A year to remember

A look back at the top local sports moments of 2013
Matt DeYoung
Dec 31, 2013

It’s always a fun — and somewhat daunting — task to take a look back a year’s worth of local sports and choose the top moments of the past 12 months.

For the second consecutive year, the top choice was an easy one, thanks to coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer’s Buccaneers’ girls basketball team, which won a second straight Class A state championship.

There have been dozens of other highs — and plenty of lows — along the way.

The following is a list of the top sports accomplishments of the year.

1. Buccaneers’ girls basketball does it again.

Back in 2012, Grand Haven’s girls basketball team was favored to win the Class A state title. The Bucs returned most of their top players from the previous year’s team that went undefeated before coming up short in the state semifinals against Detroit Renaissance, and although the path wasn’t easy, the Buccaneers reached the state title game, where they needed to come back from 18 points down in the second half to edge Grosse Pointe South for the program’s first-ever state crown.

The outlook for the 2012-13 season wasn’t quite as rosy for the Buccaneers. Gone were four starters who paved the way for the 2012 title. At the same time, several of the Bucs’ top rivals for the title — East Lansing and Grosse Pointe South — returned almost everyone, making them favorites for the state championship.

But Grand Haven wasn’t to be denied. The Bucs cruised through their regular season with a perfect 20-0 record. They dominated the district tournament, then powered past Gaylord and Grandville to win the regional crown. They received a boost when East Lansing was upset by Grand Ledge during regional play, and Grand Haven took care of Grand Ledge in the quarterfinals to earn another berth to the Breslin Center.

A pesky Westland John Glenn team stood in the Bucs’ way in the semifinals, but Abby Cole ruled the day, finishing with 23 points, 19 rebounds and 12 blocked shots as Grand Haven scored a 55-46 win.

In the state finals, a familiar foe awaited in Grosse Pointe South. The Pirates had been waiting an entire year for another shot at beating the Buccaneers after blowing a huge lead in last year’s championship game.

This time, it was Grand Haven that got off to a hot start, shooting a sizzling 76 percent from the floor.

South got back into the game thanks to its pressure defense, which forced 32 Grand Haven turnovers, along with a few questionable foul calls on Cole, sending the Class A Player of the Year to the bench for several minutes early in the fourth quarter.

South tied the game and force overtime, but in the extra session, it was all Cole and the Bucs. Cole scored four points in the extra session and the Bucs finished off an unlikely 28-0 season with a 60-54 win.

2. The streak

The Buccaneers’ victory in the 2013 state championship game gave Grand Haven 51 consecutive wins dating back to the previous season.

How much longer that streak would continue was the subject of much discussion heading into the current season.

The Buccaneers bid goodbye to Cole — a once-in-a-lifetime basketball talent with her combination of size and ability— along with fellow starter Hannah Wilkerson. Grace Kendra, Angie Schultz and Courtney Springer were also key contributers and part-time starters who departed to graduation.

That left just three players on the roster who saw time in last year’s state championship game.

But six games into the 2013-14 season, and the streak is alive and well. The Bucs have defeated every challenger, although their last win was also their closest — a one-point victory over Forest Hills Central. Senior Emily Sexton’s free throw with 3 seconds remaining gave the Bucs the lead for good, and helped Grand Haven’s winning streak stretch to 57 games.

Grand Haven isn’t close to challenging the state record for consecutive wins — 78, by Carney-Nadeau from 1989-91.

Still, the numbers associated with the streak are staggering.

Grand Haven’s last loss came against East Kentwood on December 16 of 2011. That means the Buccaneers did not lose a game in the 2012 or 2013 calendar years.

The Bucs haven’t lost a game in 745 days.

From a historical perspective, the Buccaneers’ 57-game winning streak on the basketball court is one better than the 56-game winning streak turned in by Grand Haven’s baseball team in the early 1960s. That team has been inducted into the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame as one of the best teams in the history of the area.

