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Five teams to watch this fall

Duncan MacLean • Aug 14, 2018 at 12:07 AM

Fall sports competition gets underway this week for a few area teams as particular sports look to capitalize on summer weather to avoid playing in the cold come November.

With so many teams to keep track of on the Lakeshore, quality play can be easy to miss. We’ve got you covered. Here are five teams you will want to keep tabs on as the fall season moves forward.

Fruitport volleyball

The Trojans reasserted themselves as one of the top programs in the state last season with an inspired run into the semifinals before falling to the No. 1-ranked eventual champions.

After faltering late in the season and losing a shot at the O-K Black Conference championship, Fruitport rallied for the postseason around an impressive core of young talent, embracing the game’s biggest stage round after round.

The Trojans graduated just one player from that All-Star group, senior Chloe Kern. They return All-State second team honoree Kylie Oberlin and third-team honoree Rachel Paulson at outside hitter. Oberlin finished with 401 kills, 21 aces, 150 digs and 120 blocks on the year, while Paulson posted 383 kills, 67 aces, 399 digs and 43 blocks.

Both outside hitters also earned All-Region and All-Area Greater Muskegon Dream Team selections for their performance.

Joining the two All-State hitters as an All-Area honoree was Jordyn Carlyle at middle hitter. Carlyle earned a spot on the  Dream Team last season by posting 353 kills, 75 aces, 168 digs and 48 blocks on the year.

Along with their stellar returning cast on the court, head coach Nicole Bayle will head up the team once again coming off a year full of accolades. Her season record of 38-18-4 improved her overall mark to 367-153-5 in her decade leading the program and earned her an All-Area coach of the year selection.

Spring Lake girls golf

Despite breaking their state championship streak last season, the Spring Lake girls golf squad remains one of the top programs in the state heading into fall 2018.

The Lakers took home an overwhelming O-K Blue Conference title, finishing the season 280 strokes ahead of second-place NorthPointe Christian. The win marked Spring Lake’s 16th straight league title, stretching through the entirety of their Lakes Eight days, all the way back to the Seaway Conference.

Their regional title was just as dominant, as they took home the top three individual scores with Hannah Klein, Madelyn Nelson and Phoebe Saunders sweeping the podium for their fourth straight regional championship.

At the state finals, a fourth-straight championship was not out of the question, though they finished third overall.

Returning from that dominant team is now senior Klein, who took individual medalist honors at the regional and conference finals, along with the Lakers’ top finish at state, coming in at sixth overall.

Saunders will help lead the team in her junior season, after finishing fourth in the league to earn All-Conference honors and third at the regional finals and 10 strokes outside of the Division 3 top 10.

Grand Haven girls swimming

The Grand Haven girls swim team posted their best finish ever at the Division 1 state finals last fall, bringing home 12th place with an overwhelmingly young roster of qualifiers.

The Bucs will return all but one of their qualifiers and all of their point-scoring swimmers for fall 2018. That includes all four swimmers from their school-record-setting 200 medley relay in Kirbey Colella, Kathryn Ackerman, Annah Taylor and Alonna Clark, as well as all four legs of their All-State 200 freestyle relay in Ackerman, Taylor, Clark and now sophomore Ocean Veldhouse. Now sophomore Georgia Basil will also return to the team after just missing out on a spot at finals in the 500 freestyle last season.

Of course, the team will be lead by national standout Ackerman, who spent the summer training long-course in an attempt to make the Junior USA National Team with a berth to the U.S. National Championships. At the 2017 state meet, Ackerman captured a dominating state title in the 200 IM, breaking the MHSAA All-Class and Division 1 records, as well as Oakland University’s pool record.

Spring Lake cross country

Both the Spring Lake boys and girls cross country runners are coming off stellar finishes last season, placing top three at the Division 2 regional championships and top 15 at the Division 2 state finals. Each team is expected to return a majority of their state teams, setting the Lakers up for another quick season on the course.

The girls accomplished their third-place regional finish and 12th-place state performance with depth over star power and will return their top six runners from the state meet. Julia Bajt, Kate Gilchrist, Maggie Coopers, Eva Tilton, Elizabeth Penrice and Chloe Lohman all finished between 50th and 91st at Michigan International Speedway last year and are expected to run again this year.

Bajt managed a stellar finish at the regional finals, taking home runner-up honors.

The boys will return more top-end speed as the Hylen twins, Andrew and Ben, return from their dueling All-State finishes, along with No. 3 runner Matt Vanderwall and No. 6 runner Jack Leech.

Andrew and Ben Hylen led the way at regionals, as well, finishing fourth and five overall, ahead of Vanderwall at 23rd and Leech in 30th.

GH cross country

The Grand Haven boys cross country team paced the local field last fall with a 10th-place finish at the Division 1 state meet and, despite losing their No. 1 runner Jack Nicholson to graduation, is poised to make another run at the top 10 this season.

After Nicholson at 14th, the Bucs return the rest of their state finals team. Andrew Ireland will look to defend his 49th-place finish, while Aidan Martin will defend 69th, Dominic Weatherwax 94th, Kyle Eveland 115th, Cole Rowden 136th and Nathan Wilffis 178th.

The highlight of the boys’ 2017 season came at the conference finals when they stole the O-K Red Conference title from 25-time defending champ Rockford by a single point.

The performance created the most Grand Haven All-Conference runners in a season with Nicholson, Andrew Ireland, Martin, Rowden and Weatherwax, four of which will return to the team this fall.

On the girls' side of things, the Bucs likely won’t make as big of a splash as a team, but superstar Gabby Hentemann should be back in action after an injury derailed her track state meet performance this past spring.

After finishing sixth overall at the Division 1 state meet last season and runner-up at the regional finals, watch for Hentemann to take the state by storm in her final season at Grand Haven.

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