By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
HUDSONVILLE – After last year’s regular season ended, longtime Hudsonville baseball coach Dave Van Noord was on the brink of reaching a career milestone.
An early exit from the postseason tournament derailed the celebration.
Van Noord was two wins shy of joining an elite class of coaches who have won 500 games.
“I knew going into Districts last year that there was a chance, but then we lost in Districts and I didn’t think about it much,” Van Noord said. “Then this season started and I saw a plaque in the press box and I thought, ‘Oh man, this is going to happen this week.’”
Following Spring Break, Van Noord did reach the 500-win plateau with his team’s 6-1 victory over Zeeland East on April 13.
The victory was another milestone for one of the state’s top baseball programs – but also for the Eagles’ dominating programs on both diamonds.
Softball coach Tom Vruggink, who turns 66 next month, has been a mainstay at Hudsonville for 35 years and instrumental in turning that program into a state powerhouse.
Vruggink has nearly doubled Van Noord’s win total. He began the 2016 campaign with a 941-243 record and is the eighth all-time winningest coach in MHSAA softball history.
Combined, Van Noord and Vruggink have more than 1,400 wins.
“That’s incredible, isn’t it?” Van Noord said. “I wish I had his pitchers through the years, and they’ve had some incredible teams. He has a special way with girls.”
Van Noord, 53, is in his 22nd season as the Eagles’ head coach. He began his coaching career in 1991 at Lakewood Lake Odessa, where he spent two years before receiving a teaching job in Hudsonville.
He replaced longtime coach Larry Byle, who retired in 1994.
Van Noord has received help through the years from longtime assistant coach Joe DeSmit, and support from his wife, Sue.
“We’ve coached together 21 years, and there is no way I would’ve been able to stay in it without Joe,” Van Noord said. “We basically co-coach together, and my wife has put up with so much, especially my bad moods when the team’s not playing well. I wish the older that I get, the better I would be with losing, but I’m not.”
Van Noord said he was thrilled to accomplish the feat with this year’s group, which started 4-1 before suffering a four-game losing skid.
“It was cool for this team to do it,” he said. “Joe and I really like this team. We didn’t play very well last week, but the first week was good. It feels like a classic Hudsonville team.”
The Eagles were competitive through the early stages of Van Noord’s career, but were unable to make lengthy postseason runs.
That all changed in 2009 when the program claimed a District title. Three years later, Hudsonville won its first MHSAA Division 1 championship.
“We always thought if we could get by Jenison or Grandville, which were both good, then we could make a run and that would be sweet,” Van Noord said. “We won our first District in 2009 and went to the Quarterfinals. That’s when we got it going and started winning O-K Red championships. The state title was a cool thing to do.”
Van Noord looks back fondly on all of the players he has coached.
“I coached pairs of brother and trios of brothers and just a lot of good kids,” Van Noord said. “They believed in what we did and they worked hard. They all come from good families, and it has been special to be a part of that for so long.”
Ironically, Vruggink had aspirations to coach baseball. However, softball became his calling.
“My dream was to always get a baseball job somewhere,” said Vruggink, who began his tenure in 1982. “I got the softball job here before that and never looked back.
“It was tough at the beginning going from a male athlete coaching football and then coaching girls in softball. It’s a lot different working with girls than the boys, and that was the biggest adjustment.”
Vruggink has no regrets over his decision to stay involved in softball.
“I’ve loved it, and I think it is the best coaching job around,” he said. “I have kids who work hard and they love to play. The parents are so supportive of what the kids are doing and what we are doing as a program.”
The Eagles have won three MHSAA Division 1 championships under Vruggink’s guidance. They won back-to-back crowns in 2009 and 2010, and again in 2012.
“We’ve been very successful through the years, and all of the state championships are special in their own way,” Vruggink said. “We were close a lot of times and finally broke through in 2009 and got that first one. To do it twice in a row was special, and then we overcame a big hurdle in 2012 in our first year without Sara Driesenga (who has gone on to star at University of Michigan). That team had something to prove.”
