After defeating the Cougars in the regional tournament in 2017, and falling to them in the 2018 regional semifinal, the Lakers met their in-conference playoff rivals for their final home game of the season Friday night.
Even by Cougar standards, this year’s team is prolific. They proved it with an 87-43 victory over Spring Lake to wrap up an undefeated O-K Blue season. The rout was on early, as the visitors jumped out to a 23-6 lead through the first quarter, stretching that to 41-20 at halftime and 69-33 heading into the final frame. They would hit 14 3-pointers in the contest.
Devon Boyd led the Cougars with 25 points, followed by Austin Braun with 22.
The Laker seniors proved their worth starting the game and battling throughout the lopsided contest — showcasing just what makes this year’s Spring Lake team one of longtime head coach Bill Core’s favorites.
“I think this is the best team chemistry we have had in my 18 years,” he said after the game. “These guys really like each other and you see that every day.
“Resilient. That would be how I describe them. With all the close losses we have had this year, they just kept bouncing back and come ready to go, every day. I am so proud of these guys. They are great leaders for us and great role models.”
The group of five seniors; Sam Negen, Kyle Wiersma, Zach Foster, Noah Verlinde and Tristan VanDerHeide, led the way Friday night with grit and determination.
VanDerHeide scored seven points to top the Spring Lake scoring, followed by Negen and Verlinde with six points apiece, Foster with four with Wiersma with three. Lucas Lyyski added five points, while Kyle Garrison scored three and Sam Sheridan, Isiah Lindsey and Zach Keyser each added two to round out the Laker scoring.
“We knew they were a talented team and we knew it was going to take the right set of circumstances to come out with the win,” Negen said after the game. “Our goal was to come out and play hard. Even though the score doesn’t reflect that, I am proud of my guys. We may not have shot well, but we came out and hustled and played hard, we rebounded, we did all the things we set out to do.
“We may not be the most talented group Spring Lake has ever seen, but I know when I step onto the court with these guys that they are going to work their butts off. I know that I am ready to go to war with them any day, any time.”
Friday night’s class of honor comes from all over the athletic map, creating a winning mix. From Division 1 lacrosse commits to photographers and football players, every one of the 2019 seniors has a story to tell.
“Tristan VanDerHeide is one we will use as an example forever,” Core said. “He was cut last year but didn’t give up on it. He had a great summer, made the team, and deserved to make the team. Tonight, he had a career-high and led us on scoring on Senior Night. He was cut and didn’t quit, he worked hard and made it back.
“Kyle Wiersma has that Wiersma blood. His dad, uncle and brothers all played for Spring Lake and he followed suit. He is a great role model through and through and does a fantastic job leading us as a co-captain.
“Verlinde is probably the best three-sport athlete in the school. He’s a Division 1 lacrosse player (committed to Marquette) and an All-Conference football player. He brings so much toughness and leadership to the court.
“Sam Negen, fear the beard. He’s a three-year varsity player and a co-captain. He has so many great leadership qualities. He is well spoken and composed and handles himself so well, always. He is going to go far in life.
“Zach Foster is the biggest kid of the group. He was slowed a little bit mid-season with a lingering ankle injury but kept working hard all the time. Keyser and Lyyski and Verlinde all gave us good minutes at his position and he kind of got stuck behind them, but has always worked hard. We challenged him to be more physical and that’s what he’s been doing. He is so coachable and a hard worker.
“I’m really proud of all those guys. They are great leaders for us and great role models for the program. They will be missed dearly. When they all came out of the game, no one asked the rest of the team to go out there and hug them. They hugged every single one. And there was more hugging after the game and more in the locker room. They will be missed, dearly.”
Despite the emotion Friday, there is a lot left to do for the 5-15 Lakers. With the district tournament looming next week, they have a few final chances to play for each other before moving on.
“You probably wouldn’t script a 40-point loss heading into districts,” Core said. “But our approach tonight was to try some different things and use it as a stepping stone to the tournament.
“Every coach in the state says the same thing tonight, ‘Everyone is 0-0 now.’ Those teams that didn’t win conference titles get a fresh start and those that did win, like Catholic Central say, ‘None of that matters now.’
“We are looking forward to districts. Would a district title ease the pain of some of these losses, yes of course. I know the resilience of this team will be worth something, we can’t wait to see.”
The Lakers kick off their postseason dreams Wednesday against the winner of Oakridge vs. Montague at Orchard View with tip-off scheduled for 7:30 p.m.