Bryce VanderWiere goes up high for a rebound. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.
Schoolcraft’s Trevor DeGroote, closely guarded by a Kalamazoo Christian player, looks to shoot. Jonny Abel, number 22, trails the play. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.
By Mark Blentlinger
Coach Randy Small and the rest of the Schoolcraft boys’ varsity basketball coaching staff, including Adam Sziede and Caleb Eustice, led the talented Eagles team to the first undefeated conference record since 2013, going 12-0 and 19-0 overall. On February 25, the Eagles made their way south to face off against the Falcons of Constantine. The first meeting in January between these two teams saw the Falcons keep the Eagles to their lowest score of the season, 45-31, only allowing the Eagles 45 points on their home court.
Schoolcraft was not going to allow that to happen again. This time on the Falcons home court, the Eagles topped the Falcons 74-29. Bryce VanderWeire was the Eagles’ leading scorer with 20. Trevor DeGroote followed VanderWiere with 17 and Kobe Clark had 15. The next team that might stand in the way of an undefeated regular season: the Panthers of Penfield, when they visit the gym at Schoolcraft High on March 3.If the Eagles are able to hold off the Panthers, it will be their first undefeated regular season since 2010-2011, when the Eagles won the class C state championship, topping McBain 73-59.
In the month of February alone the Eagles have outscored their opponents by 270 points, scoring 554 and only allowing 284. Schoolcraft will be hosting the boys’ basketball district 79 tournament, starting on March 9 at 5:30 p.m. Competing teams will be Galesburg-Augusta, Kalamazoo Christian, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep, Marcellus and Schoolcraft.
The 2019-20 edition of the Schoolcraft Eagles boys basketball team has the right chemistry holding it together to become champions if all goes well, according to long-time Coach Randy Small. “When you are winning, everybody is having fun.”
“You know if you don’t have that glue that makes for a winning team,” Small said. “This group gets along together, hangs out together and works out together in the weight room. It helps to include the role players alongside our starters. It’s all about their work ethic. It gains credibility with the players when they see each other working so hard with their conditioning.”
The team is 19-0 with one more game to play before entering the tournaments, with high expectations. “Senior Kobe Clark sets the tone and knows what to do and what is expected of him. Junior Bryce VanderWiere, at 6’7”, runs the floor well, works hard and gives the most consistent effort. He doesn’t take plays off and is averaging 9 ½ rebounds per game,” said his coach, adding that his stat line and performance reflect his work ethic. “Tyler Rykse and Tyler DeGroote play the wings with Trevor DeGroote and VanderWiere in the post.”
Offensively, the team is getting better and on defense plays do the little things well as the season has worn on.
It’s hard not to compare this team to Small’s other two championship seasons, one in 2009 and the other in 2011 when they won the state class C championship. The 2011 team was fast and scrappy. This one resembles the 2009 team because they are a lot taller and their style of play is similar.
Small has 30 years of coaching experience. He coached the Marcellus varsity until coming to Schoolcraft as an assistant coach in 2000. He took over the varsity in 2004 and coached the girls one year when his dad was sick. He’s been back with the boys since 2015. “Maybe it’s my relationship with the kids as I like to relate to them as people, seeing how important the little things are within our system and the respect we build. We have two hours of practice each day. It is highly structured. We time everything. I’ve learned over the years not to go overtime. The kids want to know when they will be done,” Small declared.
“I want the kids to be committed, come to every practice and be coachable. This group has the chemistry to succeed. It’s the glue that holds them all together,” Small said.
The lady Eagle basketball team has been working its way through competitor after competitor since the February break. The team defeated Vicksburg 55-29, Battle Creek Calhoun Christian 69-47, Lawton 63-18 and Hackett Catholic Central 41-32.
Even the best teams will have a night where things just don’t seem to go their way. On Valentine’s day, the Eagles had one of those nights, dropping a heartbreaker 54-45 to the Comets from Kalamazoo Christian, a team they had already defeated earlier in the season 32-22. This would be the girls’ second loss of the season after dropping to Edwardsburg in the season’s first game. After this loss, the team was able to get its focus back and start adding up wins again.
