11-19-2020 Tri-City Area Sports

HARTFORD VARSITY BOYS SOCCER TEAM… (from the left): Front row – Ernesto Rodarte, Alexis Rivas, Reynaldo Cortez, Jose Rios, Jakob Baham, Alejandro Francisco, Dylan Kuehnle, Armando Garcia and Michael Mendoza; Back row – Kaden Johnson, Kevin Rios, Yael Sanchez-Lopez, Kevin Parra, Alan Gonzalez, Danny Gutierrez, Sebastian Gonzalez, Aaron Robles-Lopez, Bryan Torres, Caiden Smith, Bryan Cardoso, Elijah Cowgill, Andres Cardoso, Jesus Rivas, Assistant Coach Kyle Wright and Head Coach Nick Blackmer. Not pictured: Assistant Coach Abel Robles, Assistant Coach Francis Aboagye, Erick Morales and Josue Pineda. (Photo courtesy of A&A Sports Photography)

Back on hold: MHSAA suspends fall, winter sports amidst COVID-19 rise

Hartford Press Box By Jerrod Birmele

As a sports writer, this is not the news you want to hear or see. On Sunday night, an announcement came down by Governor Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services that a “three-week pause” would be happening throughout the state of Michigan, due to a large resurgence of COVID-19 cases to even higher levels than we had in the spring.

Part of Sunday night’s announcement was the news that high schools statewide would be shuttered during the pause, due to an increased risk at those levels of passing the virus around. According to state statistics, nearly 50% of the most recent outbreaks occurred in grades 9-12 schools alone. The state left the closure of entire districts in the hands of local administration, and the entire Hartford Public School district made the decision to close for the three-week period on Monday, Nov. 16.

In terms of athletics, that left the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) no choice but to also suspend athletic events effective immediately for both fall and winter sports during the mandated closure. This means that there will be no football regional playoff games at all this weekend, nor any volleyball quarterfinal matches or girls swimming and diving finals. Also, all winter sports that have begun practices in preparation of a season must also suspend all activities through the mandated closure or until the new orders are amended. In terms of sports affected, Hartford was completely through their fall sports seasons when this announcement came down. However, winter sports including girls basketball and competitive cheerleading had begun practice last Monday, and boys basketball and wrestling were expected to begin on Monday of this week. But, with this announcement, all sports will see their practice and game schedules pushed back until at least Dec. 8 at the earliest.

In a memorandum issued by the MHSAA office, the association is exploring all options to complete the three remaining fall sports tournaments while at the same time beginning discussions to revise winter sports plans including the aforementioned practice and competition calendars. The MHSAA says they will remain transparent and flexible, while sharing information and updated timelines as soon as that process is completed.

The ultimate goal for the association, since summer, remains unchanged. They still plan for three sports seasons that they anticipate being able to complete during the 2020-21 school year.

These past eight months have been very difficult on everyone, including our student-athletes. They have endured quite the range of emotions in such a short time span. It all started with the cancellation of spring sports last school year, and continues to pile on with this newest adjustment to their everyday lives. But give them all a lot of credit for continuing to work hard despite all the looming uncertainties that lie ahead.

We, as the general public, can help get things back on track by doing the simplest of things – like wearing a mask when you are out and about, washing our hands, social distancing, and staying home when you are sick. If we do some of these things, no questions asked, than we can have basketball, wrestling and competitive cheerleading sooner than later. But, we must act now before the situation gets even worse, and we have a pandemic that really gets out of control.

Our student-athletes deserve the opportunity to enjoy the part of high school they will remember most. As a former athlete myself, I think back to those opportunities I had to create memories with my fellow classmates and friends, and often think of those moments to this day. Let’s all work together, as one community; to make sure that this current generation gets the same chance to create those lasting memories that we all did back when we were in our teenage years.

