Mona Shores Packs a Powerful Swing

May 2, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The chances are good Muskegon Mona Shores will continue facing more senior-laden opponents this spring.

But just because the Sailors are made up of all juniors and freshmen, it doesn’t mean they don’t carry significant experience onto the course.

Juniors Reed Hrynewich, Andrew Van Aels, Joel Maire and Eric Kastelic all were among the team’s top five scorers at last season’s Division 1 Final at Oakland University. And although none placed among the individual top 10, the team finished fifth overall.

“We’re more poised,” Mona Shores coach Tom Wilson said. “We were fifth at the state finals last year, and I think there was a little bit of intimidation there. It was the first time the whole team had been there – Reed had been there as an individual – and I think they’ve picked up a lot from that.” 

Mona Shores’ golf team gets Second Half’s team High 5 this week after winning, by a stroke, the always-competitive Traverse City Central Invitational this weekend at Spruce Run and The Wolverine.

The Sailors didn’t finish first in either round over the two-day event. But they finished second in both, shooting 309 on Friday at Spruce Run and 297 on Saturday at The Wolverine for a combined score of 606 strokes – one fewer than Division 1 top-ranked Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central and two fewer than then-No. 5 Traverse City West.

Mona Shores is ranked No. 2 in Division 1. And as evidence of the respect given to the Traverse City tournament, three more teams from the weekend’s field have since been added to that state poll’s top 10.

Hrynewich shot a 69 to finish second at the Wolverine and a 75 to finish fifth at Spruce Run, and Van Aels finished eighth individually in both weekend rounds. Maire and Kastelic also both shot at least 82 in both rounds, and together the four have been making significant contributions since the start of high school.

“They were kind of leading the pack when they were freshmen,” said Wilson – who has led four teams to MHSAA championships, including two over the last 11 seasons.

But the juniors represent part of a line-up loaded with potential. Freshmen Glen Kastelic and Mitchell White fill the remaining starting spots. At Monday’s O-K Black Jamboree at Watermark Golf Course, also a win, both freshmen shot 36, with Hrynewich 37 and Van Aelt a 38.

Hrynewich is a significant presence at the top of the lineup. He’s been an all-stater his first two seasons – he tied for sixth in at the Division 1 Final as a freshman – and also was a hockey all-stater this winter.

A skillful swing runs in the family. His father Tim played two seasons in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins. And Reed’s twin sister also is among the state’s golfing elite – a three-time top-five Finals placer as Mona Shores’ girls golf team has won the last three Division 2 championships.

The Kastelic brothers also are strong hockey players, and Wilson said there’s certainly a connection between the two sports and their reliance on strong hand-eye coordination. 

He’s had strong hockey players lead some of his other top Mona Shores teams – and this one is beginning to show a championship look as well.

PHOTO: Mona Shores junior Reed Hrynewich lines up a putt during last season's Division 1 Final, where the Sailors finished fifth.

Kingsley Standouts Big Hits on Diamond, as Friends to 4th-Hour Classmates

By Tom Spencer
Special for

April 19, 2024

When Eli Graves or Gavyn Merchant takes a swing this spring for Kingsley, a special group of friends are not worried how they’ll connect with the ball.

Northern Lower PeninsulaThat group of friends and classmates — students in Joel Guy’s fourth-hour special education class — feel like the two senior standout athletes already hit a home run at school that day. It might even feel like a grand slam from Graves or perhaps a hole-in-one for Merchant.

And the Kingsley baseball and golf coaches feel similarly – and sentiment that may extend through the entire Kingsley community.

Merchant and Graves are playing their final baseball seasons with Stags. Merchant is dual-sporting, adding golf to his incredible athletic career.

Together, they led the Stags to Division 6 football championship in the fall despite battling through extensive injuries. Graves, the star running back, and Merchant, the outstanding quarterback, then fought through long, hard rehabilitations to get back and lead the Stags on the hardcourt and wrestling mats this winter.  

But before stepping up to the plate or the tee to compete for Kingsley on any given day this spring, the pair spend time in Guy’s class and share lunch with the Kingsley cognitively impaired (CI) students.

