Rivals Find Success in Cooperation

March 8, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

In the place where rivalries turn into partnerships and adversaries become teammates stands the Great North Alpine ski team and the Bay Reps hockey squad.

The two programs — cooperatives that both include neighboring foes Traverse City St. Francis and Elk Rapids — have used that unique alliance to have great success in their respective sports this winter.

At last week’s Division 2 Skiing Finals, Great North Alpine’s boys team captured its first title, unseating Petoskey and ending the Northmen’s state record-tying streak of eight straight championships.

The Bay Reps, which also includes athletes from Kalkaska, Kingsley, Bear Lake and Mancelona, have also reached uncharted territory this season. The Reps advanced to the Division 1 Semifinals for the first time after beating Byron Center 4-3 in overtime in Wednesday’s Quarterfinal matchup.

It might be an unlikely union, given that Elk Rapids, St. Francis and Kalkaska compete against one another in the Lake Michigan Conference for most sports, while Kingsley is a rival in the Northern Michigan Football League. However, it would be difficult for either team to exist if not for the joining of forces between multiple schools.

“That’s the main reason we look for partnerships with other schools,” said St. Francis athletic director Aaron Biggar. “A smaller school like ourselves, or even our other partners, can offer a larger array of extracurricular activities. All the athletic directors that you talk to, they understand and know that athletics and extracurricular activities are good for students and you want to provide as many opportunities for those students.”

What they’ve done with those opportunities has been special. Even before the Great North Alpine boys team captured the Finals championship this season, it had been one of the elite teams in the state in Division 2. Beating Petoskey proved to be the big challenge and resulted in three consecutive runner-up finishes to the Northmen.

This year was different, though, and the Great North Alpine boys were able to interrupt the Northmen’s stranglehold on the crown and match the Finals championship the Great North Alpine girls won in 2016.

“It was a great feeling,” said Doug White, who co-coaches the Great North Alpine teams with Ben Ferris. “You felt like that monkey was finally off our back. We were able to overcome Petoskey, which was a great feat. They are a powerhouse.”

The Bay Reps have won four consecutive Northern Michigan Hockey League titles, but a postseason run this deep has eluded them in the nearly two decades since the program was formed. The Reps won Regional titles in 2002, 2003 and 2010, but were turned away in the Quarterfinals each time. This year they were able to string together four wins and break through that barrier, even though they opted to stay in Division 1 when they could have dropped to Division 2 due to fewer schools being part of the co-op (which resulted in a smaller combined enrollment).

“This year the kids are playing great, and we’re able to compete with those teams,” said first-year Bay Reps head coach Mike Matteucci. “We’ve come a long way this year. It’s been a lot of fun. A lot of growing and a lot of learning.”

Chemistry is the biggest obstacle for a co-op team, both coaches say, but they’ve found ways for team building and then meshing into a cohesive group.

“That’s something we focus on, getting the kids to work with each other,” said Matteucci. “Obviously when they get on the ice, that’s the best thing about hockey in my experience. You might go into a locker room not knowing who anyone is and you’re not going to talk much, but once you get on the ice it’s different. Everybody kind of comes together. Communicating on the ice and getting to know each other. That’s the bond that all these kids have.”

White also has seen similar results, but in his case it’s on the ski slopes.

“Traverse City St. Francis and Elk Rapids are rivals. It is something to overcome,” said White. “As a coach you don’t look at it that way. You just look at it as another athlete on the team. The big thing is you work on it. As the team gets together when you first start out with dry land training, that’s the most challenging then. But after you get out on the hill and start training on the hill, they come together. Everybody starts to jell together and become one.”

Along the way new friendships are established between teammates who are not always classmates or live in the same town.

“You’re usually competing against these other schools, but when you’re on the same team as them you really have the opportunity to expand your friendships across schools, and you kind of start thinking about those schools differently,” said Elk Rapids senior Finn Husband, who won the Division 2 individual slalom and giant slalom this season. “I know coming into high school I was more like, ‘Oh, these schools are my enemies. We play them in basketball. We play them (in other sports). You really root against them.’ But when you compete on the same team and you have the opportunity to understand how kids in those schools are basically doing the same thing you’re doing, you come together, you make friends and it’s an awesome time for everyone.

“I feel like I have a connection (with St. Francis), knowing the guys on the team and knowing how awesome and competitive they are.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Great North Alpine’s Cooper Kerkhof – a student from Elk Rapids – helps the co-op program’s boys team to its first MHSAA Finals title last month. (Middle) The Traverse City Bay Reps hockey team celebrates its Regional title last week. (Below) Members of Great Alpine’s boys and girls teams pose with the championship trophy. (Ski photos by Sports in Motion; hockey photo courtesy of the Bay Reps program.)

Hockey Players Transferring Winter Puck Skills to Spring Golf Swings

By Tom Lang
Special for MHSAA.com

May 26, 2023

When the Michigan seasons shift from winter to spring, some high school golf teams are a little more eager than others for the hockey season to officially end.

This is especially true for the school golf programs in Brighton, Hartland and Muskegon Mona Shores – examples of boys teams that love having hockey players transition from the indoor frozen ice to play golf outdoors on the lush green grass.

“I would take a golf team full of hockey players any day,” said Hartland golf coach Nathan Oake. “I love them.”

