The Buccaneers fell to Kalamazoo, 10-5, in the Division II state finals in 2015, but come into Saturday’s Division II state title game more confident than they’ve ever been.
On Thursday, nine members of the squad were named to the Division II All-Conference team.
Bryan Batten, Caleb Braley, Charles Allen, Chuckie Anthony, C.J. Deal, Collin Monsma,
Dee Davis, Miguel Gonzalez de Castejon and Tristan Robbins were all named to the prestigious list, which stands as a testament to how quickly some of the players have grown this spring.
“There’s four first-year players in that group, so that was impressive to me,” said Grand Haven head coach Dave McDonough. “Caleb played last year, but he’s taken it to a whole new level this year. He could play college rugby, but he’s already going to Davenport (University) for wrestling.”
The team has an influx of talent from the Grand Haven wrestling program, with players like Braley, Batten and Monsma all being key performers for the Buccaneer grapplers this past winter.
“Collin is a beast out there,” McDonough added. “Those guys are obviously not afraid of contact, and they’ve really adjusted to rugby quickly. Caleb has become a leader on this team, and Bryan is one of the most experienced players on the roster. He and Miguel have been instrumental in teaching some of the new guys the ins and outs of the game and helping them hit the ground running.”
Three members of the team that were named to the All-Conference group are from Mona Shores High School.
“Tristan, Charles and Chuckie are all from Mona Shores,” McDonough said. “They are good athletes, who have really put their egos aside to become a part of this group and that has helped us become a more tight-knit unit.”
That cohesion has helped the Buccaneers to a 9-0 record this spring. The team has outscored their opponents, 256-44, but will have to defeat a worthy opponent in order to take home the hardware this weekend.
Their challenger, Howell, is also undefeated on the season and had 10 athletes named to the Division II All-Conference team. They defeated Traverse City Alliance, 42-5 before rolling Sparta in the semifinal round to reach the state finals.
“They are really good,” McDonough added. “They have all of the aspects you need to be a good rugby team. They have scoring wingers, a solid defense and an 8-man who is hard to bring down.
“We’ve been drilling all week, and we feel confident that, if we stick to our gameplan and execute it well, we should have a good shot.”
Despite their high-powered offense that has put up impressive numbers all season, it will likely come down to the Buccaneers’ defensive efforts Saturday.
“The key for us is defense,” McDonough continued. “They like to spread you out and cut back inside. We have to be really disciplined, communicate, drift and call out the man. It’s all about discipline and desire, and we have those things.”
After falling short of the ultimate goal in 2015, McDonough appreciates this year’s state title opportunity much more.
“I think we might have gotten there too early that second year,” he admitted. “I’ll never turn down an opportunity like that, but I don’t think wee appreciated the moment as much as we should have.
“Winning a state title would just put a cherry on top of this whole experience. It would solidify the effort of all the coaches, players and parents who have committed their time and energy into this program.”
The Division Ii state championship game will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Grand Rapids Catholic Central Athletic Complex.