Category Archives: Sports

Schoolcraft Girls are Regional Champs

With the fourth quarter of the Regional Finals beginning, the Schoolcraft girls basketball team found itself down by 10 points to Bronson at Homer High School.  The Eagles were behind from the first minute of the game, but had a simple game plan.  “Coach told us we needed to win the first 3 minutes,” explained senior Amber Overley.  Not only did the Eagles win the first 3 minutes, they outscored Bronson 20-3 over the next 8 minutes to earn Schoolcraft’s first Regional Championship, 39-32.

Lydia Goble and Gabi Saxman finished the game with 12 points each.  Kennedy Leighton was the star of the game.  It was her defense – along with Sophie Woodhams and Goble – that enabled Schoolcraft to make the dramatic comeback.  As Bronson fought to stay ahead, then to retake the lead it was Wynn Stitt, Madison Saxman, and Overley that took over the paint.  The victory sets up a quarterfinal matchup with Pewamo-Westphalia at Portage Northern on March 14th at 6:30.

Schoolcraft Boys’ Basketball Has a Near Perfect Season

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Caleb Eustice (22) heads for the basket. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.

By Sean Budlong

In 2011, the Schoolcraft boys’ basketball team went undefeated and won the Class C Championship. Six years later, the Eagles basketball team is again poised for a long post-season run. Currently ranked 12th in Class C, the 17-1 Eagles are entering the State playoffs on a 13-game winning streak.

The Eagles offense has generated impressive numbers. During the current winning streak, Schoolcraft has been held to less than 60 points just once in a 58-56 victory over Kalamazoo Christian. The Eagles have averaged 76 points since the January 10th loss to Kalamazoo Hackett when the offense only scored 39 points.

Schoolcraft is not a one-dimensional offense. Caleb Eustice is clearly the top long-distance shooting threat, shooting 45.2 percent from three-point distance. It was Eustice’s three-point basket with 20 seconds left in the first half at Christian that gave the Eagles the first lead of the night. He delivered the game-winning shot with less than 30 seconds left. Teams that focus too much on Eustice find out quickly that the Eagles back court is more than a one-man show. Max Kulczyk (7.6 points per game on 42 percent shooting) and Ricky Clark (13.7 points per game on 52 percent shooting) can take over a game.

The Eagles post players have really stepped up their game over the last month. Jason Feddema, Matt Schuppel, and Blake Bales have played outstanding defense while adding needed baskets. They have averaged almost nine rebounds per game.

While the offense has gotten the attention of the fans, it’s the defense that has made the difference. The Eagles have given up an average of 39 points in the last 13 games. During this streak, only Christian and Vicksburg have scored more than 50 points and five teams have been held to less than 30 points.

How deep Schoolcraft plays in March will be determined by its ability to get contributions from the deep bench. When the Eagles beat Vicksburg 82-73, Eustice hit 4 early three-point shots (on his way to a game high 29). Vicksburg spent the rest of the game focused on Eustice, which freed up Clark to score 20 points, and Riley Piper added 12.

The victory over fourth ranked Kalamazoo Hackett shows how far these Eagles have come this season. During the 50-39 loss, Teddy Oosterbaan and Heath Baldwin dominated the paint, scoring a combined 29 points. Schoolcraft generated a total of 10 points from the post. The rematch on February 21 was a complete flip of this script. The Eagles held the lead from start to finish, and Feddema, Schuppel, and Bales never allowed Oosterbaan (6 points) to impact the game. While not eligible to play during the loss due to transfer rules, Eustice scored 22 in the win. Kulczyk added 14 points, Clark 8 points, and Feddema 7.

Nothing will come easy to Schoolcraft once the playoffs begin. It is likely that the Eagles will face Hackett once more. The winner of that game may end up with the Championship trophy on March 25 at the Breslin Center.

Schoolcraft Girls’ Basketball Gets Tough on Defense

By Sean Budlong

The Schoolcraft girls’ basketball team continued a successful season into District Playoffs. The Lady Eagles, 14-5 on the season, beat White Pigeon 48-17 in the first post season game.

Schoolcraft has used defense to set up the offense all season. Head Coach Doug Flynn rotates players early and often to keep fresh legs on the court. This style of play has allowed the Eagles to take early leads and hold off opponents. White Pigeon was just the latest victim of Schoolcraft’s suffocating defense. The Chiefs’ first eight offensive possessions ended in seven Eagle steals and one blocked shot. A 16-0 first-quarter score turned into an easy Eagle victory.

How deep the Eagles play into March will be dependent on how consistently the offense plays. In losses to Galesburg Augusta and Hackett, early leads turned into deficits late in the game. The Eagles averaged 50.5 points in victory, only 33.8 in the five losses.