We can tell, because his program is full of them.

Hartland and Brighton each have eight hockey players on their 16-golfer varsity and JV rosters.

Mona Shores has three hockey players this year, but usually has more. In 2023 it’s Oliver MacDonald (all-state honorable mention in hockey), Nathan McNarland and Nicholas Taylor, who was voted Division 1 all-state golf last spring, then leading his team to fifth place at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.

Hartland’s Ian Kastamo (16) takes a faceoff against Brighton this winter. Brighton golfer Winston Lerch was also Division 1 all-state last year in golf and an assistant captain on the hockey team this winter that finished Division 1 runner-up to Detroit Catholic Central. Here in 2023, he shot a 65 to open the season at Oakland University for medalist and has committed to Grand Valley State for golf with his 72-stroke average.

Joining Lerch in the Bulldogs boys golf program are hockey players like Levi Pennala, winner of hockey’s Wall Award sponsored by State Champs as the top high school goalie. Pennala – who recently shot 72 at the Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship tournament, his career low for high school golf – finished in the top 30 last year at the LPD1 Final. Then early this spring when he was away at a high-level junior hockey tournament, freshman hockey player Adam Forcier stepped in and shot a school record 18-hole round for a freshman at 73. Jacob Daavetilla also works into the starting lineup at times.

Forcier tied the record of Davis Codd – who, as a pro hockey player on leave from the Saginaw Spirit OHL hockey team when COVID-19 shut down the league, won the LPD1 Final in 2021 for Brighton.

Brighton golf coach Jimmy Dewling said Codd was one of the earliest to prove to others you can play both hockey and golf and excel. In fact, that June in 2021, Codd went to an NHL scouting camp in Pennsylvania before the Golf Finals, drove overnight back to Forest Akers to play the two championship rounds, won the title, then immediately returned to Pennsylvania to resume the hockey camp.

“On our team, we believe, and TBone (Codd) was a perfect example of it, if there’s any time you have the opportunity to be competitive, it is going to make you a more well-rounded competitor and therefore better at your particular sport,” Dewling said.

“We like hockey players. In the winter, they have to think to where the puck is going, be smart enough to react, and understand how that emotion is going to carry over from one play to the next. When it’s your shift you have to forget about the last shift, or take something from the last shift and put it into the next shift, to have consistent play.

“It’s the same on the golf course,” Dewling continued. “It’s one hole to the next, one shot at a time, being tough, and that’s only going to come from competition reps. We love the athletic ability more so than anything; the toughness and competitiveness all year.”

In addition to Lerch and Pennala starting on varsity golf, they are joined by traditional golfers Matt Doyle, Riley Morton and Andrew Daily, who is committed to Wayne State and finished LPD1 runner-up last spring.

Mona Shores’ Nicholas Taylor fires an iron shot. Going into the 2023 golf postseason, Brighton is ranked No. 2 in Division 1. The Bulldogs have won the Next Tee Invite at Oakland Hills, the North Star Invite at Plum Hollow and the KLAA Conference Championship – earning Brighton’s first conference title since 2007. The Bulldogs also were runners-up at The Meadows Invite at Grand Valley State University. The team is averaging 297 for 18 holes.

Oake admitted this is a rebuilding year for Hartland’s golf program. The varsity lineup has only two returning players with varsity golf experience – Keller King and Brady Betteley.

“So, we opted to keep a group of tough competitors with a solid combination of speed and strength – and who are not concerned about the cold conditions that we play in,” Oake quipped.

Five others rotate into the Eagles’ golf starting lineup with King and Betteley: Isaac Frantti is an all-state hockey defensemen playing his first season of golf but shot a career-low 79 at American Dunes recently. He just signed a United State Premier Hockey League tender to play in Connecticut next year. Ian Kastamo scored the winning goal in Hartland’s Division 2 hockey championship victory in 2022, and LJ Sabala is a varsity hockey player as well.

Then there are two non-hockey freshmen getting shots to start occasionally – Dallas Korponic, who finished third at his weight at the Individual Wrestling Finals, and Michael Maurin. Five more sophomores and juniors are hockey players on the JV golf team.

We hope to be competitive with (Brighton) again soon, but they have the talent to make a big splash this year,” Oake said. “I also play golf at the same club as many Brighton players, so I see them quite a bit and we are friendly. When the Brighton team walked by our team on a recent Monday and all said hello to me and our guys, one of my players looked at me and said that this was the biggest difference between hockey and golf. In hockey, the small talk would be (traded) for the ice, and it would not be very nice out there.

“Either way, I believe both sports are filled with fierce competitors and respect, but when the game is over a handshake and a golf hat tip are offered to the victor.”

This story was updated and reposted with permission of MIGolfJournal.com.

PHOTOS (Top) Brighton takes a team photo after finishing third at last season’s LPD1 Final, and all five golfers are back this season including hockey players Levi Pennala (second from left) and Winston Lerch (second from right.) (Middle) Hartland’s Ian Kastamo (16) takes a faceoff against Brighton this winter. (Below) Mona Shores’ Nicholas Taylor fires an iron shot. (Photos courtesy of High School Sports Scene, Sapshots Photography and Mona Shores’ athletic department, respectively.)