Both the Buccaneers and the Lakers are making their third consecutive appearance in the regional tournament. Both reached the state championship game two years ago, and fell in the regional finals last fall.
Tonight, both will be back at it, with high expectations against very evenly-matched teams.
Grand Haven plays in the Division 1 regional tournament at Caledonia. The Buccaneers (14-3-5), champions of the O-K Red Conference, will meet Okemos (11-1-6) at 7:30 p.m.
The Bucs are ranked No. 6 in the latest Division 1 state poll, while Okemos is an honorable mention.
“Okemos is a pretty athletic team, and defensively, they’re really organized,” said Grand Haven coach Aaron Dean. “A big part of that is, they’re well coached. They’re going to play to their strengths.
“From a lot of the information I’ve found, articles I’ve read, they’ve scored a lot of late goals — a significant number of goals in the last 15 minutes, 10 minutes.”
The Bucs have also been rock-solid defensively, allowing just three goals during their current nine-game winning streak.
The Bucs have also scored some timely late-game goals.
They’ve been doing it in a most unconventional way — throwing waves of players at opposing teams.
“We play a lot of kids, on average, maybe 20 different kids a game, and that’s pretty unheard of,” Dean said. “The fact is, the kids have bought into that. No matter what group starts, what group comes in second, it really is a team effort.”
The first game at Caledonia tonight features the host Scotts (15-1-4), ranked No. 5 in the state, against No. 3-ranked Ann Arbor Skyline (17-1-5). That game begins at 5 p.m.
The regional final is Saturday at 6 p.m.
Spring Lake, meanwhile, hosts the Division 2 regional tournament.
The Lakers (12-6-1) will face off against East Grand Rapids (12-6-1) at 5 p.m. That game will be followed by No. 1-ranked Holland (15-1-2) taking on Forest Hills Northern (11-6-2) at 7:30 p.m.
“East Grand Rapids is just like us,” said Lakers’ coach Jeremy Thelen. “Their record is the same, they play in a really tough conference, they’re very midfield-oriented, they play a possession-type game, and they move the ball around a lot.”
Jamey Cunningham is EGR’s leading scorer, but Thelen said he isn’t someone the Lakers have to change their game-plan around to account for.
Thelen likes his team’s chances in the regional tournament because the Lakers know what it’s like to play in close, hotly-contested games. His team has been in plenty of them this fall.
“We’re the type of team that has to fight through games,” said Thelen, whose team graduated several of its top players from last year’s outstanding squad. “We’ve won some, and even the games we’ve lost were close. That’s put us in a position to fight through an entire game, to grind it out.”
The Lakers have received a boost recently from exchange student Vincente de la Carrera, who hails from Chile. He played on the junior varsity team for much of the season, and has been a pleasant surprise in the varsity lineup the past few games.
“The thing is, he does everything well,” Thelen said. “He’s not spectacular at any one thing, so he doesn’t stand out, but even with the varsity guys, he’s stepped in and does everything well.
“He’s really helped us with our depth.”
The winners of tonight’s regional semifinal games meet at Spring Lake on Thursday at 6 p.m. for the regional championship.