A Game for Every Fan: Week 4

September 13, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Just like that, the MHSAA football season is one-third over. And after this weekend, teams will be cruising into the midpoint of the regular season. 

Don't let it pass you by. We're entering the thick of league races, Homecoming and rivalry games. The toughest part can be choosing which to watch. 

See below for some of the best options near you. And remember to visit the MHSAA Score Center for updated scores and standings.

(All are tonight unless noted. Go to Score Center for additional dates and kickoff times.)

Bay and Thumb

Flint Powers (3-0) at Saginaw Nouvel (3-0)

This beats out some pretty strong league matchups because of a few hard-to-match circumstances. Both are undefeated, yes. But both also are reigning MHSAA champions -- Powers won Division 5 last season and Nouvel was Division 7. Both have already survived close calls, but are surging behind solid defensive efforts -- both teams are giving up roughly 11 points per game. 

Others that caught my eye: Croswell-Lexington (3-0) at Capac (2-1), Bay City Western (3-0) at Saginaw (2-1), Marine City (2-1) at Clawson (3-0), Goodrich (3-0) at Montrose (2-1).

West Michigan

Lowell (3-0) at Muskegon (3-0)

These two have been in the conversation for best game in the state just about every week so far. That's the product of loading up tough nonleague opponents before expected championship runs through their respective conferences. Lowell is a slight favorite in the O-K White, and Muskegon is a little bit more in the O-K Black. But this game might indicate something even bigger -- the eventual frontrunner for the MHSAA Division 2 title. 

Others that caught my eye: Allendale (3-0) at Comstock Park (2-1), Hudsonville (1-2) at Grand Rapids Christian (2-1), Zeeland East (3-0) at Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (3-0), Cedar Springs (3-0) at Zeeland West (2-1).


Saginaw Swan Valley (3-0) at Alma (3-0)

Two teams kept Alma from winning the Tri-Valley Conference Central in 2011, and the Panthers are rolling after gaining vengeance on Freeland last week. They've also beaten Swan Valley in two straight, but by a combined three points. The TVC Central race has whittled down quickly, with these two and Hemlock the only three off to 2-0 starts in the league. That number will be down to at least two by the end of tonight. 

Others that caught my eye: Haslett (1-2) at DeWitt (2-1), Charlotte (2-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (3-0), St. Johns (3-0) at Owosso (2-1), Lansing Everett (3-0) at Holt (2-1). 

Greater Detroit

Birmingham Brother Rice (2-1) at Warren DeLaSalle (2-1), Saturday

Raise your hand if you realized DeLaSalle has won three of its last four against the Warriors. Or that the teams' last eight meetings have been decided by 11 or fewer points. The reason that might surprise is Brother Rice's four trips and two wins in MHSAA Finals over the last decade -- DeLaSalle also has played in two Finals, but is seeking its first title. The winner this weekend will have the upper hand in the Detroit Catholic League Central, a great sign for another MHSAA run. 

Others that caught my eye: Oxford (2-1) at Farmington (3-0), Oak Park (3-0) at Southfield (2-1), Detroit Country Day (2-1) at Dearborn Divine Child (2-1), Monroe St. Mary Catholic (3-0) at Carleton Airport (3-0).

Upper Peninsula

Ishpeming (3-0) at Ishpeming Westwood (2-1)

This rivalry has been one-sided lately, with Ishpeming winning the last 15 meetings including twice in the playoffs. The Hematites ended Westwood's 2011 season and own a couple of impressive wins already this fall over Iron Mountain and Calumet. But the Patriots haven't given up a point since their Week 1 loss to Stephenson -- and appear due to tilt this series the other way. 

Others that caught my eye: Engadine (2-0) at Cedarville (3-0), Negaunee (3-0) at Iron Mountain (2-1), Gladstone (2-1) at Menominee (3-0), Iron Mountain North Dickinson (3-0) at Stephenson (2-1).

Lower Up North

Traverse City St. Francis (2-1) at Grayling (3-0)

St. Francis is the big opponent on many teams' calendars. That goes with winning six MHSAA championships. But both of these teams were ranked in the opening Associated Press polls this week. The Gladiators have won two straight since being shut out on opening night by Kingsley; Grayling is off to its third straight 3-0 start and looks like the favorite in the Lake Michigan Conference after watching last season's title fall out of grasp with a one-point loss to St. Francis in the regular-season finale. 

Others that caught my eye: Muskegon Catholic Central (1-2) at McBain (2-1), Petoskey (2-1) at Traverse City Central (2-1), Maple City Glen Lake (3-0) at Benzie Central (1-2), Boyne City (3-0) at Harbor Springs (2-1).

Southwest and Border

Portage Central (3-0) at Stevensville Lakeshore (3-0)

Four of the seven teams in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West appear capable of winning it, with these two joining St. Joseph among the 3-0 teams so far this season. Lakeshore perhaps has been the most impressive after finishing second in the league to Mattawan last season. But Portage Central already has equaled last season's win total and has won five straight going back to 2011's Week 8. 

Others that caught my eye: Paw Paw (3-0) at Allegan (1-2), Plainwell (2-1) at Otsego (3-0), St. Joseph (3-0) at Portage Northern (2-1), Kalamazoo Loy Norrix (2-1) at Sturgis (1-2).

