Schoolcraft High School clay target league begins

Front row from left to right: Addison Smith, Aiden Weiler, Grant Goelitz, Jadon Blodgett, Michael McCale, Caden Fritts, Austin Melville, and Chris Olsen. Kneeling in back: David Glerum, Gerrin Kinkela, and Hope Wright. Back row from left to right: Tristan VanCleave, Ethan DenHartigh, Eli Wedel, Thomas Rutkoksie, Mitchell Duong, and Gabe Redmond. Missing: Brady Bongard.

By Kathy Oswalt-Forsythe

Coach Chuck Fritts and Schoolcraft High School’s clay target team are having a successful first season. After learning more about the league, receiving help from Schoolcraft Athletic director Jeff Clark and a unanimous school board vote, Fritts assembled the team.

Besides the support from parents and the community, Fritts said this team is possible because of “the hard work and help from coaches Neil Kreamalmeyer, Wade Rutkoskie, Max Blodgett, and Randy Bongard.” 

Seventeen students shoot on Thursday evenings at the Lakes Area Sportsmans Club in Portage. Students are required to shoot two rounds of trap for an official score, and they compete with student scores from similar size teams in the league. This year’s conference has five teams: Pittsford, Will Carleton Academy, Valley Lutheran High School and Ionia High School.

Fritts says the students are having fun, learning well, and progressing in their skills. Several team members are ranked in their divisions. Hope Wright is shooting extremely well and is currently fifth in the female division in the league, first place in the women’s division in the conference and first place on the Schoolcraft team. Caden Fritts is also shooting well. He’s ranked fourth in the conference and is currently in second place on the Schoolcraft team. He has earned the AIM All State Award in Michigan and has attended several big competitions, as well as nationals.

Fritts said the 2021 SCTP Nationals “had record breaking attendance this year. Teams from 33 states had 7,658 student athletes competing. They shot 1.4 million white flyer targets, equivalent to 10 semi loads stretching the length of a football field.”

Other team members are shooting consistently and catching on quickly.

Practice is critical to the sport. For example, Fritts’ son Caden shoots approximately 6,000 clay targets a season. He practices three to four nights a week, shooting 300 to 400 shells per week. Thomas Rutkoskie is an example of this. Rutkoskie works at improving and shoots 3 days a week. He has gone from shooting high teens to 20’s consistently and is currently ranked 3rd place on the team.

Fritts said organizing and starting the program “have been really exciting; the amount of support from other coaches, parents, and club members have truly made this possible. Teaching youth safety and proper gun handling is the league’s top priority, and safety is the number one rule for the students. When you can attend shooting events with thousands of competitors and not a single accident, it really shows that safety is our number one rule.”

Vicksburg’s equestrian team captures state title

Holding trophy, from left: Olivia Cannizzaro, Torie Barga. Back row from left: Isabella Dilts, Kenzie Horning, Makenzie Freund, Maddie Miersma, Megan Burke.

From the first workouts of Vicksburg High’s equestrian team, coaches Karin and Mike Fleetwood, Kaiti Fink and Dawne Steele were excited by the talent they saw. From the beginning, Karin said, “We were confident the team had what we needed to go to the state championship.”

The team did have what it needed. And it won the championship.    

The girls competed at three district meets during August and September, ending as District 15 champions with 423 points, 228 ahead of the second-place team. The team then competed at the two-day regional meet in Berrien Springs the first weekend in October. There it ended up as Reserve Champion, 21 points behind the first-place team.

Fleetwood said the team had some bad breaks during the regional competition, but as a Reserve Champion, it qualified for the state competition. The coaches encouraged the girls, telling them they were good enough for the state competition. The girls practiced even harder to show the potential the coaches knew they had.

A caravan, one including the team, families, coaches, campers, horses, equipment and feed, headed to Midland on October 13-17 for the state competition. The team was extremely focused and worked hard each day. Every day at the end of showing, Vicksburg was ahead in the competition. On Sunday, the final day of competition, Vicksburg finished in first place with 291 points, 50 points ahead of the second-place team.

As Karin Fleetwood reflected on this year’s team, she stressed that “this is an exceptional group of talented girls who supported each other throughout the season and embodied the true meaning of team spirit.” She recognized how responsive the individual riders were to guidance and coaching and said the season was possible because of “amazing parents who were so supportive and allowed the coaches to coach.”

Seniors Torie Barga and Olivia Cannizzaro, this year’s captains, “really stepped into the role with leadership and exceptional attitudes.”

The coaches, team and parents thanked the many merchants in Vicksburg whose donations made it possible for the team to go to state.

Bulldog football finishes season with 8-1 record

Vicksburg football teams, from rocket to varsity.

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg Varsity football team continued a stellar season, winning its final regular-season game at home against the Paw Paw Red Wolves 35-13.

The Bulldogs began the game slowly with a three-and-out, then a turnover on a high snap on their first two possessions. Fortunately, Vicksburg’s defense held Paw Paw at bay both times.

“Every week is a little bit different; they’re a really good defensive team that crowds the box,” Head Coach Tom Marchese said. “And as much as you try to emulate that on the scout team, the speed is a little bit different. I thought our defense played really well. It was bend but not break in the beginning.”

The Red Wolves opened the scoring on a field goal to make it 3-0 early. However, the Bulldogs took the lead on their third possession after a six-play drive which almost saw Vicksburg commit a second turnover on a high snap. Evan Anderson found Keannen Miller wide open in the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown pass. The extra point made it 7-3 late in the first.

