, Spring Lake’s varsity ski program will make the anticipated jump to becoming a varsity team this winter.
“We’re completely self-funded with the help of parents plus donations. And all of our coaches are volunteers,” said Gary Roberts, one of a handful of coaches leading the Lakers this winter.
“My son has done the junior development tour in the past and really, there was nothing for kids after that when they’re 14,” Roberts said. “The parents wanted to get something going and it’s carried on. Really, the big thing was helping the kids go to regionals and compete.”
Despite being a club team, the Lakers have fared quite well in the Greater Grand Rapids Ski Conference. Last year’s boys squad, which featured just four members, placed fifth out of 12 teams in the standings.
“Last year, if someone fell, we were done, because we needed four to count,” Roberts explained.
Now, the Lakers will field just a boys’ squad but will have six members, giving them a little more depth in case of a fall on a run. They don’t have enough numbers to field a girls squad, so junior Nora Reed and sophomore Mariada Gezon will compete against the boys this winter.
“Nora’s up for the challenge. She’s very talented,” Roberts said. “She wants to make a statement, especially competing against the boys.”
Reed’s younger brother, Bricker, will be one of the boys battling on the slopes for the Lakers, along with Harrison Palmer, Colin Roberts and Alex Palmer.
“It seemed like we had different kids step up and lead us all the time last year, so it’s hard to say who’s our front-runner,” Roberts said. “Hopefully we can finish better than top 5 (in conference) this year.”
Roberts said the team practices at Cannonsburg Ski Area, and team members are aided by the school’s ski club, which provides Greyhound bus transportation to the facility on Mondays.
“The first hour, they’ll ski race and then they’re free to do whatever with their friends,” Roberts said.