08-22-2019 Tri-City Area Sports

Hartford Prress Box By Jerrod Birmele

Hartford Boys Soccer season preview

The Hartford Boys Soccer program has been a staple of excellence in Southwest Michigan for over a decade, and the 2018 season was no different. The team went on to have a record of 19-3-1, won the Southwest 10 Conference once again, and scored yet another District Championship trophy to add to the case. The only hurdle the team has yet to achieve is a Regional Championship, and this season begins with lofty goals the team wants to accomplish.

MASTERING THE MOVES… Members of the Hartford Boys Soccer team participate in a drill during practice on Monday. This year’s team will have to grow up quickly after the loss of 12 seniors last spring to graduation. See the Hartford Press Box for more. (Photo Courtesy of Nick Blackmer)

While there is always great optimism with this team and the expectations are high, 11-year Head Coach Nick Blackmer chooses to look ahead cautiously. The team lost 12 seniors to graduation, including several of their top goal scorers and their starting goalkeeper. However, several key pieces are among the returners for Hartford, a group that Coach Blackmer says, “…are very skilled with great leadership”.

Among the returners include three seniors in the form of Miggy Cardoso, Nick Pultz and Joel Soto. All three were Southwest 10 Conference All-Conference selections a year ago, and are solid leaders on, and off, the pitch. Cardoso was the team’s Most Improved Player last season, while Pultz earned Most Valuable Player honors, along with being named to the All-State team as a Second Team selection.

So, what’s the reason for caution especially early on? Hartford boasts one of the youngest teams that Coach Blackmer has had in all his years of coaching. The team has many newcomers joining the ranks this season, and the incoming freshman class is expected to make up at-least five of the eleven starters on the field this year. However, Coach Blackmer notes that this is “the most talented group of freshman we have ever had at Hartford”.

In terms of conference competition, Coach Blackmer singles out Bloomingdale, telling that they should have some solid returners coming back. But, in many people’s eyes, the league is really Hartford’s to lose. In terms of his own team, Coach Blackmer said, “We will have to lean on our veteran players, as they show their young teammates how to play Hartford soccer.”

The Hartford Boys Soccer program began their season last weekend, traveling to Adrian Lenawee Christian for a tournament. The team hosted Fennville for a scrimmage on Wednesday, Aug. 21, and return to their regular season schedule on Monday, Aug. 26, when they host Watervliet.

Good luck this season, men!

Hartford Girls Cross Country season preview

The Hartford Girls Cross Country program had a plethora of successful meets and stories during the 2018 season. And, because of that, the team possesses plenty of momentum moving forward into the new season. The ladies placed second overall in the Southwest 10 Conference last year, and also qualified for Team State, thanks to a runner-up finish at the MHSAA Regional competition.

But, 11-year Head Coach Doug Paran isn’t looking at the past; he’s looking ahead to the future. Paran stated, “This year’s obstacles are ahead of us, not behind us. So we look ahead to who is going to step up this year.” Thankfully, he will have plenty of ladies to count on this year, as the team will be returning seven members from last year’s group, and some key newcomers dot the roster to give the team some much needed depth.

This season four seniors will be counted on to lead the group during their final season on the cross country trail. That group is led by Yovana Naranjo, who was consistently among the top runners on the team last season. Other seniors joining her will include Abigail Lopez, Katherine Sanchez, and Esther Ugalde. Other returning runners will include juniors Asuzena Loera, Mayra Naranjo, and Jamie Smith, along with sophomore Jasmin Janicki. All three returning members of the junior class were part of Hartford’s seven-runner team at the State Finals last year.

Coach Paran is counting on three runners: sophomores Jasmin Garcia and Katalina Soria, along with incoming freshman, Brianna Bailey, to play a vital role in determining the team’s success this year.

In terms of conference competition, Coach Paran says Bloomingdale, the defending conference champion, will likely be tough once again, while he also singles out Marcellus, Bangor and Centreville as possible contenders. In terms of his team, Coach Paran says he is “…looking forward to seeing what this team will accomplish over the next three months”. While he has a nice group returning, he cautions that their success will be achieved if “we continue to work hard each day, and drive the car, no passengers. We will see how far and how fast we can take it this season”.

The Hartford Cross Country programs began their season on Wednesday, Aug. 21 with a trip to Bridgman to compete in the Bridgman Invitational, before running in the Lawrence Early Bird Invitational two days later on Friday, Aug. 23.

Good luck this season, ladies!

Hartford Volleyball season preview

The Hartford Volleyball program is coming off what many on the outside would determine as a “disappointing” season. Yes, their record in the end was 9-35 overall and 1-8 in conference play, but the team was very young last year, with only two seniors on the roster. Flash forward to the 2019 season, and as a new campaign dawns, early indications are that there is plenty of reason to be optimistic this year.

