PORTAGE — On the basketball court, Brooke Hoag and Grace Cheatham were “frenemies.”
But now that spring sports are here, that has changed.
The two seniors from rival schools are teammates.
Hoag, from Northern, and Cheatham, from Central, are both members of the Portage girls lacrosse team, a co-op composed of players from both schools.
When playing against each other, “you have to be focused on your team,” Hoag said. “When you come to lacrosse, it’s almost like you flip a switch because they’re your team now.
“Playing against them is just fun. You look at them and you know how they play in different sports, so it’s fun because you can kind of pick on them. It’s also a competition, and you definitely learn how to separate the two sports.”
After being shut down last year because of COVID-19 restrictions, the lacrosse team is having one of its best seasons ever.
Portage is 12-2 so far and currently ranked No. 8 in Division I, according to LaxNumbers.com
“For our returners, I think (the year off) has given them more motivation to want to play,” said Kate Twichell, in her seventh year as head coach. “There’s a fire lit, especially under my seniors.
“They’re playing so hard. They understand every opportunity is another opportunity they weren’t going to get.”
This season is different from any other, with mandated masks and rapid testing. Adapting to cool weather and then hot makes masking up a little more challenging, Hoag said, but worth it to have a chance to play. Twichell said Portage schools provide a mask that is easier to wear. “None of them will claim they love it,” she added. “The second we say they can take them off, they will 100 percent take them off.”
But in spite of the drawbacks, “This year, our varsity team is playing together the best I think it’s ever played together,” Twichell said. “The team chemistry is just phenomenal.
“That’s really all them. They’ve really taken extra time to make sure that they are putting in the work to come together.”
For the first time, Portage is hosting an MHSAA Division 1 Regional, facing Zeeland East on May 20. Finals are June 12 at Novi High School.
Other Northern varsity players are seniors Mairin Boshoven and Karly Turchan, junior Annie Galin and freshman Avery Kelly.
Central players include seniors Kyla Meyle, Jenna Camp, Calista Richmond and Lauren DeHaan; juniors Ryan Knauer, Olivia Jensenius and Lauren King; and sophomores Sam Swafford and Lexie Springman. Casey Hendrixson coaches the junior varsity team.
Neither Hoag nor Cheatham grew up playing lacrosse, but that is not a problem, Twichell said.
“My varsity players are all returning, so I have six returning starters on varsity right now,” she said. “My JV team, of the 15 of them, 10 are new to the sport this year.
“They’ve never touched a stick before. MHSAA gave us some small practices so we had a few in earlier, but most of them are brand new within the last 12 months.”
Learning that the stick is actually an extension of their hand is one of the hardest adjustments for new players, she said.
“I always tell the kids the first week is going to be the hardest – the frustration of dropping the ball and not being able to figure out the mechanics of it is always going to be the most difficult,” she said.
Hoag first played the sport when she was in eighth grade and took to it immediately.
“The only downside is the bruises you can get from it, but I like to say they’re like trophies showing you’re an aggressive player and it’s just something that you almost want to show that you play,” the midfielder said.
She kept in shape during the shutdown by working out at home.
“I have a net and a rebounder in my backyard, so I would practice shooting and my stick skills by myself,” she said.
Losing last season was especially difficult for the midfielder.
Not only is the junior season a big year for college recruitment but “my sister (Ashleigh) was a senior and I got my last chance to play with her taken away.”
Cheatham also has played lacrosse for five years, with her interest piqued by her father and brother.
Family helped her hone her skills during the shutdown.
“I live super close to Portage Central High School, so me and my brother (Andrew, a freshman who plays lacrosse at Central) used to go and play a lot of wall ball against The Stable. We did a lot of shooting drills on our own, just to keep busy.”
Both Hoag and Cheatham also played on summer and fall travel teams, which helped keep them in shape.
One unexpected moment for the two happened May 1 at the Matt Thrasher Memorial Games when each received a $500 scholarship, awarded each year to two players from the girls team and a player from each school’s boys team.
Thrasher played lacrosse and, while a freshman at Northern, died in a boating accident in 2004.
Cheatham echoed Hoag in saying it was an honor to receive the award.
“The fact that his family still does this is really amazing,” she said.
Hoag is headed to Trine University and will play lacrosse there, while Cheatham will attend Kent State in the nursing program and hopes to continue to play the sport, possibly at the club level.
While the ultimate goal is to one day have enough players to field a girls team at each school, the co-op team is under the umbrella of Portage Northern.
That poses one of the few problems for Twichell, who teaches Spanish at Hackett Catholic Prep.
“For me, honestly, the biggest thing is recruiting, getting into both schools equally to get enough kids to field a team,” she said. “Trying to get in the schools as one person from outside the school is pretty difficult.
“Likewise, especially during the offseason, getting enough practice time at both facilities so that each player gets their home facility or their home games or home practices, that can be a challenge.”