Paw Paw’s next drive resulted in the team taking the lead again with a touchdown early in the second to make the score 10-7. Vicksburg responded with a five-play scoring drive that was capped with a beautiful roll out and pass from Anderson to Bo Skidmore, who found himself wide open along the sideline. He then ran it the rest of the way for a 55-yard touchdown. The extra point made things 14-10 in favor of the home team.

With a little over two minutes left in the half, the Red Wolves decided to try some trickery and got burned. On an attempted halfback pass, Bryce Smith read the play the whole way and picked it off for an interception that set up the Bulldogs at their own 39-yard line. Four plays later, Anderson threw his third touchdown of the night, a 20-yarder to Logan Jones, who broke two tackles on his way to the endzone. At the half it was Vicksburg 21, Paw Paw 10.

“That’s the double-edged sword when you put you put seven guys in the box. You can stop the run and you’re asking your corners and safeties to play man to man,” Marchese said. “We’ve got some speedy kids, so we got a couple opportunities. We picked and chose when to take a shot, and I thought Evan and our receivers did a really good job when those opportunities presented themselves to us.”

Paw Paw got the ball first in the second half and converted it into a field goal in what ended up being the Red Wolves final score of the night.

“Really what was big for us tonight was when we messed up on offense or they got two short fields, we held them to two field goals,” Marchese said. “So, getting six points instead of 14 is gigantic.”

The Bulldogs did not score again until the fourth when Skidmore scored on a three-yard direct snap with 6:50 left in the game to help pull the score to 28-13. On the next drive, Smith got his second pick of the night which led to Anderson’s fourth TD of the night, a 19-yarder to Miller. The extra point made it 35-12.

“When we had to run the ball, we did, we found our footing, and then when big plays were there on two big pass plays, our quarterback found the guys and both guys ran the ball for a touchdown, which was great,” Marchese said.

The Bulldogs won their final regular season game on the road against Otsego 49-14 to finish their season, 8-1.

Vicksburg soccer has terrific season

#9 Avery Snook races to the ball against a Jackson Northwest player.

By Travis Smola

The Vicksburg varsity boys’ soccer team had one of the best seasons in a long time, going undefeated in its conference and earning a 14-3-2 regular season record.

This year’s team remained almost completely unchanged from last season when it graduated just a single senior. However, Head Coach Lahou Boulnemour said this year’s team came back with a new attitude and hunger from the previous season.

“They came back with a different mentality,” Boulnemour said. “We made some changes in the positions and everyone is in the place where they belong, and everyone did an incredible job.”

Their stellar regular season led to their first win in district play in years against Jackson Northwest. The game was an 8-0 shutout that ended early. Bryce Town opened the scoring for the Bulldogs early in the first half. Vicksburg kept consistent pressure on the goal all night. On one of their early attacks, Josiah McClelland got tripped up deep and was awarded a penalty shot, which he made to make it 2-0. McClelland continued his amazing evening by scoring three more goals, three in the first and one in the second. His second goal of the night was a beautiful header that came on a perfect cross from Mitchell Vandermeulen.

The most notable thing about this year’s squad is how it consistently possesses the ball and applies pressure on the opposing net.

“We worked hard on that possession,” Boulnemour said.

Luke Malocha and Vandermeulen added goals of their own to give the Bulldogs a 6-0 lead going into the half. Early in the second half, Alex Geiger had a goal called back because it was offsides. He made up for that mistake by driving the ball home a few minutes later during a scrum in front of the net to make the score 7-0.

“These guys are just incredible, they showed what they can do,” Boulnemour said. “They can play physical if it’s a physical game. They can run the ball if they have to run the ball. It’s just a pleasure to watch.”

With about 13 minutes left to play, McClelland drove home his fourth and final goal to end things early. The Bulldogs have had some rough seasons in recent years, which made this playoff win especially rewarding for Boulnemour.

“The credit goes to the kids, they play hard, they work together,” Boulnemour said. “When you have well-behaved and disciplined kids, chances are you are going to have a great team. They listen and they follow the instructions, and it’s really rewarding. And it’s a pleasure to see our kids like that.”

The Bulldogs season ended in the second round of district play in a hard-fought 2-0 loss against Coldwater. The team ended the season with a 15-3-3 overall record.

Eagle volleyball under new leadership

The Eagles in action. Photo by Stephanie Blentlinger, Lingering Memories Photography.

By Mark Blentlinger

With longtime Eagle Volleyball Coach Erin Onken taking a new position at Portage Northern, Schoolcraft was on the lookout for new leadership.

The 2021-22 season started with Jill Bisset at the helm. Early in the season she decided not to continue. Christina Duchene, who led the freshman team last season, stepped up to lead both varsity and junior varsity teams.

The Eagles faced off against Kalamazoo Christian September 28 at Schoolcraft High School. The Comets are presently ranked 4th in the state. The Eagles took them into a fifth game where they fell short by 5. Duchene said the team played great, and is planning on seeing the Comets again in the districts. Presently, the Eagles are 3-1 in conference play. The coach talked about some of the key players that are helping the Eagles on the court:

Junior Heidi Sheen, a middle hitter in three conference games has 31 kills, eight serving aces and nine blocks. She is a force on the floor, is very coachable, is powerful in the middle and hits the ball extremely hard. Junior Abbi Curtis plays as a defensive specialist and left side outside hitter. She is very court-smart and is all over defensively. Curtis has 23 kills, 47 digs and 7 aces. Duchene can count on her to communicate very well on the court. Senior Sophie Ridge is the team’s libero. She is a captain and an excellent passer. She has 54 digs and 7 served aces. Senior Allie Walther is an outside hitter, has 18 kills and 6 blocks. She gives 110 percent every time, Sheen said.

The Eagles will travel to Galesburg Augusta October 5 to take on the Rams.