Schoolcraft’s defense has been led by Kennedy Leighton, Madison Saxman, Sophie Woodhams and Gabi Saxman. If a team can push the ball up court against this group, they encounter strong post play from Wynn Stitt, Amber Overley, and Morgan Warnaar.

Lydia Goble has powered the Eagles’ offense all season. Whether draining three-point shots or driving the lane, Goble is the player that opposing defenses must stop. However, Schoolcraft is not a one-person team. Leighton, both Saxmans and Stitt have led the team in scoring. Concentrate on any one player too much, and her teammates can hurt you. White Pigeon found this out when it lost 8 points to Woodhams and 5 to Overley.

Schoolcraft must bring its best effort in the District Semi Finals, where it will face Centreville (19-1 on the season).

Schoolcraft Bowling Teams Create Excitement

By Mark Blentlinger, coach of the Schoolcraft bowling teams

It was 8 a.m. on Friday February 24th. A total of 30 teams, 17 boys’ teams and 13 girls’ teams from all around the state, were ready to compete in the Division 4, section 21 Regional Championship. Along with Schoolcraft, the other schools included were Addison, Bronson, Burr Oak, Dansville, East Jackson, Galesburg Augusta, Grass Lake, Hanover Horton, Hudson, Jackson Lumen Christi, Kalamazoo Christian, Hackett Catholic Prep, Napoleon, Niles Brandywine, Sand Creek and Vandercook Lake. All these teams had a goal to walk out with that 1st place Regional trophy and/or State qualification. Only the top three teams and the top 10 bowlers, boy and girl, advanced.

The Schoolcraft boys’ team included seniors Blake Bales, Nick Hayward, Dustin McAllister and juniors Sean Endres, Nolan Ballard, Jack Waldron and Austin Edwards. The boys started out strong in the Baker games, but as the day rolled on, the oil pattern proved to be changing way too fast for the bowlers to adjust. The boys did not finish in the top three to secure their chance at a Division 4 State Championship, but they held their heads up, did their best and finished 13th.

On the other end of the bowling alley, the girls were starting out strong and not looking back. The team consisted of seniors Megan West, Gurjot Nanhra and Toni Schimmel; juniors Chloe Baldwin, Kira Wright, and Katelynn Robertson and freshman Shelbe Bryustens. Schoolcraft Lady Eagles were ranked number three in the state, in Division 4, and took the lead throughout the six Baker games. After game two of the individual game portion of the team event, Jackson Vandercook Lake (ranked number one) took over the lead by 36 pins. Schoolcraft finished in second place, qualifying for the State Championships.

February 25th was the Individual event, starting with 94 boys competing for one of the top 10 State qualifying positions. After game four out of six, Bales approached me and asked, “What do I need to do to make it?”

“You’re in 29th right now. You need two good 200-plus games.” Blake responded in game five with a 202 to move up to the 14th position. In game six, he rolled a 221. The wait seemed forever while they added up all the scores and announced the top 10. Blake finished in 9th place, securing his position to advance to State. This is the third consecutive year that Blake will get to battle, with 60 other boys, for the State Championship.

Then it was the girls’ turn for their chance to qualify for the State Championship. Megan West started out strong and was in the top 10 until, in game 4, she struggled a bit and fell down to 13th. She had a good game 5 and moved up into 11th place. She knew she needed a strong game 6. She answered that with a nice 173 game. The 20-30 minute wait to find out if Megan had made it back into the top 10 was taking its toll. Her nerves were definitely getting the better of her.

Megan’s freshman teammate, Shelbe Bruystens, had no worries, with most of her games ranging up into the 180’s. For her first year as a high school bowler she held herself together very nicely.

When the results were finally ready, they announced the tenth, ninth and eighth place qualifiers. At this point, Megan was thinking she didn’t make it her senior year and tears began to fall. Then it came over the speaker, “Finishing in seventh place, from Schoolcraft High School, Megan West!” The smile appeared through the tears, as she walked out onto the approach to receive her medal and stand with the other girl bowlers that were advancing to State. To make the day even greater, we then heard, “In fourth place, from Schoolcraft High School, Shelbe Bryustens!” There were cheers all around!

Wrestling Runs in the Fox Family of Schoolcraft

By Sean Budlong

Sports stories about siblings playing on the same team are not unusual- Many families have stories of brothers who are pitcher/catcher combinations for the baseball team or sisters that are point guard and forward. Schoolcraft wrestling takes this story line to the next level with the Fox family.