Vruggink’s wife, Patty, has been with him every step of the way as the team’s scorekeeper.
“She’s in the dugout every game, and she’s like an assistant coach,” Vruggink said. “I bounce things off her like I would any other coach and it’s been great.”
Vruggink, who taught fourth grade for 31 years and now is retired from the classroom, isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Although hanging up the cleats and bat is talked about at times, he can’t imagine life without coaching.
“Right now, I’m still having fun and I get fired up every year for the beginning of the season,” Vruggink said. “It will be a difficult thing to say ‘this is my last year,’ because there’s always that next girl coming up you want to coach.”
Players from Van Noord’s past were among those who reconnected after his recent milestone win.
“They did a nice presentation for me after the game and that was cool,” Van Noord said. “I don’t look back much, and the years have added up quickly, especially the last 10 years. It’s been a whirlwind recently, but the best part of it was the social network.
“I’m tied in with so many people and I must’ve had 50-75 texts and emails from staff, former players and other coaches. It was so cool to just connect with those people again.”
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@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Tom Vruggink (left) and Dave Van Noord both led Hudsonville programs to Division 1 titles in 2012. (Middle) Van Noord is surrounded by his players flashing five fingers after his latest milestone win. (Below) Vruggink raises his program's third MHSAA title trophy after the 2012 win. (Middle photo courtesy of Hudsonville athletic department.)
Owosso’s Macy Irelan earned 11 entries in the MHSAA record book over her three-year varsity career that came to a close last spring, most notably with her 1,157 strikeouts despite the 2020 season being canceled due to COVID-19.
Irelan’s career strikeouts were the second-most in the state since the pitching distance was lengthened three feet in 2011. She finished 31-7 last spring with a 1.43 ERA and 414 strikeouts in 229 2/3 innings in earning the Miss Softball Award for pitching.
She also hit .551 with 21 doubles last season, and her 55 career doubles over 117 games and three seasons made that category career list. She’s continuing her career at Kent State.
See below for more recent additions to the softball record book:
Unionville-Sebewaing’s dominating run to the 2021 Division 4 championship was filled with seven record book-worthy highlights, including many near the top of all-time lists. In going 40-3, the Patriots tied their season record for wins for the second time. Their 502 runs scored ranked third all-time, with their 493 hits tied for ninth, their 114 doubles second, their 49 home runs also tied for ninth, their 431 RBI also second and their 503 strikeouts thrown ranking third. Senior Brynn Polega completed her career with 13 record book entries despite her junior season being canceled because of COVID-19; she added listings for 71 runs, 79 hits, a third-best 28 doubles, 11 homers, 70 RBI, four perfect games pitching and 365 strikeouts, among others. Then-junior Laci Harris made lists with 77 runs, 83 hits, 22 doubles, 14 homers and 78 RBI, while then-junior Macy Reinhardt was added for 78 runs and then-freshman Gabriella Crumm was added for 16 doubles. Polega, Harris and Reinhardt also posted entries for single-game accomplishments. Polega is playing at Northwood and Harris at Madonna.
Big Rapids set a school record for wins in 2021 in finishing 34-7, a run which included a number of accomplishments that reached the record book. The Cardinals scored 439 runs – tied for 12th on that list – and also as a team were added for 428 hits, 82 doubles and 363 RBI, which tied for 10th all-time. Marissa Warren made the individual hits list with 71, while Hanna Smith earned an entry with 20 doubles and Rylie Haist followed with 19. Josie Cornell was added with 40 walks drawn. Warren, Smith and Haist were added for single-game accomplishments as well, as was Madison Affer from a 2019 game. Haist, Smith and Cornell are seniors this school year, and Warren is a junior. Smith has signed with Ferris State.