The Bronson Vikings would be first up to face a refueled team of Eagles. Although the Vikings were able to put down more 3’s than the Eagles, it still wasn’t enough. They were able to defeat the Vikings 56-48. Gabi Saxman and Anna Schuppel were the leading scorers for the Eagle attack, both dropping 13, followed by Adrienne Rosey, putting up 10.
Coach Kulczyk has gotten the team headed back in the right direction with wins over Galesburg and Constantine where the Eagles posted wins in dominating fashion. They beat the visiting Rams 63-25 and the Falcons 69-35. Leading scorers for the Eagles against the Falcons were Gabi Saxman, 21; Allie Walther, 18 and Makenzie Miller, 9. With the win against the Falcons, Coach Kulczyk has led the lady Eagles to their 3rd consecutive league title. They sport a 17-2 overall record and a 11-1 league record.
In the last game of the season, the Lady Eagles crushed Benton Harbor, 56-18, ending with 18-2 overall. The girls got the bye into the district semifinal. They will play Marcellus March 4 at 7:30 p.m. in Centreville.
Savannah Seath’s Triumphant Return to Action
On February 21, the 9-9 Rams of Galesburg came into the gym of the Schoolcraft Eagles to compete at the Eagles’ Homecoming. They weren’t expecting they’d need to guard senior Savannah Seath, who hasn’t been able to play since last season’s devastating knee injury.
On a March 4, 2019 game against Gobles, Seath suffered injuries that would end the career of most athletes. After major surgery, she was faced with the possibility she might never play basketball again. She was told at the earliest, she might play in 18 months – not an acceptable amount of time for her. Trainer Jordan Love said Seath did agility and strength drills to build up the knee, but not running. She did keep up her shooting skills while she was in rehabilitation.
She showed a desire to be back on the court with her teammates with her never-give-up attitude, Coach Kulczyk said. With her doctors, physical therapists and Jordan Love helping, she was able to hit the floor dressed and ready to go in 11 months not 18.
She only played for five minutes of the first half of the game, but what a five minutes: Her first shot went for 3 points. All of her points that night went in for 3’s, going 4 for 6 with 12 total points. The Eagles were able to dominate the Rams and take the game 63-24. Other leading scorers for the Eagles were Mackenzie Miller, with 18 and Gabi Saxman, with 16.
After finishing the season with a record of 8-1, Schoolcraft’s wrestling team’s only loss came at the hands of the SAC regular season champions, Constantine. There were plenty of highs during the Eagles wrestling season; for the second year in a row senior Silver Fox competed in the all-girls State wrestling championships at Adrian college and was able to match her last season’s 3rd place.
Senior Mark Fox will be heading back to Ford field again this season with a 3rd place at regionals in the 160-pound weight class. Fox hit a milestone during this season when he got his 150th win at the regional championships on Saturday February 22. Also heading to Detroit will be fellow senior Caden Suckich, who also hit the 150-win milestone earlier in the 2020 season. Suckich had a tough match at the regional championship, dropping his final matchup 3-2 to the number 1 ranked wrestler in the state, Ben Modert of Bronson, at 119 pounds. Joining Fox and Suckich will be regional champion Hunter Martens, at 125 pounds. Rounding out the wrestlers that coach Rob Ling will be helping in Detroit is Gary Cramer, who finished 3rd at regionals in the 130-pound weight class. All four of the Eagle grapplers will be in Detroit on March 6th and 7th hoping they can follow in the footsteps of last season’s Eagle state champion, River Fox.
The Fox family tree has been blessed with champion wrestlers. Silver and River Fox are siblings, and Mark Fox is their cousin. Their proud grandfather, Skip Fox, served on the Schoolcraft School Board for many years.
The Vicksburg varsity boys’ basketball team avenged an early season loss to Sturgis during Homecoming with a resounding 65-51 victory over the Trojans.
Last time the Bulldogs faced Sturgis, they ended up with 31 turnovers. The team brought a renewed sense of energy. That word has been something of a team mantra in the second half of the season.
“The last two or three games that’s been our word. Just energy,“ Head Coach Josh Noble said after the game.