Next year that could be a bit easier. Twichell’s husband, Kurt, was recently named Northern’s head football coach after longtime coach Pete Schermerhorn retired. The past seven years, he was on the Portage Central football staff.
One future recruit for the girls team should be a shoo-in. The couple’s 2½-year-old twins – daughter Aubrey and son Griffin – already have lacrosse sticks.
Pam 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@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Portage’s Brooke Hoag fires a shot against Grand Rapids Northview this spring. (2) From left: Portage coach Kate Twichell, Grace Cheatham and Brooke Hoag. (3) Grace Cheatham (45) advances the ball against Ann Arbor Skyline. (4) Twichell and daughter Aubrey enjoy a moment with lacrosse stick in hand. (Action photos by Chris Boot. Head shots by Pam Shebest. Twichell photo courtesy of the Twichell family.)
The addition of limited seeding at the Regional level of the Girls Lacrosse Tournament headlined actions taken by the Representative Council of the Michigan High School Athletic Association during its Fall Meeting on Dec. 2 in East Lansing.
Generally, the Council takes only a few actions during its Fall Meeting, with topics often introduced for additional consideration and action during its meetings in winter and spring. This Fall Meeting saw the Council take only three actions, with additional discussion centered on topics expected to receive more specific consideration at MHSAA sport committee meetings this winter and the Council’s meetings in March and May.
The Council approved a Girls Lacrosse Committee proposal to seed the top two teams in every Regional, and place those top seeds on opposite sides of the bracket beginning with the 2023 season. The two teams to be seeded will be determined by using the MHSAA’s Michigan Power Ratings (MPR) formula, which takes into account success and strength of schedule and is used currently to provide seeding information in boys lacrosse, girls and boys basketball, girls and boys soccer, and ice hockey. Only the top two teams in girls lacrosse will be seeded and separated; the other teams in each Regional will be placed on their brackets by random draw.
The Council also approved a Boys Lacrosse Committee recommendation that will allow athletes to participate in up to five quarters per day between teams at multiple levels – for example, varsity and junior varsity – also beginning with the 2023 season. For boys lacrosse multi-team tournaments, if two school teams (for example, the varsity and junior varsity) are at the same event, athletes may play in no more halves or quarters than what is being played by the school’s highest-level team that day. (Example: if the varsity team is playing three 30-minute half games for a total of six halves, a player playing both varsity and JV on the same day can play in six total halves that day.) The “fifth quarter” rule, by allowing athletes to compete on two levels on the same day, is intended to help programs that are otherwise lacking enough participants to field teams at multiple levels.
Taking into account the wintery weather conditions experienced by athletes during the MHSAA alpine ski season, the Council approved a Sports Medicine Advisory Committee recommendation to adopt the “MHSAA Competition and Practice Guidelines for Cold Weather,” which are specific to alpine skiing. The guidelines include a windchill chart and cold standards for ambient temperature. This proposal also was supported by the Ski Committee and will go into effect for the 2022-23 season.
Remaining discussions focused on results from this fall’s Update Meeting survey completed by administrators during the MHSAA’s annual presentations across the state. The Council considered survey data including on questions related to the out-of-season travel rule. The Council also discussed results of a fall survey completed by member school athletic directors and head varsity football coaches concerning ongoing conversations about scheduling and playoff format. Following the Football Committee meeting in January 2023, an ad hoc committee comprised of members of the MHSAA staff, Representative Council, Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (MIAAA) and Michigan High School Football Coaches Association (MHSFCA) will be convened for further discussion on these topics, with their report to be provided to the Council during its March 2023 meeting.
The Fall Meeting saw the appointment of Westland John Glenn athletic director Jason Malloy for a first-two-year term to the 19-person Council, and the re-appointment of Bay City Western principal Judy Cox for a second two-year term. Malloy previously was appointed to finish a partial term as one of the two representatives of member junior high/middle schools.
The Council reelected Scott Grimes, superintendent for Grand Haven Area Public Schools, as its president; and Vic Michaels, director of physical education and athletics for the Archdiocese of Detroit, as secretary-treasurer. Brighton High School athletic director John Thompson was elected Council vice president.
The Representative Council is the legislative body of the MHSAA. All but five members are elected by member schools. Four members are appointed by the Council to facilitate representation of females and minorities, and the 19th position is occupied by the Superintendent of Public Instruction or designee.
The MHSAA is a private, not-for-profit corporation of voluntary membership by more than 1,500 public and private senior high schools and junior high/middle schools which exists to develop common rules for athletic eligibility and competition. No government funds or tax dollars support the MHSAA, which was the first such association nationally to not accept membership dues or tournament entry fees from schools. Member schools which enforce these rules are permitted to participate in MHSAA tournaments, which attract more than 1.3 million spectators each year.