I know I do not want to be writing these dark articles, and instead be concentrating on all the great achievements our Indian student-athletes are achieving. I want to get back to writing those great sports stories soon, so let’s get back on track and make our communities a healthier, safer place for everyone. Coloma, Hartford and Watervliet – we are not three different communities right now. We are united as one, and I believe in all of you. As always, GO INDIANS!

Coloma football has special season; from no season, to a winning campaign

Coloma Press Box By Dave VollrathAccording to Coloma head football coach Joe Stephens, just being able to play this season out made it special because a few short months ago it was announced that there would be no season because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the desire to keep Michigan residents out of harm’s way. The season turned out to be way more special than expected and the Comets made many special memories as they finished the season with a winning record 4-2 in the regular season, before falling in the playoffs to Parchment when they just came up one play short of winning that game at home before falling by a score of 42-40.

Coach Stephens says that it was extremely challenging just navigating through the season because of the many restrictions still in place and keeping the players on the field and safe from the virus or just quarantining because of possible exposure. Coach Stephens says, “We would have liked to have had a successful playoff run, but I’m proud of how the kids rallied for each other. Our kids were so resilient this year, and they are truly great young men.”

This was a team that never quit and most games were very competitive, and they always seemed to have just one more play when they needed it. Coloma beat their “frienemy” in Watervliet, 24-16, in a most memorable game that the Comets had to come back to win. They had to hang on to the very last play when Comet safety Cody Palgen intercepted the Panthers in the end zone to put the capper on that contest.

The Comets went into the final game of the regular season with a 4-1 record and a chance to tie for the conference title with a win over Constantine. The Comets were not expected to be in that position this year but they didn’t back down, and even with a lopsided loss in that game they played it toe to toe with Constantine and fought to the end of the game. That same Constantine team currently is only three games from a state championship, if and when the playoff season is allowed to resume.

The longest touchdown and a pretty good indicator of how the season would be played came in the first game and Coloma’s first series of the season when Drew Goodline hooked up with Noah Schwanke for a 90-yard touchdown pass on third down. The Comets beat Delton Kellogg on the road, 36-34.

Defensively the Comets struggled at times, but they always seemed to come up with a big stop when it was most needed. The Comets had what surely must have been the most balanced offense in Coloma history as they finished with 2,334 total yards, with 1,133 passing and 1,201 on the ground. The Comets had 15 passing touchdowns and 19 rushing TDs, with many players contributing to the totals. The passing yards and the touchdowns through the air are Coloma school records, and most impressive because of the short 7-game season.

The big guys up front, both the O and D lines, had big seasons for the Comets which helped make all of those totals possible. Coach Stephens compliments them saying, “Our linemen were solid all season long, and allowed us to move the ball the way we did against every defense we came up against.”

The most prolific passing combo of seniors QB Drew Goodline to wide-out Cody Palgen was effective all season, and they consistently came up with one big play after another and they always seemed to come when the Comets needed some quick help. Goodline finished the season completing 55 of 86 passes for 1,133 yards, with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. Cody Palgen caught 33 of those passes from his wide receiver spot, scoring 10 touchdowns with 721 yards; an average of 22 yards per reception, and a longest catch of 65 yards.

Noah Schwanke was another spark plug for the Comet offense, playing all seven games and electrifying the fans in that first game with that 90-yard touchdown. Additionally, Schwanke had 15 total receptions for 274 yards, 18 yards per catch and scored three TDs through the air.

The Comets had a pretty deep backfield in spreading the wealth around on the ground with James Mathis leading the way as he really came into his own in the second half of the season. Mathis was a workhorse with 118 carries; gaining 486 yards, averaging 81 ypg, and scoring 11 touchdowns. Most of the yards for Mathis were carries up the middle where he was constantly knocking heads with the big guys.

Noah Schwanke carried the ball 32 times, for 256 yards, and two touchdowns with a longest run of 54 yards. Goodline added 226 yards rushing on 41 carries and two touchdowns, and Drew had many exciting scrambles resulting in first downs as he slipped by the defenders. Jacobie Bonds was another bruising runner for the Comets who had 199 yards on 37 carries, and took it into the end zone three times.