PHOTO: Flint Powers senior receiver Zach VanAlst attempts to break a tackle in his team's game against Mount Pleasant during Week 2. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Inspired by Dad's Memory, Lawrence's Vasquez Emerges After Family Losses

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

January 16, 2024

LAWRENCE — While COVID-19 affected many students in different ways, it definitely made an impact on Austin Vasquez.

Southwest CorridorAs a freshman at Lawrence High School during the pandemic, Vasquez lost his grandmother Theresa Phillips to cancer on March 25, 2021.

Two days later, on March 27, his father Tom Vasquez, died of complications from COVID. And on April 19 that spring, his grandfather Darrell “Gene” Phillips also lost his fight against the coronavirus.

“There is no way (to cope). You just have to keep on moving,” Austin said. “It’s what (my dad) would want me to do.

“He was my biggest (influence) in sports. He talked to me about never giving up – leave everything you’ve got.”

That is just what Vasquez is doing in the midst of his three-sport senior year.

He is the top wrestler at the school, competing at 175 pounds with a goal of making the MHSAA Tournament. He was a versatile contributor on the football field this past fall, and he’s planning to join the baseball team this spring.

Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. He’s 8-3 with six pins on the mat this winter after a busy summer of camps and tournaments. Those experiences helped lessen the nerves he’d felt during matches previously, and now he’s wrestling with an outlook of “everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

And Vasquez said he feels his dad’s presence as he prepares for competition.

“Before every match, before every game, I just think about what my dad would be telling me,” he said. “Everything he’s always told me has taught me to get better. 

“In life, I still remember everything he taught me. He was definitely a great man, and I want to be like him someday.”

Wrestling also has made Vasquez more in tune with his health.

His sophomore season he went from 230 pounds to 215, and by his junior year was down to his current 175.

“I just wanted to be healthier, not just for wrestling,” he said. “I started going to the gym every night, watched my calories, and from there grew (taller).

“Now I’m at 6-(foot-)2, and I don’t know how that happened,” he laughed.

Lawrence coach Henry Payne said Vasquez always has a positive attitude and helps the other wrestlers in the program.

“When he notices a kid next to him doing a move wrong, he’ll go over and show him the right way,” Payne said. “We have a lot of young kids that this is their first year, and he’s been a good coach’s helper.”

The coach’s helper gig will continue after graduation.

"Next year we’re hoping to open up a youth program here, and I got him and an alumni that graduated last year and is helping the varsity team this year (Conner Tangeman) to take over the youth program for us,” Payne said.

 From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. On the football team, Vasquez was a jack of all trades.

“He started at guard, went to tight end, went to our wingback, went to our running back. He was trying to get the quarterback spot,” football coach Derek Gribler laughed.

Vasquez said there is no other feeling like being on the field, especially during home games.

“Wrestling is my main sport, but I’d do anything to go back and play football again,” he said. “I just love it.”

Although the football team struggled through a 1-8 season, “It was still a really fun season,” Vasquez said. “Everybody was super close. Most of us never really talked before, but we instantly became like a family.”

Vasquez had the support of his mother, Heather, and four older sisters: Makaylah, Briahna, Ahlexis and Maryah. He also found his school family helped him get through the end of his freshman year.

“(My friends) were always there for me when everything was going on,” he said. “I took that last month off school because it was too hard to be around people at that time.

"Every single one of them reached out and said, ‘Hey, I know you’re going through a rough time.’ It really helped to hear that and get out of the house.”

Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. The family connection between Vasquez and Lawrence athletic director John Guillean goes back to the senior’s youth.

“I was girls basketball coach, so I coached his sisters,” Guillean said. “I remember him when he was pretty young. I knew the family pretty well. I knew his dad. He was pretty supportive and was there for everything.”

Vasquez said that freshman year experience has made him appreciate every day, and he gives the following advice: “Every time you’re wrestling, it could be your last time on the mat or last time on the field. Treat every game and every match as if it’s going to be your last. If you’re committed to the sport, take every chance you have to help your team be successful.”

Gribler has known Vasquez since he was in seventh grade and, as also the school’s varsity baseball coach, will work with Vasquez one more time with the senior planning to add baseball as his spring sport.

“When we talk about Tiger Pride, Austin’s a kid that you can put his face right on the logo. His work ethic is just unbelievable,” Gribler said. “Everything he does is with a smile. He could be having the worst day of his life, and he’d still have a smile on his face. He pushes through. It’s tough to do and amazing to see.”

The coach – who also starred at Lawrence as an athlete – noted the small community’s ability to rally around Vasquez and his family. Lawrence has about 150 students in the high school.

“It goes beyond sports,” Gribler said. “Austin knows when he needs something he can always reach out and we’ll have his back, we’ll have his family’s back. It’s not so much about winning as it is about the kids.”

Vasquez is already looking ahead to life after high school. He attends morning courses at Van Buren Tech, studying welding, and returns to the high school for afternoon classes. 

“I’d like to either work on the pipeline as a pipeline welder or be a lineman,” he said, adding, “possibly college. I would like to wrestle in college, but let’s see how this year goes.

“I’m ready to get out, but it’s going to be hard to leave this all behind.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence senior Andrew Vasquez, right, wrestles against Hartford this season. (2) Vasquez works on gaining the advantage in a match against Mendon. (3) From left: Lawrence wrestling coach Henry Payne, athletic director John Guillean and football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (4) Vasquez also was a standout on the football field. (Wrestling and football photos courtesy of the Lawrence athletic department. Headshots by Pam Shebest.)