3. Spring Lake’s fall dominance

Spring Lake’s athletics teams had perhaps the most dominating season of any stretch in the history of the school this past fall.

The dominance began at the conference level, where the Lakers won league titles in boys tennis, girls golf, football, girls cross country and girls swimming and diving.

The top finish was turned in by the Lakers’ girls cross country team, which raced to a second-place finish at the Division 2 state meet. Sophomore Erik O’Keefe led the way, placing 16th overall, while junior Carlyn Arteaga was 29th. Ashley Warner and Anna Huizenga were the lone seniors to run at the state meet for the Lakers, meaning they return five of their top seven for another run at a state title next year.

The Lakers’ boys soccer team also finished second in the state, falling to East Lansing in the state championship game.

The Lakers saw their dominance in the Lakes Eight Conference come to an end as rival Fruitport won the conference crown. But in the Division 2 district tournament, it was Spring Lake that got the last laugh, thanks to a dramatic victory in penalty kicks.

The Lakers topped East Grand Rapids and Forest Hills Northern in the regional round and scored a thrilling comeback victory over Sturgis in the semifinals before coming up short against a fantastic East Lansing team in the state championship game. This marked the second time in three years that coach Jeremy Thelen’s team reached the state championship game.

The future is also bright for the Lakers’ girls golf team. Spring Lake turned in one of its best finishes in school history, placing third at the Division 3 state meet. Freshman Anna Kramer led the way despite shooting a 90 on the first day of the two-day competition. That round was a dozen strokes worse than her season average. She bounced back with a 74 on the second day for a two-day total of 164, just seven strokes away from winning an individual state championship.

A great showing by senior Ryan Fedewa at No. 1 singles helped Spring Lake’s boys tennis team surge to a fifth-place finish at the Division 3 state meet. Fedewa reached the semifinals at No. 1 singles before falling to the eventual state champion from East Grand Rapids.

The Lakers featured tremendous balance and depth, as every flight won at least one match at the finals.

The Lakers’ volleyball team also had a season to remember. The Lakers beat their rival from Fruitport for the first time in almost a decade; won the program’s first Class B district title in 17 years; earned the program’s first-ever regional tournament win; and won a program-record 44 games.

Following the season, longtime coach Sarah Bulthuis retired after 27 years at the helm of the program.

On the football field, Spring Lake raced through the Lakes Eight Conference, claiming the outright Lakes Eight Conference title thanks in part to an exciting 10-9 win over rival Fruitport.

Spring Lake pounded previously-undefeated Shelby in Game 9, 27-0, to earn a home playoff game with an 8-1 regular-season record.

The season ended in heartbreak as Spring Lake suffered a 21-20 loss to Belding in the opening round of the Division 4 state playoffs on a muddy Thomas Grabinski Field. Belding scored a late touchdown, and instead of kicking the extra point for the tie, the Redskins went for the win, and got it on a controversial two-point conversion pass that was ruled good, despite the fact that film showed the catch was made out of bounds.

Senior defensive back Chase Slagboom was named first-team all-state for his outstanding contributions on the field, including nine interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. Slagboom also scored touchdowns on a kickoff and a punt return.

Not to be lost in the mix is the great season turned in by the Lakers’ swimming and diving team. The Lakers won the Coastal Conference, and sent several girls to the Division 3 state meet. Freshman Meghan Peel had the best showing at the finals, placing ninth in the 100-yard backstroke. The 200-yard medley relay team placed 17th, while freshman Jennifer Meulenbelt was 17th in the 200 individual medley and also qualified for the consolation finals in the 100 breaststroke.

Penny Zacek, who coached the Lakers to several outstanding seasons before stepping down for a few years, returned to coach the Lakers to their wonderful season.

4. Historic season for Spring Lake boys basketball

Winning isn’t anything new for the Spring Lake varsity basketball team. The Lakers have turned in some outstanding seasons over the past several years — 14 wins in 2008-09, 16 victories in 2009-10, and 17 wins in 20010-11.