On the defensive side of the ball the Comets had Dylan Nelson, a linebacker who seemed to be flying all over the field leading the team with 50 tackles, solo and assists combined, and he had two tackles for loss. Noah Schwanke had a great year on this side of the ball; he was next with 44 tackles, with one tackle for loss and one interception. Jamie Rocha, a Comet safety had 32 tackles on defense; also with one for loss, and he also recovered a fumble. Cody Palgen, the other Comet safety, had 30 tackles, two interceptions, and one fumble recovery. And those plays were all game savers for the Comets. Noah Mort another Comet linebacker finished the season with 29 tackles, one fumble recovery, four tackles for loss, and three quarterback sacks. The Comet football team can be very proud, not only of the way they played but this was a tight knit group and played hard for each other and picked each other up. In the words of Coach Stephens, “Our seniors are leaving the program better than when they arrived, and the juniors will be looking to continue building on what this season produced.”

The Comets had plenty of players named in the post-season awards. All SAC first team: QB Drew Goodline, RB James Mathis, WR Cody Palgen, OL Kevin Hearn, DB Noah Schwanke. Honorable mention all SAC: DL Jonen Bravo, OL Travis Borr, TE Timmy Schroeder. All Region first team: QB Drew Goodline, WR Cody Palgen, OL Kevin Hearn, DL Jonen Bravo, DB Noah Schwanke.

COLOMA VARSITY BOYS SOCCER TEAM… (from the left): Front row – Anthony Lopez, Devin Sawyer, Dylan Sawyer, Lucian Whitaker, Zander Baldwin, Michael DeRosa; Back row – Coach Joe Schmidt, Riley Davis, Brody McQuillan, Seth McQuillan, Fletcher Todd, Aidan Dryer, Layne Whitaker, Cannon Hodges, Luke Phillips, Luis Rodriguez, Coach Luke Visin, Wesley Seabury. Not pictured is Tyler Russell. (Photo courtesy of A&A Sports Photography)

Shut it down one more time?

Watervliet Press Box by John Oliphant

High school sports and activities are a primary driver in the rationale for closing all high schools in Michigan for three weeks. Schools are unexpectedly not the petri dish for infection this year, in part because of the new procedures and precautions being used at all levels. But these same precautions are difficult or impossible to maintain in certain sports and activities, despite the advisors and coaches best efforts, and the state government’s science advisors see that as one of the drivers of infections throughout the state.

As a result, all high school sports were shut down for three weeks starting Sunday night. Given the current infection and hospitalization trends this short-term hiatus may, unfortunately, last much longer.

Panther football players earn all-region honors

Even in the midst of a rebuilding phase, three Watervliet Panther football players earned all-region awards this season in recognition of their performance on the field. The three players are senior running back Don Smith, junior linebacker Conner Underwood, and senior defensive back Evan Hutchins.

The team recently held their post-season awards banquet. Held right after school last week, attendance was limited to the players and coaches. Fortunately a Facebook Live hookup allowed parents to watch the event and see their sons earn their varsity letters and get recognized for their achievements.

The team finished the abbreviated season with a 2-5 record. They won their first two games with big scores against Galesburg-Augusta and Fennville but then the offense just couldn’t find that last gear when they needed it. Fortunately the classes coming up appear loaded, including a JV team that was made up of nearly all freshmen this season.

Senior receiver Logan Duscha led the team with nine receptions for 163 yards and one touchdown. Senior Evan Hutchins collected six receptions for 145 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Jordan Abney also had six receptions for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

The rushing attack was dominated by Don Smith III, with 664 yards and nine touchdowns on 107 attempts. Senior Brendon Petty ran for 274 yards on just 18 attempts for an amazing 15.2 yards per carry. Sophomore Tyson Williams was given the green light to run for the open field late in the season and finished with 121 yards.