“You can’t say enough good things about these young men,” said Guy, who also is in his fourth year as the Kingsley golf coach. “I get teary-eyed talking about it – they just kind of took a hold of some of my students making contact at lunch and in the hallway.”

That contact began midway the football season. Graves and Merchant were joined by fellow golfer Ty Morgan and football teammate Skyler Workman.

Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. A few more senior athletes have been a part of the adoption of Guy’s students intermittently as well. But Guy’s students can count on seeing Graves, Merchant, Morgan and Workman in the classroom each and every day and then at lunch. The time was made possible, Guy notes, because the athletes are ahead in their own academic pursuits or participants in the school’s Teacher Academy program.

How those seniors are contributing is rare for accomplished athletes in a high school setting, Guy is happy to point out.

“Gavin and Eli are state champions in football,” said Guy. “They are the stars of their winter sports basketball and wrestling, and you you think that being seniors with those kinds of credentials at lunch they would sit in a table with all their buddies and talk about their accomplishments.

“They sit with my special education students,” Guy continued. “They make my students feel like they’re the ‘in’ crowd, and I am so proud of them.”

Bruce Graves, father of Eli and coach of the Stags’ baseball team, recalls learning from Guy what that group of seniors was doing with their fourth hour. He wasn’t really surprised to hear from someone else what his senior leaders were doing.

“They wouldn’t tell anybody they were doing it,” the 22-year veteran coach said. “They don’t do it for a pat on the back – they just do it because they like being good guys.”

There are various reports of exactly how the athletes started getting involved with the special education students. But everyone in the school located 15 miles south of Traverse City seems happy they did.

Eli Graves, one of the Stags’ five pitchers, roams center field when he’s not on the mound. He is 1-0 as the Stags are off to a 9-0 start following a conference sweep of Kalkaska, 3-0, 15-0, on Thursday. The right-hander is slated to pitch this weekend and has hopes of the Stags finishing the year with a conference baseball title and a deep postseason run.

Graves and Merchant have raised money all year to get birthday and Christmas gifts for their classmates in Guy’s room. They’ve become particularly close to a couple of his students.

“They don’t really see us as helpers or anything like that — they see us more as friends,” said Graves, now playing his third year on the varsity baseball squad.  “We go into the special ed room, and basically just help the students with whatever work they are doing.”

Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener.After recovering from football injuries, Graves averaged more than 15 points per game this basketball season and earned all-conference. Merchant also recovered from postseason surgeries and got back on the mat to place fourth at 132 pounds in Division 3 and became an all-state wrestler for the fourth time.  

The pair’s in-season football injuries were not known to many. They wanted to compete for the state title and tend to the injuries later. Graves rushed for almost 2,000 yards, tying and breaking some of his brother Owen’s school records along the way. He also had 20 tackles, two interceptions and four touchdowns on defense during the 2023 campaign.

Graves sprained a shoulder joint during the Semifinal win over Reed City but a week later carried the ball 33 times and ran for 210 yards in the title game. He had four touchdowns that day in the Stags' 38-24 victory over Almont.

Merchant has had various injuries over the course of his career, undergoing wrist surgery as a sophomore for a carpal tunnel injury and having floating cartilage taken out of a knee following his junior wrestling season.

But what he endured on the way to Ford Field was the topper as he endured two torn ligaments in his knee, a fractured leg, a torn meniscus — and, later on — a pair of broken ribs sustained late in the championship game.

“When you’re in the game, it’s all about adrenaline,” said Merchant, who is facing another surgery in May but shot a 95 to lead Kingsley in its first tournament of the season Thursday at the Frostbite Open in Manton. “You don’t even think about the injury until you get off the field, and that’s when you get ice bags and fight it off.”

They have been close friends since elementary school and credit the Kingsley coaching, teaching and counseling staffs with preparing them for life after graduation.

Graves and Merchant call football their favorite sport. Graves hopes to also play football at the college level, and Merchant expects to continue on the wrestling mat.

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Eli Graves, left, and Gavyn Merchant are among standouts for Kingsley’s baseball team again this spring. (Middle) Merchant (6) hands the ball off to Graves during the Division 6 championship win at Ford Field. (Below) Merchant putts during Thursday’s golf opener. (Baseball photos by Karen Middleton.)