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08-15-2019 Tri-City Area Sports

Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant

Fall sports underway

The fall sports season officially began Monday morning when the Panther football team hopped on a bus and began their annual trip to Camp Kidwell in Bloomingdale. Later in the day the cross country team got together, the JV football team met for the first time, and the boys soccer team held their first-ever practice, at Panther Stadium. The volleyball teams recently had two days of tryouts with practices beginning Wednesday, Aug. 14.

The soccer and cross country teams begin competition next Wednesday (Aug. 21) as the soccer team’s inaugural season kicks off at Paw Paw and the runners head to Bridgman.

JV Football also begins a new era

The Watervliet High School varsity football team will get plenty of coverage this year as Josh Tremblay takes over the program. But the junior varsity team is also under new management, Kevin Eastman steps up as the head coach assisted by DJ Howley and Vic Fellner. All three names should sound familiar as they all played for Coach Tremblay and also played key roles on some of the great Panther squads of the last ten years.

Eastman enters his seventh year of coaching football. He will focus on the quarterbacks, receivers, and defensive backs. He coached with Tremblay on the JV team for the last three years, primarily preparing quarterbacks for varsity-level action. He also was the head coach for the Rocket seniors. Eastman played varsity football at Watervliet in 2008 and 2009, notably as one of the first quarterbacks among several to put up spectacular passing numbers in those high-powered offenses.

DJ Howley has been coaching middle school and junior varsity lineman for the past eight years. This year he will be working with the running backs and the defensive linemen. Howley also played varsity football for the Panthers in 2008 and 2009.

Vic Fellner joins the coaching staff to focus on the offensive linemen and linebackers. This will be his first year coaching at the high school level. He previously coached several years for the Rocket program. Fellner played on the Panther varsity team in 2009 and 2010.

Coach Eastman says he expects about 30 boys on the team this year, numbers that reflect the big teams of several years ago. He says they should have a good year and have a lot of depth, which has been missing from the JV team in recent years.

OFF TO A GOOD START… Watervliet Athletic Director Ken Dietz addresses the new Panther varsity boys soccer team at their first-ever practice on Monday. Among many topics, he told them they had a unique opportunity to create their own team culture and work ethic without any concern for previous seasons, players, or coaches. (Photo courtesy of Heather Hastings)

Middle School sports start dates

The middle school sports programs start practices over the next couple weeks, with the first football practice on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 3 p.m. Their season begins on September 11 with a game at home against the Comets.

Boys and girls cross country begins official practices on the same day and time, Aug. 21 at 3:10 p.m. Their first meet is August 28 at Bridgman.

The volleyball team begins practices on Monday, August 26 at 5 p.m., with matches beginning the first or second week of school.

Athletic Boosters need your help

The Panther Athletic Boosters suffered a major setback when long-time super-volunteer Greg Krell recently fell ill. He’ll be back in action soon, but in the meantime the boosters need several volunteers to fill Greg’s shoes at the concession stands at all the high school sports competitions. Consider donating a few hours of your time to the Watervliet athletic program.

Ladies Monday Night Happy Hour Golf League

Aug. 12 Golf Report from the Paw Paw Lake Golf Club: Weekly Event Winner – Sandy Johnson; Low Gross – Kathy Osborne and Sandy Johnson with 48; Low Net – Sandy Johnson with 28; Low putts – Cheryl Hutchins with 13.

Coloma Press Box By Dave Vollrath

Coloma Comet Football prepares for a new season

Monday Aug. 12 was pretty much the end of summer vacation for high school athletes all over this great state of Michigan. Under MHSAA rules, it was the first day many team sports in the state could officially begin practicing, in preparation for another school year.