At the start, it looked like things were going to be close, but Vicksburg quickly pulled away for a 17-9 lead after the first quarter. The Bulldogs extended that lead to 36-25 at the half. In the third, the team slowly pulled away as a raucous crowd cheered them on.
“To come back a few weeks later and show up really pushes us towards the end of the season and I’m really happy for the guys,” Noble said. “They did a great job.”
Noble said several of the boys were banged up with injuries, but it didn’t show in their performance. Most notably with Kyle Rose, who scored 20 in the contest. Parker Wilson and Dillon Shook were not far behind him with 12 apiece.
Jacob Conklin was also playing through injury, but still managed to score 11 points. Drake Steele added four points for the Bulldogs. Ethan Buscher, Lucas Hatridge and Chase Myers each had two. Myers also had several key steals that ultimately led to Bulldog points.
Overall, the team seemed poised and patient. This was especially evident in their passing, something Noble said they’ve been focusing on in practice.
“They’re starting to buy into what you do in practice shows up in the game and I can’t be more proud of the way that they showed up,” Noble said.
The Bulldogs are now 8-11 overall. They dropped their three games to South Haven, Dowagiac and Three Rivers, before a 69-57 win over Parchment. In their latest game, the boys played a close one against Edwardsburg that went to overtime where they ultimately fell to the Eddies 48-38.
The team still should have some good momentum as the season wraps up.
“We want to get to Districts with a good amount of momentum and we’ve got six more games to see if we can do that,” Noble said after the Sturgis game. “It’s really easy to get them motivated when they play that way.”
After returning from winter break, the Vicksburg varsity girls’ basketball team lost their first three games in a row. They’ve since turned that around, winning five in a row.
After downing Constantine 43-35 on the road, the team returned to home court for Homecoming against Sturgis and came away with a resounding 41-27 win. The two teams played things close in the first half. The score was 11-9 Vicksburg after the first quarter before Sturgis took a 20-18 lead at the half.
“The first half I felt like we got shots that we wanted; we just didn’t make them,” Head Coach Tim Kirby said. “I told my girls; ‘You keep taking the shots and they’re going to go in.’”
The girls did just that. The Lady Bulldogs took an eight-point lead in the third quarter, holding the Trojans to only two points. “I thought we came out with a better defensive intensity in the third quarter and that was really the difference,” Kirby said.
The lead scorer for Vicksburg was Hannah Vallier. She sunk five 3-pointers on her way to a 19-point night. She also had eight rebounds in the contest. “She’s hard to stop when she starts hitting threes,” Kirby said.
The whole team seemed to be passing and rebounding much better than they did in the first half of the season. “That’s one of the things the first time we played them, we didn’t rebound very well,” Kirby said. “It’s something we’ve really been working on in practices, taking care of the ball a little bit better.”
Brady Brown was the next leading scorer with eight points on the night, using her height under the basket to frustrate the defense. Kelsey Diekman and Chloe Hatridge both had four points on the night, Payton Lewis had three, Allyson Naster had two and Danielle Diekman had one on a free throw.
The win was a big one because the team was fighting for position in the Conference with Sturgis.
The momentum continued after the big Homecoming win as the team picked up three more victories against South Haven, Dowagiac and Parchment. The wins should put the Lady Bulldogs in a solid position going into District Play.
“We really wanted that one tonight, it was a big win for us,” Kirby said. The girls’ five-game winning streak was ultimately ended at home against Edwardsburg in a 62-27 loss to drop their record to 10-9.
Three Vicksburg greats in athletics have been selected for induction into the Vicksburg High School sports Hall of Fame. They are Doug Stafinski, Kristen Kuhlman Westrate and Diane Eicholz Fort. A gathering to honor them is set for Saturday, March 28 at 6:30 at Angels Crossing. Family and friends of the nominees are urged to attend, according to Vicksburg Athletic Director Mike Roy.
They will join a prestigious group of Vicksburg athletes who have plaques hanging in the hallway of the Mercer Munn gymnasium. Over 55 people have received this honor since 1987. The first ceremony was held in the old high school gym with Jack Moss, then sports editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette, as the speaker and presenter.