'Oakridge Girls' Shine on Statewide Stage

June 10, 2016

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

You have heard of the Oakridge boys.

No, not the country music quartet best known for its 1981 hit “Elvira,” but the Muskegon Oakridge football team, a perennial playoff power which boasts five championship game appearances and three MHSAA titles.

Now, the “Oakridge Girls” are getting their time on the statewide stage.

The young Oakridge softball team (34-2) hopes to take another couple of steps on its journey at Saturday’s MHSAA Division 2 Regional tournament at Gladwin, starting with a noon game against Cadillac.

“Our big goal is to win a state championship,” said junior ace pitcher Alyssa Fessenden, who is 18-1 on the season. “But that starts with the next pitch and the next at-bat. You have to be focused all the time or you’ll get beat. We learned that last year.”

After advancing to the Division 3 Quarterfinals in 2014, the Eagles never even made it to District weekend last year, falling to neighboring rival Ravenna, 3-2, in a Division 3 Pre-District game.

Fessenden said that loss has helped to bond and focus this year’s team, which has fearlessly made the move up to Division 2 for the first time. That lack of fear starts with an outstanding freshmen class, including shortstop and leadoff hitter Sophia Wiard, big-hitting outfielder Kaylie Piper, and pitchers Kayla Fessenden (Alyssa’s younger sister) and Madison Carroll.

“It has taken a lot of weight off of my shoulders,” said Alyssa Fessenden of the addition of the two freshman pitchers. “Last year, I had to pitch every single game and if I just didn’t have it for some reason, I had to keep going. This year, we have those two who can come in and that takes a lot of pressure off of me and keeps my arm fresh.”

Those three pitchers powered Oakridge to its first Greater Muskegon Athletic Association county tournament championship since 2001, as well as an undefeated season in the West Michigan Conference. The Eagles have continued rolling in the postseason, winning three games at last week’s Division 3 District at Sparta by a combined score of 29-1.

Oakridge has produced a storybook season despite having only three seniors – second baseman Alessa Buchner, centerfielder Abby Lowe and Miranda Vanderwort.

The leader of the Oakridge girls is Joe Coletta, the longtime offensive coordinator of the school’s football team and right-hand man of legendary coach Jack Schugars on all five of the Eagles’ runs to the MHSAA Finals.

“I took over the program because we had a good group of girls coming through that needed a coach,” said Coletta, who coached football at Oakridge for 25 years. “I figured I’d do it for two years. But it has gotten into my blood, and I just love it.”

Coletta has transformed the softball program and helped spearhead the renovation of the school’s dilapidated softball facilities, which he says are now a source of community pride. This summer, the field will get new dugouts, also funded by community donations.

Coletta gives much of the credit for the on-field turnaround to his assistant coach, Red Pastor, who has worked with most of the team’s 14 players since their youth days in the community recreation program, and a tremendous run of female athletes at the Muskegon County school. Oakridge also won a girls soccer District title this year and the girls basketball team has won 50 consecutive league games in the West Michigan Conference.

 “This is a very competitive group of girls, but they genuinely enjoy being around each other and pushing each other,” said Coletta, who teaches physical education at Oakridge High School.

Oakridge can score runs in bunches as leadoff hitter Wiard (.513 batting average, 38 stolen bases) and No. 2 hitter Lowe are adept at getting on base, setting things up for the power bats of Alyssa Fessenden (3 home runs, 48 RBIs), standout catcher Hannah Reinhold (6 home runs, 58 RBIs) and Buchner (55 RBIs) to knock them in.

Both of the Eagles’ losses came on the same day – at the Michigan High School Blue Chip tournament at Byron Center, which featured 12 state-ranked teams out of 16 total.

Fessenden hopes the fast pitching the Eagles faced in that tournament will pay off Saturday, when they go up against Cadillac senior ace Gabby Hoagland in the Regional opener. Ironically, Oakridge found a way to beat Hoagland two years ago in a Division 3 Regional game, when Hoagland was pitching for McBain.

Cadillac also will have to find a way to get to Fessenden in what has the makings of a pitcher’s duel. Fessenden sports a 0.96 ERA, 160 strikeouts and just 27 walks in 102 innings pitched.

Fessenden tries not to be superstitious, although she does wear two pairs of socks every game and will do it again Saturday even though temperatures are expected to soar into the high 80s (Buchner is the opposite, wearing socks with the toes torn out).

 “Fessy” knows the key to continuing the tournament run has nothing to do with socks, and everything to do with preparation and performance.

“Our coaches cranked up the pitching machine at practice this week and moved it in closer, so we’ll be ready for the fast pitching,” Fessenden said. “It should be a great game.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Junior ace pitcher Alyssa Fessenden delivers for the Muskegon Oakridge softball team, which is 34-2 entering Saturday's MHSAA Division 2 Regional at Gladwin. (Middle) Joe Coletta, the longtime offensive coordinator for the powerful Muskegon Oakridge football program, is in his eighth season as the school's softball coach. (Photos by Sherry Wahr.)

Owosso Ace's Strikeout Total Stacks Up with State's All-Time Best

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 4, 2023

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.