Patty Matheny returns for her fourth year at the helm in Hartford (23rd year coaching the sport overall), and boasts a roster that is still rather young, but has a ton of potential. From the early look at practice the team is showing belief that this year’s team will be taking a big step in the right direction. The coach says of her team, “My athletes are very strong and talented players who play with heart, passion, and the desire to improve every time they step on the court.”

And from an early look at the roster, the team is going to be counting on a small group of seniors to show the way on the court. That group is led by three seniors: returners Jessica Huaracha and Megan Nelson, along with newcomer Jessica Cardoso. Huaracha is one of the team’s outside hitters, while Nelson was among the team leaders in many statistical categories last season from her setter position. Cardoso will make her debut on the court this season, serving as one of the team’s defensive specialists.

Also returning this season are five juniors that had plenty of time on the court last year. They make up a group of young athletes that experienced the highest of highs, and lowest of lows, during their debut varsity seasons. Among them are defensive specialist Ariah Jordan, libero Karla Robles, outside hitters Lainey Goodson and Meghan Deckard and middle player, Mercedes Requenes.

Hartford will also have depth in the lower classes, as the team has several newcomers hoping to make their presence known in the months ahead. Among them are junior outside hitter Emilie Fillmore, sophomore middle players Alexis Snodgrass and Mackenzie Burfield, and sophomore setter, Descenya Rodarte.

In terms of conference competition, Coach Matheny says that Mendon, the defending state champion, will likely be very strong once again, while also adding that Centreville and Cassopolis should also be contenders. However, the Hartford coach is adding her team could be a surprise contender for the conference crown. She says, “If the girls believe in themselves and each other, as well as the coaches, we will get there. We are aiming to be competitive in the Southwest 10 this season”.

The Hartford Volleyball program will begin their season on Saturday, August 24, when they travel to Lawton to compete in the multi-team Lawton Invitational.

Good luck this season, ladies!

LITTLE PANTHER CHEER CAMP… took place once again last week with approximately 20 campers spending three evenings with the Watervliet Varsity Cheer Team in the Watervliet Middle School gym. Three new cheers were worked on this year along with jumps and the Watervliet Panther fight song!

Boys Soccer beats Paw Paw

The Panther boys soccer team kicked off the 2019-20 school year last week, as well as their inaugural season with a scrimmage match against Paw Paw on Aug. 15. Holding onto a tie into the closing seconds the visiting Panthers defeated Paw Paw 7-6 in exciting fashion. With the clock running down, Zeke Alvarado made a beautiful throw-in pass allowing Brady Bornas to score with just three seconds remaining.

The win won’t count in the standings but the dramatic ending of their first-ever varsity competition had the Panthers as excited as if they had just won a playoff game. Hopefully they build on this victory and get the chance to celebrate many times this season.

The game began with a sluggish and unlucky start as the Panthers found themselves down 3-0 after ten minutes of play in the 75-minute game. Once they found their footing they began to turn the tide, scoring their first two goals in quick succession to pull within striking distance.

TEAM WORK… Watervliet’s Brady Bornas passes to Brennen Bornas. Nathan Isbrecht waits for the play to develop. The Panthers went on to beat Paw Paw 7-6 in their first varsity soccer competition. (TCR photo by John Oliphant)

The rest of the game was back and forth. The Panthers were down 6-5 with about six minutes to go. The speedy sophomore Andrew Chisek made a nice end to end rush and scored, tying the game to set up the eventual Bornas score at the buzzer.

Nathan Isbrecht scored two goals, and also put tremendous pressure on the Paw Paw back line the entire match. Brennan Bornas scored once and made run after run to make sure the Paw Paw defenders respected the young Panther’s speed. Brady Bornas scored twice, and Chisek scored once. Able Villarreal scored on a penalty kick after Nathan drew a foul to put him on the line.

The defense started slow but played well the rest of the match. Ryan Knapp, Dominic Mandujano, Alex Isbrecht, Chisek, Drew Van Lente, Zach Hastings and Jesus Garcia anchored the defense, holding a strong Paw Paw team to only three goals over the final 65 minutes.

Norberto Palacios, after a nervous and unlucky start, made some fabulous saves to keep the game close over the final 20 minutes. Hastings also played well in keeper. Robert Kraklau played a strong center mid position and was vital in the turnaround, attacking and moving the ball well the entire game.

This first match made for an outstanding start to what they hope is an exciting first season.

Former Panther named Pitcher of the Year

Watervliet graduate from 2015, Ashton Holdridge, recently finished his summer baseball season by being named Pitcher of the Year by the Capital City Reds. The Reds are an Ottawa-based 22U team comprised of college-level players. They play the majority of their games in upstate New York.