Everybody got into the game on defense, with Smith and Hutchins leading the way with 44 tackles and one interception each. Isaiah Yazel collected 37 tackles. Junior Connor Underwood had 28 tackles and an interception. Sophomore Royce Daugherty collected 25 tackles, followed by Austin Wilmoth with 22 and Duscha with 21.

The team also voted for several individual awards. The most improved player was sophomore Perry Rowe. Defensive MVP was Isaiah Yazel. Don Smith earned both Offensive MVP and overall MVP. The team selected Connor Underwood and Evan Hutchins as the recipients of the Panther Award.

And finally five players were recognized by the WPS Athletic Department for participating in football every year it was offered. Players recognized for the Panther Pride award were Jordan Abney, Isaiah Yazel, Don Smith, Evan Hutchins, and Logan Duscha.

Lady Panther volleyball players earn all-region honors A total of 32 athletes from Region 10, including Allegan, Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren counties, in divisions 1 through 4 were recently selected for all-region honors.

Two Panthers were among this exclusive group receiving all-region honors, freshman Grace Chisek and sophomore Samantha Dietz. Both Chisek and Dietz led in several stat categories for the 2020 season. Dietz easily led the team in kills with 302 and had the most aces with 58. Setter Chisek led with 476 assists. The duo tied leading the team in digs with 196 each. The team finished 5-1 in conference play and 15-8 for the season.

In addition, three earned SAC All-Division honors. Dietz was recognized as a First Team Outside Hitter. Chisek received First Team honors as a setter, and senior Abbigayle Roberts earned Honorable Mention as an outside hitter.

SAC All-Conference awards

Finally the Watervliet Athletic Department would like to recognize all the fall sports athletes who earned SAC all-conference awards this season.

Boys Cross Country First Team: Ezra Troyer and German Casiano Girls Cross Country Honorable Mention: Morgan Lowell Football First Team: Don Smith and Isaiah Yazel; Honorable Mention: Evan Hutchins, Conner Underwood, and Royce Daugherty Boys Soccer First Team: Brady Bornas, Brennan Bornas, and Nathan Isbrecht; Honorable Mention: Andrew Chisek and Erick Perez-Cruz Volleyball First Team: Sam Dietz and Grace Chisek; Honorable Mention: Abbigayle Roberts

Press Box Player of the Week

Kayla Walter, Coloma High School

By Dave Vollrath

The Tri-City Record Press Box Player of the Week for Nov. 19, 2020 is Coloma Comet senior cross country runner Kayla Walter. Kayla is in her fourth and final year on the Comet girls’ squad. Coloma head coach Courtney Churchill says she is really going to miss Kayla and the leadership she has provided.

Churchill says that Kayla has a special role on the team, and that would be to help the newer runners as they enter the Comet x-country program. Kayla was nominated for Player of the Week award by Coach Churchill because of the special kind of teammate Kayla is and also not only because of the hard work she puts in at practice but because she puts in many other hours running on her own outside of the regular training schedule. Kayla has been a consistent runner all four years for Coloma and her times have steadily improved since she arrived at the high school as a freshman. The highlight of Kayla’s career happened just recently as she earned the spot of the 7th and final runner on the Comet squad that qualified to go to the state finals.

When the SAC conference meet was held on Oct. 15 at the Gilmore Car Museum, Kayla had been competing with another Comet runner, Bailey McVay, for the seventh and eighth spots on the team with only the seventh finishing runner being eligible to run with the team in the regional qualifying leading up to the state finals. Knowing that this would be her final chance to join her teammates in their quest to go back to the state finals, Kayla dug down deep and ran the best time of her career at the best possible moment. She beat out Bailey by less than 30 seconds. The amount of effort Kayla put in to make that final seven is reflected in some part by the fact that her regional and state times were all a little more than a minute slower than in the race she ran to get there, which takes a great deal of heart and determination. Kayla’s parents are John and Melissa Walter of Coloma. Kayla is a dedicated student and she is president of the senior class and also represents the students at the Coloma school board meetings. Kayla’s plans for after graduation are currently not fully established, but she will always have that memory of the grit and determination of that race to draw on when she’s facing challenges in the future. We congratulate Kayla on the award, and wish her the best in her future “life races.”