The Coloma Comet football team was no exception. Coach Joe Stephens, entering his 5th season as the head coach of the varsity program, was able to get all his troops on the practice field to start preparing for a season which Comet fans hope earn them another shot at the playoffs. Coach Stephens owns a 16-21 overall record in his first four seasons as head Comet coach. Last season they finished the regular season with a 5-4 record, and made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

COMET FOOTBALL… Coloma Comet All Conference lineman, Cole Alsup, will be starting his fourth year on Coloma’s varsity football team, and is expected to be the anchor of both the offensive and defensive lines. (TCR photo by Dave Vollrath)

This will be the last year that six wins will automatically qualify any team for the playoffs. Five wins gives a team chance to make it, depending on how many teams win the required six games, and also how the teams fall in the divisions. Last winter the MHSAA instituted some rules changes, the most glaring among them is the formula that will be used to determine the teams that make it to the playoffs. That rule is scheduled to go into effect starting in 2020.

For now the Comets will be working to build on a winning season that saw them win their final two games to make the playoffs. The early practices this time of year generally includes a great deal of conditioning, and spending time learning the offensive and defensive language used by the coaches.

Helmets are the only equipment worn until they are in shape enough to begin blocking and tackling drills. Once the teams put on the pads, under new rules they will be limited to only six hours of full collision contact per week during the pre season, and no more than 30 minutes of contact per week during the regular season. The teams in the preseason are also limited to no more than five hours of practice per day, which can be a single practice, or multiple practices per day.

The Comets will be looking to replace a lot of talent, as they lost 14 players from last year’s team to graduation. They have 15 returning letter winners along with 11 first year varsity players, which will have to be brought into the mix. According to Coach Stephens, many of the 15 returning players have had some playing time in big time games.

The biggest loss, and biggest question mark for this team, would have to be at quarterback. Three-year starter, and all state quarterback, Zach Goodline has gone on to the collegiate ranks to play basketball at Oakland University. Two of the players who will be competing to take his position are Mike Case, who was last year’s back-up QB, and Drew Goodline who moves up from quarterbacking the junior varsity. Both were looking good during the summer offensive 7 on 7 games. Goodline had a slight set back recently as he injured his hand but, is well on the way to getting healed and should be back on the field very soon.

Also on the offensive side of the ball the Comets lost two of their top three running backs. They do however have a quality running back in Kenyon Boyd, who was the only Comet running back to receive all conference honors following last season. Coach Stephens also has a stable of running backs that will be competing to get on the field with Nick Eastman, Noah Schwanke, Mike Dancer, Ian Ishmael, David Caulton, Christian Eutsey, and Noah Mort. The competition should be fierce, and that can only be a good thing. There also could be a rotation among this talented bunch as any of them could also be playing on defense, keeping everyone a little fresher.

Nick Santarlas and Nathan Strunk will most likely move into the receiver positions, but will be pushed by Jackson Hodges, Cody Palgen, Stacey Branscomb, Alex DeLaTorre, and Mason Lampros.

Up front where the big boys play, the Comets lost two big men, but return the anchor of the line in all conference, and all state, and 4-year starter, Cole Alsup. Cole was also all state in wrestling and track in his junior year, and will probably have college scouts clamoring for his services as he begins his senior year. James Clay a starter on the D-line last year as a sophomore, will be looking to earn a spot on the offensive line this year, along with starters Charlie Cullitan and Kevin Hearn, who both started all 10 games last year.

Also competing for playing time up front are Jonan Bravo and Travis Borr. Returning from injured is senior Dalton Turner who was a starter early last year, but was injured in the second game and had to miss the remainder of the season.

On the defensive side of the ball Alsup and Clay will be back at defensive tackle. According to Coach Stephens, however the competition shakes out, the linebacking and d-backs corp should have more overall speed than last year’s team.

The strengths of this team should be on the offensive and defensive lines, as they have great size, athleticism, and experience. The overall speed of the team will also serve them well, and having 15 returning seniors will give them an advantage and plenty of leadership.

COMET VARSITY… lined up for another football season! The Coloma Comet Football team lines up for drills on the first day of football practice. High school teams statewide began practicing on Monday, Aug. 12. (TCR photo by Dave Vollrath)

The main weakness will most likely be because of the leadership and skills lost with Goodline, as they’ll have to get accustomed to a new signal caller very quickly. The defense will also have to find their way quickly, and find a way to plug a lot of holes with skilled but inexperienced players.