A pair of Bad Axe standouts earned record book entries in 2021 with their work at the plate. Haley Newland made the single-season doubles list with 19, and Brooke Messing was added for seven RBI in a game that saw her hit a grand slam and three-run homer. Newland graduated last spring and Messing is a senior this school year.
Montrose then-freshman Lainey Cannon made two record book lists with her performance April 25 against Montrose. She hit three home runs to make the single-game list in that category, and also made the single-game RBI list with eight.
Capac then-sophomore Madalyn Roberson made the record book three times with her performance May 9 against Brown City. She hit two home runs in back-to-back at bats, both during the fifth inning, and also drove in six runs for the game.
Spring Lake standouts now fill the record book after the addition of 55 individual and 23 team entries dating back to the 2000 season. Among listings ranking highest in their respective categories were Madelyn Nelson’s 81 runs in 2018, which tied for seventh all-time; Nelson’s 250 career runs from 2015-18) that rank seventh and Lauren Hellman’s 249 career runs also from 2015-18 that rank eighth on that list; Nelson’s 84 hits in 2018 that are tied for 12th-most all-time and her 264 career hits that rank 11th, Leah Vaughan’s 26 doubles in 2019 that rank seventh, Evie Lorimer’s 16 triples in 2011 that are tied for eighth and her 37 career triples from 2010-12 that are ranked fourth, Vaughan’s 23 career times being hit by pitch from 2016-19 which rank second, and Lorimer’s 92 stolen bases in 2012 that rank second (with all 92 coming consecutively to tie for fifth on that list) and 183 career steals that rank 11th. As a team, Spring Lake in 2017 ranked seventh all-time with 501 hits over 42 games, fourth with 109 doubles and eighth with 34 triples. The 2018 team ranks 11th with 441 runs scored over 41 games, 10th with 497 hits and tied for ninth with 100 doubles. Valerie Alter, Linsey Paggeot, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Leah Anton, Ann Marie Galloway and Rachael Adams also earned individual entries. Nelson went on to play at Grand Valley State, Vaughan plays at Aquinas College, Lorimer played at Central Michigan, Alter played at Jacksonville University (Fla.), Poole plays at Cornerstone University and Mumby played at Lansing Community College. Core plays volleyball at Hope College.
Freeland’s offense earned five record book entries during the team’s 26-12 season in 2022, including for 412 runs scored, 442 hits, 78 doubles, 336 RBI and a .400 team batting average. Three individuals also earned entries – sophomore Addie Steffen for a 20-game hitting streak and seven RBI in a game, junior Evelynn Rybicki for six RBI in a game and freshman Brynn Jaime for getting hit by a pitch twice in the same inning.
Chloe Parker hit .604 last spring and made the records with 20 doubles over 33 games for Niles Brandywine. She’s a junior this school year.
A series of record book entries were added for past and present Zeeland West standouts. Carly Sleeman was added for 73 runs, 75 hits, 27 doubles and 12 home runs in 2021 as a sophomore, while Lily Brower was added for 72 runs, 17 triples and 11 homers, plus 38 doubles and 29 triples over a four-year varsity career. Sleeman’s 27 doubles are tied for fifth-most in one season, and Brower’s 17 triples are tied for fourth on that list. Haley Hoogenraad was added for 70 hits and 17 doubles as a junior in 2015, 19 doubles as a senior, and 49 doubles and 24 triples over her four-year career from 2013-16. Kenzie Siersma was added for 17 doubles in 2017 and 54 over her career from 2016-19, while Courtney Sleeman made the season home runs list with 15 in 2015 and Sarah VanValkenburg made the career RBI list with 152 from 2014-17. Emily Brands was added for hitting consecutive home runs in the same inning, May 7 against Reese; she graduated this spring. Hoogenraad went on to play at University of Michigan, Courtney Sleeman played at Western Michigan, Siersma plays at West Virginia Tech, Brower played last season at Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and Carly Sleeman has signed with Central Michigan.
PHOTO Owosso’s Macy Irelan unloads a pitch during the 2021 Division 2 Final.