Rodney-Isbrecht and Krell continue to climb; AQBs tear it up again

By Dave Vollrath

The Tri-City Record Armchair Quarterbacks got back on track in a big way following last week’s dip. Once again leading the way were RoxAnn Rodney-Isbrecht and Greg Krell, who even when things weren’t going the right way for our other pigskin pickers RoxAnn and Greg have been steadily moving forward for several weeks now.

RoxAnn had a fantastic 7-1 record and her only miss was picking Virginia Tech to upset Miami, a game that Miami was trailing until the final minutes but managed to win and avoid the upset. Rox-Ann has now moved into a second place tie with our 3-time defending champ, Rodney Lynch, who himself had an outstanding week finishing 6-2; both now sporting records of 55-24. However Rodney won the tie-breaker over RoxAnn to hang onto the 2nd place slot for at least one more week, with both those prognosticators just one game out of first place where Dan Jones continues to reside.

Dan also had a big week going 6-2 while clinging to that one point lead. Greg, who went 6-2, moves one game ahead of Taylor Prestidge and into 4th place as she scored a better than average week going 5-3 but falls to fifth. Greg picked against that enigma AKA the Lions, who once again had a big lead, fell behind in the last minute, and then turned to Matt Prater, their kicker/savior, who banged in a 58-yard field goal to win the first home game for the Lions this season. Greg was the only ‘back picking against the Lions, but not without good reason.

The TCR, AQB competition is held weekly from the beginning of the football season in late summer until it finishes with the playing of the Super Bowl in February. We have six Tri-City area football fans competing against each other to predict the winners of a group of pre-selected games from the high school, collegiate, and professional ranks. Following the conclusion of the Super Bowl, one winner is crowned champion and will have the honor of wearing the Tri-City Record Armchair Quarterback Championship hat.

In the event that two or more ‘backs have the same record for the week, or the yearly total, their place in the standings will be determined by a weekly tie-breaker game. In addition to trying to correctly pick the winners of each week’s games they try and predict the score from a specially selected game. The AQB who comes the closest to the total number of points scored by both teams will get the higher spot in the standings.

Dan Jones continues to lead this parade, but now has a whisper thin lead of just one game. He’ll have to stay hot as he continues in his effort to win the championship hat and unseat Rodney. All of our backs are still in contention, but Tim Hildebrand even with a great 6-2 mark this week remains in the cellar and still trails Dan by seven points. But the clock is ticking and Tim can’t afford any more bad weeks. As far as the other ‘backs, only five games separates first through fifth, a tightly grouped bunch, so no one can afford to slip up.

No one really came too close to our tie- breaking game this week pitting the Fighting Irish against Boston College, as the Golden Domers pulled out a 45-31 victory. RoxAnn of course with a 7-1 mark is the top picker of the week. Rodney wins second from those coming in at 6-2 based on the tie-breaker; Rodney had predicted 63 points, next was Greg followed by Dan, and in 5th place for the week is Tim. Taylor’s 5-3 leaves her at the bottom for this week, but our rookie is hanging in there very well and staying within shouting distance of first place.

A mistake was made last week on Rodney-Isbrecht’s score, and an additional point has been added to her score to rectify it. Please be sure and check back next week, as our pigskin prognosticators continue to try to figure out what should and could happen, with the games we’re challenging them with this week.

Wisconsin vs. Northwestern

Michigan vs. Rutgers

Michigan State vs. Maryland

Indiana vs. Ohio State (Tie-breaker)

Detroit vs. Carolina

Tennessee vs. Baltimore

Green Bay vs. Indianapolis

Kansas City vs. Las Vegas