Tri-Captains Pace Striving Spring Lake

February 8, 2018

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Things are looking up for the Spring Lake boys basketball team.

The Lakers have raised the bar in recent years, making their mark on the statewide level with two appearances in the MHSAA Class B Quarterfinals over the last three seasons.

This winter, led by a trio of tall, versatile and extremely intelligent captains in Sam Johnson (6-foot-8), Griffin Lorimer (6-4) and Jack VanWingen (6-2), Spring Lake has stepped up its schedule and its game in its quest to get back to the quarters – and perhaps further.

“When it gets to tournament time, it comes down to playing your best basketball of the year and making a run,” said Johnson, who scored a game-high 16 points on Wednesday as Spring Lake doubled up host Sparta, 50-25, for an Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue win.

“A big key in March is experience and leadership, and we definitely have plenty of that.”

Spring Lake (12-3, 6-2 in the O-K Blue), which hosts Allendale on Friday night in another conference game, showed it was going to be a force to be reckoned with early this year when it posted back-to-back tight wins over a pair of bigger schools in Rockford (48-46) and rival Grand Haven (69-66 in double overtime).

Bill Core, in his 17th year as Spring Lake’s head coach, said that in addition to good height on the front line, this may also be the smartest team he’s ever coached. Core said that intelligence helps this team make adjustments on the fly and smart decisions when the game is on the line.

“Those three captains are all 4.0 kids, and they’re great role models,” said Core, who is assisted by Randy White. “They have high basketball IQs, and I trust them to make decisions and figure things out.”

Johnson is the player who draws the most attention from opposing teams at 6-8, with the ability to post up and step out and knock down mid-range jump shots.

Johnson, who plans to play basketball next year at Claremont McKenna College in California, leads the Lakers with 12 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. And don’t try to hack him and send him to the free-throw line. Johnson is shooting a team-best 80 percent on free throws.

The most versatile of the three captains is Lorimer, who is hard to miss with his curly blonde hair and red shoes. He creates matchup problems with his inside-outside game, and currently averages 10 points and seven rebounds per contest.

Johnson and Lorimer are a 1-2 punch up front that most teams can’t match.

“We know one of the strengths of this team is that we’re deep in the post, and that makes it hard for teams to just focus on one guy,” explained Lorimer. “It’s good to have that balance. Plus, we’ve played together so long that we just know where the other guys are going to be.”

Lorimer’s versatility was perhaps best displayed last year at team camp in Rockford, where he was assigned to guard one of the state’s best big men in 6-9 Xavier Tillman (now at Michigan State) one day, then came back the next day and had to check standout guard Matt Beachler (now at Central Michigan).

But the most important of Spring Lake’s three captains might be VanWingen, a slasher who is the team’s best at breaking down defenses. VanWingen is adept at finding Johnson and Lorimer inside as well as kicking the ball back out to the arc to shooters Ben Arteaga, Kyle Wiersma and sophomore Cayden Ball.

“I think we’re a very well-balanced team,” said VanWingen, the top returning scorer off last year’s who is currently averaging 11.2 points, five rebounds and three assists per game. “Our big guys get a lot of attention, but we also have guards who can shoot it. It’s important that we trust each other and know that everyone is going to do their job.”

Spring Lake’s senior trio has been too much for almost everybody to handle, with the main exception being conference rival and possible Regional opponent Grand Rapids Catholic Central, which is ranked No. 6 in Class B.

The two teams met on Jan. 5 at Spring Lake in a much-anticipated showdown, but the Cougars swarmed the hosts in a lopsided 80-39 victory. The Lakers were much more competitive when the two teams played last week in Grand Rapids, but still lost, 59-40.

“We improved by 22 points the second game, and if we improve by another 22 points in the next game, we’ll win by three,” quipped Core, who knows his team will be a huge underdog if it’s fortunate enough to win the District it is hosting next month and possibly get another shot at GRCC in the Class B Regional opener at Grand Rapids West Catholic.

The Lakers can gain confidence by looking back to last year, when they lost to GR Catholic twice during the regular season, then stunned the Cougars in the Regional championship game. That win put Spring Lake in the Quarterfinals for the second time in three years, after it made a surprise run to the school’s first-ever boys basketball Quarterfinals appearance in 2015.

Lorimer believes this year’s team has the potential to make it three Quarterfinal appearances in four years.

“I really do think we have another level we haven’t reached yet,” said Lorimer, who plans to play next year at Trine University in Angola, Ind. “We may have for short stretches, but we haven’t strung it together for a whole game. That’s what we’re working on.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Spring Lake senior Griffin Lorimer battles along the baseline in a victory earlier this season against Muskegon Reeths-Puffer. (Middle) Spring Lake senior Jack VanWingen glides in for a bucket in a victory over Muskegon Reeths-Puffer. (Below) Spring Lake senior Sam Johnson goes up for a shot during the Lakers' thrilling double-overtime win over neighboring rival Grand Haven earlier this season. (Photos by Tim Reilly.)

Ferndale Caps Winter Season with 1st Boys Hoops Title Since 1966

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

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.”

Christopher Williams (13) tries to power past South Christian’s Sam Weiss (23) to the rim.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.”

Cameron Reed (0) leads a break for the Eagles.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.

Click for the full box score.

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.