Senior-Loaded Hamilton Makes Memorable Most of Historic Opportunities
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com
March 17, 2023
HAMILTON – The senior year for a high school athlete is the last opportunity to make a mark on a program.
For the eight seniors on the Hamilton boys basketball team, an indelible impression was made.
The Hawkeyes’ season ended Wednesday night in a Division 2 Regional Final against a talented Grand Rapids South Christian squad.
However, their remarkable regular season, and subsequent postseason run, will be fondly remembered by the people in this small West Michigan community for years to come.
“Our goal going tonto the season was to win a District and to have a good season, but more importantly to prove to the Hamilton community and to prove to people that followed us and ourselves that anything can be done when you put your mind to it,” Hamilton boys basketball coach Nick Kronemeyer said. “Anybody can be beat, and you can accomplish anything if you do it the right way and do it together. We wanted to inspire 6,500 people in Hamilton with that message.”
Hamilton produced a storybook season and compiled a pair of accomplishments that hadn’t been achieved in more than three decades.
The Hawkeyes won a conference championship for the first time since 1988 and then proceeded to capture the program’s first District crown since 1987.
They finished 22-5 overall after struggling to a 7-15 record a year ago.
“We knew this group coming up was a talented group and loved the game of basketball,” Kronemeyer said. “We thought we were going to be pretty good last year with this group, and we kind of underachieved a little bit. Coming into this year, we believed wholeheartedly that we could have a special season if we did it the right way and learned from some of the things we went through last year.”
Lessons were learned and success was gained as the Hawkeyes recorded the second-most wins in school history and provided several thrilling moments for their spirited fanbase.
“After I played my last football game, I knew the last basketball season was going to be really hard and you just have to give it your all because you only get so many games and then you're done,” Hamilton four-year player Brandt Goodpaster said. “So to have that much success and have as many extra games as we did was a blessing as a senior.”
Hamilton’s main objective for the season was a long-awaited District title, but as the final two weeks of the regular season approached, the team realized it was still in the hunt for an Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue title.
“We were just trying to get better, trying to play our best at the end of the year,” Kronemeyer said. “The conference title didn’t get talked about, but when we got to the last couple weeks we realized we had a chance and started to go after those games.”
Hamilton played Coopersville in the final conference game and came away with its biggest road win in many years.
“It was for all the marbles, it was for the outright conference championship and it was a game that you dream about growing up and why you put the work in,” Kronemeyer said. “That meant a lot to our community, and the way it happened at the end, it was just a pretty special night.”
The Hawkeyes erased years of futility in the conference when Goodpaster made the game-winning shot during the waning seconds.
A fitting conclusion for a stunning turnaround.
“It was a huge team effort, and it just ended up in my hands for the last shot,” Goodpaster said. “My shot didn't win the game though, all the possessions and defense before that and all those things leading up to it won the game for us.”
The next stop was Districts, and the Hawkeyes were still riding the emotional wave from the conference title.
A win over Holland Christian – which had knocked Hamilton out of the postseason the past two years – followed by victories over South Haven and Allegan earned the Hawkeyes a coveted District championship.
“It was an accumulation of everything that has gone into it over the past couple years, and we played really well that night and got the job done,” Kronemeyer said. “We had talked about what it would be like for the first team that does it, and we knew it was going to be a special experience.
“The kids signed shoes, napkins and T-shirts for an hour after the game. That was a pretty special experience for the community and the program. It was just a great night.”
And the District title occurred on their home court.
“The message from Coach from the very start was we are going to cut the net and we are going to win a District,” Goodpaster said. “We'll be the first team to do it and reset the standard.
“When I found out we were hosting Districts, we thought that this is the way we have to go out. Senior year, on our home court, no other option than to win and be District champs.”
Hamilton didn’t stop there and added another memorable moment in the Regional Semifinal against Marshall. The Hawkeyes trailed by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, but rallied and won on a tip-in at the buzzer by senior Austin Osborne, another four-year varsity performer.
“That was a dogfight, and we just made plays at the end,” Kronemeyer said.
Other contributors for Hamilton included leading scorer Justin McIllwain, a junior, and seniors JD DeGroot and Brady Tebo.
“I’m proud of our seniors and that group,” Kronemeyer said. “They came to play every game, and all the credit goes to our guys. They were great to be around and did it the right way.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Hamilton raises its first boys basketball District championship trophy since 1987 on March 10. (Middle) The Hawkeyes continue the celebration on their home court. (Photos courtesy of the Hamilton school district.)
Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com
March 25, 2023
EAST LANSING – One team was going to end a long championship drought in Saturday’s boys basketball Division 2 Final.
Ferndale’s was especially lengthy, and spanned more than five decades.
And now it is no longer.
The Eagles won their first Finals championship in 57 years with a 44-38 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian at Breslin Center.
Ferndale had last won a state title in 1966.
“The drought is over,” Eagles coach Juan Rickman said. “That’s big time, and the biggest part about making it down here was seeing how charged up the community was and the school was so charged up. It’s the greatest feeling to see how vested our community was in our success.”
Ferndale senior Christopher Williams led the way with 16 points and four rebounds.
“It feels great,” Williams said. “Especially since the past four years we’ve been to the same place and lost twice in a row to the same team, and now it feels like weight is lifted off my shoulders.
“We started off the season 1-5, and going till now we knew if we stayed together through adversity then we could do it. And it made it more impactful that it was our coach’s first state title, and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Added senior point guard Cameron Reed, who had a game-high seven assists: “It’s incredibly special. I wasn't born back then, my teammates weren’t born and my coaches weren’t born. It definitely rejuvenated the whole city and community.”
Ferndale led 8-4 at the end of the first quarter, and both teams shot poorly in the first half. The Eagles connected on a paltry 24 percent from the field, and South Christian on 35 percent of its attempts. Nate Brinks drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Sailors a 16-14 halftime lead.
Junior guard Jake Vermaas opened the third quarter with a 3-pointer to make it 19-14, but Ferndale made a charge.
The Eagles sliced the deficit to one (25-24) on a 3-pointer by Trenton Ruth, and Cameron Reed tied it at 28-28 with an acrobatic layup.
“Our team was mentally strong, and I’m so proud of them for their accomplishment,” Rickman said. “Just so committed to the process and just being resilient.”
An 8-2 spurt by Ferndale over the first three minutes of the fourth quarter made it 36-30.
“That was extremely important, and we always want to win the first four minutes,” Rickman said. “And we tried to open up the fourth quarter with what we call a kill; we want to get five straight stops and score on two or three of those possessions so we can build a lead. We did that fairly well against a good team.”
South Christian was attempting to win football and basketball Finals championships during the same school year, and was looking for its first basketball title since 2005.
“It was a really hard-fought game and I thought we played at our speed, but it got away from us a little bit,” first-year Sailors coach Taylor Johnson said.
“But it doesn’t take away from what we accomplished this year. We’ve been through it all, including three season-ending injuries, and to still make it to the state finals is an incredible feat.”
Senior Jacob DeHaan and Vermaas led the Sailors with 14 points apiece, while senior Sam Medendorp added seven points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
PHOTOS (Top) Ferndale raises the Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim. (Below) Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.