But the shadow hanging over the program over the past decade-plus is the fact that, despite their regular-season success, the Lakers haven’t had much luck winning games in the postseason.

That all changed this past year.

The 2012-13 season was one of the best in the history of the program for coach Bill Core. The Lakers won their first two games, then after losing to Mona Shores, won their next six games, including a trilling 50-42 victory over Grand Haven.

A setback to Western Michigan Christian on Jan. 12 ended that streak, but the Lakers bounced back by winning their next 13 games, including a 53-46 win over Whitehall in the championship game of the Class B district tournament. That gave the Lakers their first district crown since 1995, a stretch of 18 years.

The Lakers’ first regional appearance in nearly two decades ended in heartbreak as Spring Lake fell to Sparta, 49-48.

The season will be remembered for its school-record 21 wins, as well as the gaudy scoring numbers put up by Austin Johnson, who finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer.

5. Local triathletes compete in World Championships

Grand Haven 17-year-old Carley Grove and 16-year-old Gabby Villanueva each competed in the Age Group World Championship triathlon this past September in London.

Grove competed in the Olympic distance event, which includes a 1.5K (just short of a mile) swim; a 40K (25 mile) bike ride; and a 10K (6.2 mile) run.

She finished the swim course in 16 minutes; the bike in 1 hour, 28 minutes, 43 seconds; and the run in 58:06, good for 12th place in her age group.

Villanueva competed in the sprint-distance triathlon, which features a 750-meter swim, a 20K bike ride and a 5K run. She finished the swim course in 17 minutes, 28 seconds; the bike in 42:53; and had a 22:07 run.

Villanueva’s time was good for 38th out of 47 in her age class, and 490th out of 785 females overall.

Both girls began competing in triathlons after signing up for the triathlon class at Grand Haven High School.

Honorable Mention

• Grand Haven equestrian team earns runner-up finish at the state meet after winning the state championship a year ago.

• Buccaneers’ varsity hockey team turns in best season in school history, including a trip to the state quarterfinals.

• Lakers’ girls soccer team reaches Division 2 state championship game before coming up short with a 1-0 overtime loss to eventual state champion Richland Gull Lake.

• Grand Haven’s varsity volleyball team boasts two players on the final list for the Miss Volleyball Award. Seniors Krysteena Davis and Jami Hogeboom were both finalists for the award, although neither was seriously considered for the award by the end of the season. Hogeboom and teammate Taylor Craymer earned second-team all-state honors while Davis was a third-team selection.

• Annie Steinlage leads Virginia to NCAA Women’s Final Four. Steinlage, a Grand haven native and a Spring Lake High School grad, transferred to Virginia after three years on the Michigan State women’s soccer team. She helped Virginia earn a No. 1 national ranking and a berth in the Final Four before a shootout loss to UCLA.

• The North Ottawa Youth Softball Association (NOYSA) Little League softball team made a memorable run, winning the Michigan state championship and coming within a win of earning a berth in the national tournament in Oregon. The team, made up primarily of girls from Grand Haven and Spring Lake, advanced to the Little League Regional tournament and beat Iowa in a thrilling game, 4-3, to reach the regional final. A victory would have lifted NOYSA to the Little League World Series, but instead the Ohio state champions by a score of 9-3.

• Grand Haven’s Dave Scott won a skeet shooting World Championship at the National Skeet Shooting Association World Championships in San Antonio, Texas, this past October. Scott claimed the title by blasting 150 consecutive targets in the 12-gauge division. He then demolished every shot he took in the championship shoot-off, finishing with 475 consecutive targets hit.

• Grand Haven’s varsity volleyball team hosted the Battle of the Boardwalk on Aug. 28 — an outdoor volleyball meet that took place at Waterfront Stadium in downtown Grand Haven. The event, which also included Spring Lake, Fruitport and Mona Shores, drew rave reviews from the huge number of fans in attendance, as well as the participants.

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