Hamilton Wins League, Eyes Historic Run
February 22, 2017
By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
HAMILTON – The Hamilton girls basketball team had high expectations this season after the loss of only one senior from last year’s District championship squad.
So far, the Hawkeyes are living up to those lofty goals.
Hamilton entered the week ranked No. 7 in Class B while boasting a sparkling 17-1 record, and improved it to 18-1 with a 61-33 win over Zeeland East on Tuesday. It already has clinched the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green title outright.
“I knew we could have a good team,” said 14th-year head coach Dan VanHekken. “We didn’t win conference last year, but won Districts, so we had a little postseason experience with the kids we had coming back.
“They definitely wanted to win conference, which we feel good about and they should be proud of that for sure, and this has been a pretty challenging league year in and year out.”
The lone loss on Hamilton’s resume occurred in December against Hudsonville, which reached the MHSAA Class A Semifinals a year ago.
The Hawkeyes have gone unscathed in conference play, and have one remaining game against Zeeland West in their attempt for an unbeaten conference season.
“Winning conference was one of our goals, so it was cool to achieve that,” senior Brooklyn Groenheide said. “We worked really hard in the offseason and set some high goals. So far we’re doing pretty good in achieving those goals, and we just have to keep it going. We have to take it one game at a time.”
District play for girls basketball begins next week, and Hamilton is looking toward capturing another crown.
That road will be complicated, though. The Hawkeyes open with conference rival Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-8) and with the possibility of a third meeting with another conference foe, Holland Christian (15-4), in the District Final.
“Unity played us tough the first time, and we won by one at their place,” VanHekken said. “We got them good the second time, but they are playing some good basketball and the third time is never easy. We have a tough District with Holland Christian on the other side.”
Hamilton has never gone beyond the Regional Semifinals, but hopes to set a new standard this time around.
Three years ago, the Hawkeyes posted a school record with 21 wins.
“We’re hoping to make it through Districts, and getting past the first round of Regionals would be a huge goal for us,” senior guard Joslyn Bronkhorst said. “It would be awesome for us to win Regionals, but we will see. Having to beat a team three teams (in Districts) can be tricky, but I think we can do it.”
VanHekken has relied heavily on Bronkhorst and Groenheide. Both have been staples in the program as four-year varsity players.
“We rely on them every day in practice and in the offseason being in the gym,” VanHekken said. “They stay after and shoot, and they are an extension of my voice to the girls. They know expectations, and they deliver.”
A total of six seniors are on the roster. Other main contributors to this year’s success have been seniors Franesha Robinson and Annaka Ediger, junior Ashlyn Wolfran and sophomore Bria Schrotenboer.
“I think on any given night we can compete with some of the better teams,” VanHekken said. “We haven’t seen many teams from the other side of the state, but we feel good about what we have done this year and I think we’ve made a name for ourselves as a team to beat.”
Hamilton, which features an up-tempo offense and pressure defense, doesn’t have a high-scoring superstar on the team.
Instead, it’s a balanced group that shares in the scoring load.
“I have maybe one girl averaging 12 points a game, but I have four or five kids averaging between 8 and 10 points,” VanHekken said. “I love coaching that type of team. I don’t like running a particular set for one kid. I just love running a motion game that is pretty equal for everybody. They can play team basketball, and it’s just fun to play that way.”
Defense has been a main emphasis, according to VanHekken. The Hawkeyes have held opponents to 30 or fewer points eight times.
“They’ve bought in, and they’re enjoying it,” he said. “They understand that deflections can lead to steals, and steals to points.”
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 email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Hamilton's Bria Schrotenboer maintains possession against Byron Center this season. (Middle) Senior Franesha Robinson handles the ball in the post against Hudsonville Unity Christian. (Photos courtesy of Covering Hawkeye Sports.)
Lansing Catholic Closes Season With Memorable Victory Close to Home
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
March 18, 2023
EAST LANSING – The Lansing Catholic girls basketball team took a short drive to end a long wait.
