By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Ben Meyers still remembers when he raced competitively for the first time on the ski slopes.
The Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern senior standout was 7 years old at the time and competed in a small local race one afternoon at Cannonsburg Ski Area.
And how did he end up?
“I took second,” Meyers recalled. “That might have started my competitive drive. I participated in it and thought it was a lot of fun. Since then I’ve grown to absolutely love the sport.”
Meyers’ competitive nature and immense dedication has helped him emerge as one of the top skiers in the state.
A three-time MHSAA Finals qualifier, Meyers is attempting to accomplish a feat next month that hasn’t been done in almost 20 years.
A skier from Grand Rapids hasn’t won a Division 1 individual title since 1998, when Forest Hills Central’s Eric VanTongeren won the giant slalom with a two-run total of 54.42 seconds.
Meyers has made steady progress in his run to end the drought. As a sophomore he placed fifth, and last season he finished runner-up to Marquette’s Joe Weber.
“I always set my goals pretty high, and my goal was to get the individual state title last year,” Meyers said. “I’ve been racing against those top guys since I was little, and knowing them and my abilities, my goal was to be a state champion. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.”
Meyers has one more shot at making his goal a reality.
The Forest Hills Northern-Eastern combined team will compete in Regionals on Feb. 13 at Schuss Mountain. The MHSAA Finals are slated for Feb. 27 at Nubs Nob.
While Meyers is looking forward to another opportunity to bring home a Finals championship, he’s more concerned with the team’s potential bid.
“First, we have to get through Regionals with our boys team, and we didn’t lose anyone from last year,” Meyers said. “So it’s trying to get the team to state, and then the focus would shift toward getting that state championship. Right now it’s about getting the team to state and getting some good finishes.”
A Forest Hills Northern/Eastern squad has never made it to the Finals, according to coach Chris Glasco, and she said Meyers’ team-first approach to this season has been refreshing.
“As much as he wants to be a state champ, I think it would be more important to him for his entire team to make it to state,” she said. “I truly believe that, and he has changed. I think when he first started it was about Ben and his goals, but he has realized that it’s more important to be a part of something bigger than yourself and that’s the teammates around you.
“Ben has the talent to make it to state by himself, but he wants nothing more than to have his whole team there with him.”
Meyers’ team mentality was prevalent as the goalkeeper on the school’s soccer team that advanced to the Regional Finals last fall.
“I think the similarities with soccer and skiing is having a solid team behind you,” Meyers said. “People think skiing is an individual sport, but it’s greatly a team sport. You cannot succeed just by yourself.”
Glasco said Meyers’ drive to improve sets him apart. He intently watches film and other skiers, looking for any edge he can get in order to succeed.
“He wants to be the master of his sport, and at his level, hundredths (of a second) count and it’s hard to cut them,” she said. “He knows he has to become a technical specialist to make that happen. He watched everything, his high school competitors, the Olympics and the World Cup. Just figuring out what works for them and how he can apply it to his own skiing.
“If there is anything he can do to cut a hundredth here, or a hundredth there, he does it. He works on it until he has it perfected.”
Meyers didn’t rest on his laurels from last season and had a productive summer while fine-tuning certain aspects he lacked.
Increased strength was a major factor.
“I worked on strength deficiencies that I had identified so I was able to get stronger,” Meyers said. “At the beginning of the season I felt like I picked up where I left off last year. I don’t think I’ve lost anything, and I think I’ve improved.”
Meyers, who hopes to ski in college and study pre-med, points to his intangibles as motivation.
“I think my determination is my biggest strength,” he said. “Coming up through the ranks I was struggling to do well and never seemed to find the speed. It wasn’t until a few years ago when everything started to click and I was getting strong enough to finish well. That’s been a defining factor through the years.”
The recent lack of snow locally has hindered Meyers’ training; however, the team has made several trips up north where snow is more abundant.
The coaching staff has gotten creative with indoor training techniques and video sessions.
“We are behind a little bit, especially with the up north schools that are getting to be on snow, but I feel we’ve done everything possible to prepare ourselves,” Meyers said. “We’ve adapted well to the changes, and I’m looking forward to next month.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern’s Ben Meyers speeds through the giant slalom on the way to finishing second in that race at last season’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) Meyers clears a gate during a run at Marquette Mountain. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.
"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.
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.)