1st Finals Win Might Only be Start for Traverse City West

By James Cook
Special for MHSAA.com

February 22, 2021

HARBOR SPRINGS — Recent history in Michigan high school skiing is dotted with dynasties.

Maybe it's time to welcome the newest one.

Traverse City West's boys ski team made history Monday, winning the program's first MHSAA Finals championship at Nub's Nob in Harbor Springs. The Titans can return the same lineup next season for a title defense.

"We had the talent," Titans sophomore Luke Wiersema said. "We just had to put it all together, and then we could be a state champions. It's really exciting. I feel like we could do this for the next two, three years."

West won with 63.5 points, surviving a Rochester Adams comeback attempt in the afternoon to win by 5.5. Bloomfield Hills placed third at 85.5 and Traverse City Central fourth with 140.

Wiersema placed eighth in slalom and seventh in giant slalom to earn first-team all-state in both disciplines. Junior Andy Hill did the same all-state double dip, placing eighth in GS and taking runner-up honors in the afternoon's slalom.

"I think everyone thought at the beginning of the season that we could," Wiersema said. "We could destroy this season. We could win it all."

West junior Aiden Lewandowski won the giant slalom by one tenth of a second over Nathan Dehart of Rochester Adams, posting the only sub-24-second GS time of the day in his second run. He trailed Dehart by 0.03 after the first.

The Titans' history-making championship is the first since the school split off from Traverse City Central in 1997. Ed Johnson, who coached West its first season in 1997, said finally getting that championship trophy was a huge relief, especially after three runner-up finishes, the most recent in 2019 behind Marquette.

"It means a lot. It means a lot for me," Johnson said. "I've been coaching at that school since the school was opened. So it's incredible just to see it finally happen. We've had a number of runner-ups over the years, so we were close, and we had other teams that could have done it as well but just didn't quite pull it together on that day. So it's just so nice to see it happen finally."

Marquette's run of eight straight Division 1 championships ended at Regionals, when the Redmen didn't qualify among the top three to move on to Monday's Finals. Since 1997 when TC West opened, the only schools that had won a D1 Finals title were Marquette (15 times), TC Central (four), Clarkston (one), Petoskey (two) and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (one).

Division 1 Boys Skiing Finals 2Hill was eighth after the first slalom run, then made up for that with the best time of all second runs at 34.53 seconds, 0.99 seconds better than eventual champ Hunter Halstead of Bloomfield Hills.

"The first one I felt really iffy," Hill said. "I just wasn't really mentally prepared. We were waiting at the top for a long time, so I kind of lost my focus. But the second run, I knew that I had to make up some time. So I just got in the zone and gave it all I had."

After Halstead and Hill in slalom were Adams' Zeke King in third, followed by Bloomfield Hills' Matthew Coates, Adams' Jacob Corsi, Traverse City Central’s Max Werner, West's Caleb Lewandowski, Wiersema, Adams' Charlie Buckmaster and Brighton's Andrew Myers.

Halstead placed third in GS, behind Aiden Lewandowski and Dehart. The rest of the top 10 was comprised of Clarkston's Andrew Roeser, Marquette's Logan Audette, Brighton's Luke Vaden, Wiersema, Bloomfield Hills' Bode Iuppenlatz, Hill and West’s Ben Lober.

Aiden Lewandowski finished 45th in slalom after hiking on both runs, but his GS championship helped give the Titans a nice cushion over Rochester Adams going into slalom.

"We were definitely concerned to have that happen on that first run of the afternoon, so that put the rest of our guys into a tough spot," Johnson said. "But they all work together and without Aidan's win in the morning, it wouldn't have happened either. So everybody did their thing today, did what they had to do so."

While Lewandowski didn't place in slalom, the family still did. His younger brother Caleb took seventh as a freshman.

"It's just amazing how much we can do when we put everything together," Hill said. "We're all super strong individuals, but when we put ourselves together we make something that's like unbreakable. We will be back in full force next year."

West was the only team with more than two competitors in the GS top 10, boasting four.

"First run of GS, we all score within the top 10," Hill said. "And we're like, 'If we do this, we can really do it,' and then GS ends and we had four in the top 10. We knew from there that as long as we make it down with relatively good times, we will win.

“But then slalom was a bit of a scare; some of our top athletes fell. So then we all had to ski a little bit more conservatively and just make sure not to fall."

Maybe Nub's Nob itself served as a lift for the Titans, who had been strong all season. The green and gold lifts match the Titans’ colors and suited them well as a youthful West team reached new heights.

"It's so much fun to see these guys do this," Johnson said. "We knew we could do it at the beginning of the year. We just had to pull them together as a team and not just a bunch of individuals that were really good. That was our main focus all season was to ski as a team, perform as a team, and they stepped up to it. They stepped up in the middle of the season, and just kept carrying it all the way through."

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City West's Aiden Lewandowski navigates the course during Monday's Division 1 Finals at Nub's Nob. (Middle) Bloomfield Hills' Hunter Halstead claimed the slalom championship. (Click for more photos from Sports in Motion.)

Petoskey Adds 2023 Team, Individual Championships to Finals Dominance

By Jordan Puente
Special for MHSAA.com

February 28, 2023

BOYNE FALLS — Petoskey’s dynasty continued to brew at Monday’s Division 2 Ski Finals at Boyne Mountain.

The program added its 12th Division 2 championship over the last 13 years – and fourth straight – finishing first with a combined score of 63.

Pontiac Norte Dame Prep (83) finished runner-up, and Great North Alpine (116) finished third. Harbor Springs placed fourth at 128.

“It's great to see the seniors be able to close that out with four state championships in a row," Petoskey coach Ben Crockett said.

Northmen senior Nolan Walkerdine earned an individual medal finishing first in the slalom with a combined time of 1:10.87. Walkerdine said afterward he couldn't believe his team won again after experiencing an emotional roller coaster season.

"I've been working towards this for my entire life," Walkerdine said.

Senior teammate Wyatt Mattson won giant slalom (1:07.77) and finished seventh in the slalom. He noted he grew up watching Petoskey win 10 straight Division 2 Finals – a level of success he always wanted to take part in.

Houghton’s Eli Heathman eyes the path ahead during one of his races. "When I was in eighth grade, we broke our winning streak," Mattson said. "I felt like we had to avenge that because I was used to us winning, to win four years in a row.

"This feels good," he continued.

Crockett has been coaching Petoskey for three seasons and never experienced anything but a Finals championship. Crockett realizes that won't last forever, but being undefeated on championship day is something he'll cherish.

He couldn't help but smile and laugh when realizing the feat.

"I had a few tastes of defeat, but that's just a testament to how strong the program is and how much it's a part of our community," Crockett said.

"It's a year where the team gelled together, and they enjoyed themselves the most of all the years," Crockett added. "Many of them are upperclassmen, and that sense of the end is coming — as every student (experiences) — as they get towards the end of their high school careers, they just seemed like they enjoy the experience as they're moving through it."

Walkerdine is hopeful that since his time on the team is at an end, newcomers can continue the dynasty they’ve continued building.

“Let’s keep this thing rolling,” he said.

Mattson was followed in the GS by Houghton’s Eli Heathman and Walkerdine, as Petoskey put four placers among the top 11 in that event.

Walkerdine was followed in slalom by Great North Alpine’s Corbin Murphy and Heathman in third.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey’s Nolan Walkerdine races past a gate during Monday’s Division 2 Finals at Boyne Mountain. (Middle) Houghton’s Eli Heathman eyes the path ahead during one of his races. (Click for more later this week from Sports in Motion – Division 2.)