The coaching staff that will be working to bring all of this together with Coach Stephens is Brian Klee, the offensive line coach and defensive coordinator; Curt Mead the JV head coach, and offensive coordinator; Tim Rebb working with the full backs and linebackers; Todd Smith, a JV coach and D-line. Josh Groendyk will be the Junior High head coach, Kenny Ashley will assist him. Marshall Champion will be receivers and d-backs coach, and Jason Crisenbery will coach the offensive and defensive lines.

Coloma will open at and against Brandywine on Thursday, Aug. 29, as they start the season with three straight road games. Their first home contest won’t occur until Friday, Sept. 20 against old foe Berrien Springs.

Best of luck to the Comets in the 2019 season!

Press Box Player of the Week!

By Jerrod Birmele

Rylee Deckard, a member of the Hartford 14U Softball All-Star team this summer, is this week’s Tri-City Record Press Box Player of the Week.

If you made the trek to local tournaments in places like Hartford and Paw Paw this postseason, you witnessed firsthand the impact Rylee had on her team. On the offensive side of the ball, she batted .486 in three tournaments, striking out just twice at the plate. On the defensive side of the ball, she could play numerous positions, but stood out most in the catcher’s role. She managed to throw out two runners at second base, and two runners at third base in multiple games behind the dish.

In one of the key moments of the postseason campaign, Rylee was given the ball in the circle as the starting pitcher in the tournament championship game at Paw Paw. She threw three very strong innings in her final start of the season, allowing just two runs, in a 13-11 victory over the tournament hosts, leading Hartford to their only first place tournament finish this summer.

Rylee has been playing organized ball within the Hartford Recreation system as far back as T-Ball. Last summer, she was voted by the umpires as the Most Valuable Player in the 12U Division during the 2018 Hartford All-Star Softball Invitational.

Rylee is the daughter of Gary and Kristen Deckard of Hartford. Congratulations on this great honor, Rylee! We look forward to seeing you accomplish great things in your future!

Hartford Prress Box By Jerrod Birmele

Hartford fall sports practices begin, team previews coming soon!

Well, youth of Hartford, your summer is winding down quickly, and many of you are already thinking about that “dreaded” return to school. Well, this week, Hartford’s student-athletes got their first taste of sports practices, as they returned to the athletic courts and fields, in preparation for what will be a very busy fall of athletic events. The athletes were found practicing hard, and excitement is in the air as a new season dawns.

The Hartford Press Box will be taking a bit of a reprieve this week, gearing up for future editions, which will give readers a first-hand, inside look, at Indian Athletics this season. In the next couple of editions following this, we will be interviewing the coaches that will lead their respective teams this year, and gathering information to let our readers know about the players and teams that you will be cheering for in just a few weeks time.

Next week, we will have previews for the Hartford Indian Soccer and Cross Country programs, as they will be the first ones in action, starting on August 17 (Soccer) and August 21 (Cross Country). We will follow that up with previews for Hartford Indian Football and Volleyball the following week, as they start on August 24 (Volleyball) and August 29 (Football). And throughout the year, we expect to bring you the best, in-depth coverage of all things Indian Athletics!

If you do not get the Tri-City Record on a weekly basis, what are you waiting for? It’s time to subscribe, and get the best local coverage of sports, news and events from the Tri-City area! Be sure to get those subscriptions in now, and you will not miss the memorable moments that lie ahead!

In advance of the start of the athletic year, the Hartford Athletic Department reminds athletes and parents that no player is allowed to practice without having a sports physical on file with them, and there are no exceptions. Also, the Athletic Department has requested that athletes and parents use the new FinalForms platform to make paperwork easier for them and easier for you, too! Information can be found on their website at, or check out the Hartford Athletic Department on Facebook; just search for “Hartford Indians Athletics”.

Good luck to all of our teams this year! Practice hard, play well, and represent that Hartford jersey you wear with honor, pride and respect. As always, GO INDIANS!


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