His coaches said, “Ashton was electric every time we would give him the ball, and he wanted the ball all the time! A true competitor and leader by example, he led this very talented group of arms in the right direction all year.”

In July Ashton left the Reds due to a call from the Monterey Amberjacks, a pro team in the Pecos League based in northern California. Facing better competition, Holdridge made four starts for the Amberjacks and built a 2-1 record while pitching 22 innings and recording 26 strikeouts. His stats, including a 3.68 ERA and 1.26 WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) put him in good company in the Pecos League, and also solid enough to earn a spot in the rotation on the 2020 team. He’ll continue light baseball activities through the fall and then head west again to begin winter league play in January and eventually a full pro season beginning next May.

Ladies Monday Night Happy Hour Golf League

July 15 Golf Report from the Paw Paw Lake Golf Club:

Weekly Event Winner – Katherine Rodriguez; Low Gross – Kathy Osborne with 56; Low Net – Charlene Durfee with 37; Low putts – Katherine Rodriguez with 17; Birdies – Cheryl Hutchins on #12; Pars for this week and last week – Colleen McKeown on #13 and #14; Kathy Osborne on #1, #5 and #12; Cheryl Hutchins on #4 and #14; Anne Pudell on #14.

Press Box Player of the Week

By John Oliphant

Our Press Box Player of the Week is Watervliet’s Nathan Isbrecht. Nathan scored five goals and had two assists in three pre-season soccer matches. He also drew a key penalty in the Paw Paw match that led to a penalty kick resulting in a goal. Entering his sophomore year at Watervliet High School, Nathan has also been named one of the team captains.

Nathan has been playing soccer since he was five years old, and plays almost year-round on local teams. He enjoys playing with the right group of people because they can “move the ball around like it’s nothing.” So far this season the team has been moving players into different positions to see what works best and who works together, and it seems to be working.

He said the best coaching advice he’s been given so far is to relax when shooting, because you’re likely to miss if you get too excited. He also says he enjoys math the most in school “because it makes sense.” Nathan wrestled for the Panthers last year, winning plenty of matches and having a great season as a freshman. He was also on the track team.

He has plenty of time to choose between his top potential colleges, Michigan State and Western Michigan, but is currently leaning towards Western. Good luck, Nathan!

Coloma Comet Volleyball looking for continued improvement

Coloma Comet head varsity volleyball coach Kim Swisher is looking to continue on their late season success, and looking for further improvement into the 2019 season. Coloma was a bit of a late surprise last year, as they won their way into the finals of the District in Division 2 against a strong Lakeshore team. They lost in the finals to the Lancers, but getting there showed what was possible.

Coach Swisher is beginning her ninth year coaching in Coloma, and she said her team this year was capable of winning a district title and is one of the goals she is putting in front of her players.

Last year the Comets finished with an 8-29-4 record, but the talk now is to greatly improve on that record. The Coloma roster is made up of four seniors, seven juniors, and one sophomore.

The seniors for Coloma are Megan Neubecker, a middle blocker, who will be in her fourth year on the varsity. Megan led the team last year in kills and blocks. Kelsey Ellis is in her second year, and is the returning libero. She led the team in digs. Merissa Sherburn, also a second year player, will play opposite hitter and middle hitter. Rozalyn Emrich in her second year of varsity plays either outside or opposite hitter.

The juniors have two girls on the team who are in their third varsity campaign, Taryn Blazier and Mia Cole. Taryn will play opposite or middle hitter, and Mia is a defensive specialist, though she had to sit out much of last year because of injury.

Second year varsity juniors include Madison McQuillan who is a setter, Gracie Whitaker who plays the outside hitter, and Maurissa LaGrow who also is a defensive specialist. Marisa Pullins is a first year varsity player and will be playing as an outside hitter for the first time ever. Kiely Moore will also be in her first year and will play the opposite hitter. The sophomore on the team will be in her second year on varsity, and she is a defensive specialist.

Coach Swisher will be looking for Neubecker, Ellis, and Whitaker to provide the strong leadership that will be needed to pull the team together.

The Comets first game will be Aug. 29 at Marcellus beginning at 6 p.m. Coloma’s first home contest will be Sept. 9 at 6:30 p.m. vs. Martin.

Coloma boys soccer is up and running and ready to roll

The Coloma Comet boys soccer team under second year head coach Gary Gagliardo is also looking to have a much improved team this year after his team last year finished at 2-14-3. Gary’s coaching experience in Coloma also includes three years as varsity assistant, and six years coaching the boys and girls middle school teams. Assistant coaches for the Comets are Roger Whitaker and Mike DeRosa, who will both be in their first year in this capacity.