Spencer Fox is a senior who has helped the Eagle football team earn back-to-back undefeated seasons as a running back and linebacker. In the winter, Spencer becomes an individual beast on the wrestling mat. As a junior, he finished third in the State. As a senior, he entered the State Tournament undefeated and ranked 2nd in the 130 weight class. What makes Spencer’s story unusual is who he wrestles with and against away from school.

Spencer is joined on the Eagles wrestling team by his brother Mark, and his cousins River, a sophomore, and Silver, a freshman. “I enjoy spending time with family, but it can get a little intense when you spend a few hours a day beating on each other for months at a time,” Spencer said with a laugh.

Joking aside, the Fox family and the Schoolcraft wrestling program benefit greatly from the family connection. By having a highly successful and motivated family member available to encourage and challenge them, the younger wrestlers are already having great impact in the wrestling world. River reached his first State Tournament this season.

The family competitions began early. “Even when River was 5 or 6, he would be my wrestling partner because he was so much bigger than other kids,” Spencer explained. “We still work out together, but I’m not going to throw him around anymore.” Now the family shares the experience, good and bad, and learn from each other.

While River stands apart based on size, Silver has to overcome questions about a girl wrestling against boys. “it’s a love or hate sport,” said Wendy Fox, Silver and River’s mother. “Silver’s friends may not understand why she does it, but it makes her a better athlete for volleyball and softball.”

One teammate that understands the impact that family competition can have on an athlete is Ethan Sharp. Sharp is the fourth brother to wrestle for Schoolcraft and made his fourth trip to the State Finals. “It was good to always have someone to practice with and ask for help,” said Sharp. “But it was also difficult because he (Zac Sharp) was really competitive and didn’t always want a younger brother who could be as good as him. In the long run, it was a great benefit to me and the program.”

Spencer takes great pride in the accomplishments of his family. “Mark had a really strong year as a freshman and I like helping him with moves and strategy,” he said. “Silver really came through in some clutch situations – especially the Coloma match. And I’m really proud of River making States finals as a sophomore.”

While Spencer’s high school wrestling career ended with a second consecutive third place State finish, his impact on the Schoolcraft program will continue for a few more years. His last words of advice? “You have to be careful who you mess with at family functions, because there’s always someone who is willing to take you on. And it gets serious fast.”

Bulldog Basketball Keeps the Thrills Coming

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Trent Lomason (44) scores in a tight game against Otsego.

By Travis Smola

Vicksburg head basketball coach Rob Johnson likes to joke his team is giving him more gray hairs. It’s hard to argue with him, considering how so many games have come down to the wire.

“Every night it’s a battle,” Johnson said after the boys held on the last few minutes for a narrow 60-55 win over Edwardsburg on the road. “I love that, but I wish it was a little easier.”

What’s hard on the coach makes for great fun for the fans, however. The boys have an 8-10 record, but many of their losses could have gone either way. The team lost a one-point heartbreaker to Dowagiac, 72-71, and dropped another game against Edwardsburg, 74-68, in overtime.

Their victories seem to always be by only a few points. The first game of February was a 59-53 home victory over Sturgis.

On any given night, one never knows who will have a huge game on this Bulldogs roster. Then there are other nights where the team manages to spread the ball. Against Edwardsburg, Deondre Lovell led the way with 18 points, Blake Rankin had 16 and Brendan Lovell had 15.

Johnson was pleased to see that kind of balance offensively and noted the Eddies are a scrappy team. The two teams each had their share of runs that was answered in turn by the other side.

There should be plenty more exciting moments for Bulldog basketball as tournament play gets underway in the early part of March.

Lady Bulldogs Go on 7-Game Win Streak

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Taylor Dent (42) heads for the basket in an exciting game against Sturgis.

By Travis Smola

Towards the end of January, things were not looking good for the Lady Bulldogs basketball team. The team was 3-8 on January 20 after a 47-33 loss to Edwardsburg.

Not one to give up easily, head coach Jesse Vanabel decided to go back to some basics in practice, starting with a heavy emphasis on rebound drills. “We hammered the heck out of that,” Vanabel said. “That did turn around the season for us.”

That’s an understatement. Starting with Three Rivers on January 24, the girls rattled off seven straight wins; their record now sits at 10-10. The girls also started shooting better. Their shooting percentage went from 28 to 39 percent during the streak.

“That 11 percent makes all the difference in the world,” Vanabel said.

The win streak finally came to an end against Edwardsburg in a defensive struggle on the road. Points were extremely hard to come by in a tight contest. The girls also lost their game against Plainwell the following week, but considering where they were earlier in the year, it’s quite the turnaround.

Vanabel noted it’s always good to have your team on the rise in the second half of the season. And the girls are believers in the system. “They’re buying into what we’re doing,” Vanabel said.

The Lady Bulldogs begin tournament play in early March.