Playing just three miles from their high school, the Cougars defeated Frankenmuth 43-29 Saturday at the Breslin Center to win the MHSAA Division 2 Final. It was the first Finals title for the program since 1995.
“It felt like homecourt advantage a little bit,” Lansing Catholic senior guard Hannah Pricco said. “Our bus trip wasn’t super long. It just kind of felt like we were coming to our own court.”
The Cougars treated it that way, dominating from the beginning of the matchup in their first Finals trip since that 1995 title. They scored the game’s first 11 points and never looked back.
“This is, as you can imagine, extremely surreal,” Lansing Catholic coach Kacee Reid said. “You’re going through literally every emotion on the bench, especially in a game like that. Frankenmuth is making such a great comeback, and we knew they were going to fight to the end. To go through the anger and sadness and happiness, and now it’s over and we’ve won it. It’s just been a rollercoaster of emotions, and I can’t describe the pride I have in these girls.”
It was the second meeting between the two teams, with Lansing Catholic taking the first 74-42 on Feb. 2. But Reid wasn’t going to let her team come in overconfident.
“They didn’t get here by accident,” Reid said. “They’re in the state championship because they’re playing their best ball of the year. We played them a month and a half ago. … We’re a totally different team, and we knew they were a totally different team. We knew they had been playing some really good basketball, and it didn’t matter at all what that first outcome was. We knew this was going to be a battle.”
Lansing Catholic (24-5) never trailed, and led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. Leah Richards led the Cougars with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Anna Richards had 14 points. Gabby Halliwill added seven.
The Cougars were spurred by their defense throughout, holding Frankenmuth to 9 of 36 shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers.
“For us, defensively, we had to switch it up,” Reid said. “We had to keep switching up between man and zone. They were making adjustments and we couldn’t really sit in one thing for too long; they got comfortable. That’s a credit to their coaching staff always making adjustments. We had to continue to switch things up defensively and try to hopefully make their shooters second-guess their shot, or maybe not know where we were coming from.”
Frankenmuth (25-3) didn’t go away, despite trailing by double digits for the majority of the game.
That was helped by Lansing Catholic shooting 1 of 11 from the field in the third quarter, and going scoreless for the final 5:26 of the frame.
The Eagles cut the lead to seven with 2:45 to play on a steal and layup from Clare Conzelmann, but never got closer.
“There was always belief no matter what detriment we got ourselves in,” Frankenmuth senior Lexi Boyke said. “I wouldn’t want to choose any other girls to play with and be in with at that point. I think we fought back and really prided ourselves on, ‘We can still do it.’ We didn’t stop fighting until the end.”
Lansing Catholic always figured Frankenmuth would make a run to get into the game, but was ready when it came.
“We knew they were going to make runs, we knew we weren’t going to hold them to seven points the whole game,” Anna Richards said. “We knew in the third quarter they were going to score, so we just had to stay composed, work the ball around on offense to get the good shots that we wanted.”
Boyke, who scored Frankenmuth’s first 10 points and was its only scorer well into the third quarter, finished with 16. She also reached 1,000 career points in the game, and had six rebounds, while Izzy Bernthal had seven.
Frankenmuth was making its first Finals appearance since winning the Class C title in 1996, one year after Lansing Catholic.
“That’s a really good Lansing Catholic team, and you’ve seen that from their postseason run and beating an undefeated West Catholic team, and tonight finishing their season off with a state championship. So, congratulations to them,” Frankenmuth coach Joe Jacobs said. “I’m super proud of our kids. They didn’t quit tonight. They could have. … Fun experience, one that we want to treasure forever, but the motivation to come back again is here after tonight’s loss.”
PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Cougars’ Anna Richards (10) attempts to get a shot up over Frankenmuth’s Lexi Boyke. (Below) Tessa Roe (12) works to get past Clare Conzelmann and to the basket.