The team is heavily weighted with sophomores at 11. There are four seniors on the team along with one junior and two freshmen.

Austin Russell is a senior captain and 3-year starter and letter winner. He plays as sweeper, center, midfielder, and sometimes in goal. Isiah Reinhart is another senior who has lettered two years and plays defense and midfield. Caleb Winfield has also lettered two years and plays at forward. Noah Baldwin is a senior in his first year on the team and will be playing at forward.

Tyler Russell, the lone junior on the team, has lettered two years and plays at forward, defender, and mid fielder.

Cannon Hodges is a sophomore and has been named as the other captain. Cannon has lettered once and will be playing all over the field – center midfield, defense, and goal keeper. The following sophomores have all lettered as freshmen. They include Aiden Dryer a forward, Michael DeRosa a defender, Dylan Sawyer a forward/midfielder, Layne Whitaker a defender, Lucian Whitaker who plays at forward and midfield, Luke Phillips a forward, Wes Seabury a goal keeper, and Zander Baldwin who is a forward. Noah Baldwin and Jackson Winfield are sophomores who are playing in their first year, and both will be playing at forward.

The two freshmen on the team are Joel Jiminez and Seth McQuillan.

Coach Gagliardo states that he is very excited about this team. He had ten of his players attend an intense skills training camp at Hope College in July, which was one week long, and should greatly benefit those who attended.

Coach Gagliardo also believes the strength of his team is the experienced seniors mixed in with a huge sophomore class who have plenty of experience in the sport. He would very much like to see his team improve on last season’s record and improve their overall team play, their individual skills, and play quality soccer.

Coloma’s first games will be a Comet Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 24, at home on McDaniels Field with the competition from Constantine and Lawton.

2019-2020 version of Tri-City Record Armchair Quarterback returns

By Dave Vollrath As the hot days of summer dwindle down to a precious few our thoughts once again return to the grid iron where our football heroes will be back banging heads. The pros will be playing for the Super Bowl in February, the collegiate ranks will be vying for a National Championship, and our young high school athletes will be competing to reach the playoffs with the ultimate chance to play in Ford Field for an MHSAA championship Thanksgiving weekend. However, right here in our corner of Michigan, our panel of pigskin prognosticators will once again be fighting it out for the next six months for the ultimate championship and the right to claim the Tri-City Record championship hat. In case you have been living under a rock and are not aware, the Tri-City Record, each football season, enlists the help of six local football fanatics. The six are given a list of pre selected games each week from the high school, collegiate, and professional ranks, and are given the task of picking the winners of these games. The end of the road is the Super Bowl, and the panelist who has picked the most winners during the season will earn the right to wear the 2019-2020 TCR Championship Hat. We report on the progress of these panelists each week and let you see their picks of the games, as they see them.

Last year our championship came right down to the wire. With a month to go in the season, any one of four on our panel still had a chance to win. Ultimately Rodney Lynch came out on top, and won for the second year in a row. Lynch from the Coloma Loma Theater finished the season with a fantastic record of 114-49. He took the lead from RoxAnn Rodney-Isbrecht in the middle of December, and stayed on top the rest of the way. Rodney says he is looking for a three peat and win or lose he has fun playing and competing – that’s the important thing. Tim Hildebrand from Hartford Harding’s returns for his 5th or 6th season, and just missed winning the championship last year as he finished very strong, in second place, and only one game out of first with a season record of 113-51.

RoxAnn Rodney-Isbrecht from the City of Hartford is also coming back. She had a 1st place battle with Lynch for much of the season, but ultimately finished in third place, with a record of 111-52. RoxAnn says that after she got behind she took a couple of gambles in trying to make a comeback, but those games didn’t pay off for her and she’s ready to make a run at it again. Greg Krell, a devout Watervliet Athletic Booster, comes back to our panel and is looking forward again to the competition. Greg fell behind early, and after some good weeks the last month or so, he ultimately finished in fourth place one point behind RoxAnn, with a record of 110-54. Chief Dan Jones of the Watervliet Fire Department is coming back also. Last year was Dan’s first on our panel and he readily admits that he doesn’t have a lot of time to sit and watch football, but enjoyed the competition, and is ready for a new year. Dan finished in fifth place last season. Chris Leach has decided to step down from the group, and we thank her for her participation over the years. Replacing Chris on our panel this year will be Kathy Summers, a lifelong native of southwest Michigan. Kathy is a Watervliet graduate, but currently resides in Coloma with her husband Barry. Kathy works at Krenek RV Super Center in Coloma and has worked there for 14 years. Kathy says she is a big football fan and is looking forward to the competition. We know Kathy will be a great addition to the panel. Be sure to check back next week as our panel of pigskin pickers begins the new season with our high schools set to begin action on August 29.


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