Performance: Three Rivers' Kali Heivilin

April 26, 2019

Kali Heivilin
Three Rivers sophomore – Softball

Heivilin, coming off 18 home runs last season as a freshman, already has hit 12 more over 17 games this spring including six over five games last weekend to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” The sophomore shortstop drilled three in Friday’s doubleheader sweep of Plainwell and then one each in all three games as her team went 2-1 at the Constantine Invitational.

Heivilin made the Division 2 all-state first team last spring and is hitting .667 this season with 33 RBI and 46 runs scored to go with her 12 homers. She's been walked 15 times and hasn't struck out; she's carrying an incredible .731 on-base percentage. Three Rivers is 15-3 with its only losses to No. 10-ranked Edwardsburg twice and once to Portage Central. Her athletic talents are not exclusive to the softball diamond; Heivilin is a starting outside and middle hitter on the varsity volleyball team and two-time all-league honoree in basketball. Also this winter, she earned a fifth place at the Michigan High School Powerlifting Association championships.

She also excels academically, carrying a 3.89 grade-point average with her favorite classes in science – particularly anatomy – and aspirations of studying something in the medical field down the road. She’s following the example of senior brother Jalen Heivilin, himself a multi-sport and academic standout at Three Rivers this year, and sports stardom runs in the family – their grandfather Al, a longtime MHSAA official, was a Three Rivers record holder in track & field and competed at Ferris State University after high school. Kali has lots of time to figure out her college future, of course – but is receiving interest from softball programs both north and south. Her big week also earned her recognition from Extra Innings Softball, which named her its National Player of the Week on Monday.

Coach Kendra Kutz said: "She just has a passion and drive for what she does, not just in softball but in life. She's very dedicated to herself and her well-being. She takes care of herself; I had the honor of helping her during basketball season when I was an assistant coach this year, and even on game days she'd go to CrossFit at 6 a.m. before school. She's just a beast -- not a typical 16-year-old girl. She's focused, she has a passion for what she does with her life and she's a great student, and she comes from a very well-rounded family that is very supportive of her. As a freshman, she just had a breakout to begin her career. She's not one of those types of leaders that's verbal. She's just a silent leader; she's young, and she's still trying to find her place as far as what she can say to her players and to feel comfortable in that atmosphere. (But) when she's focused, it's game time, and that to me is the start of leadership. ... I can put that girl anywhere on the field and she can get the job done. She's just a kid every coach wishes they had."

Performance Point: “I’m just having a good spring. I trained really hard in the offseason to make sure I improve from last year and don’t go downhill. I have a really big summer ahead of me. … I’m just doing really good right now, and hoping I stay where I’m at. Since we do CrossFit, and I do powerlifting, it makes me a lot stronger, helps me more at the plate approach and attack the ball. And then in the field it makes me more mobile and able to get places faster and more efficiently because I have more mobility.”

Workout warrior: “I get up every morning and work out before school. It’s just a big motivator for me because I see what it’s done for me in the past. I really like the outcome of it. The place I work out at, we’re all like a family, so we all push each other. We’re cheering for each other. … My brother, his best friend did CrossFit for a long time working out, so my brother joined. I look up to my brother, so I want to do what he did. So I started about four and a half years ago, and I haven’t stopped since.”

We manage: “I love playing everything because I like having things to do. I like my rest time, but I like staying active. So that’s why I do all the stuff I do. I manage it; I talk to my coaches, like I have to be at this place at this time, and they’re like, ‘OK, we’ll do practice from this time to this time.’ I like to make sure I do everything I need to do and want to do … because I like to stay busy. My dad (Shawn) likes me and my brother to be independent and wants us to learn how to manage our time, so he really helped me with it – like, ‘You’re responsible for this. If you want to do it, you have to figure out how to do it, how you’re going to be able to do it.’ So I give credit to my dad for helping to figure all of that stuff out.”

Brotherly love: “I learned a lot of responsibility and confidence from my brother. He’s so good. He’s worked hard to get to be where he wants to be, and I looked up to him to be like, ‘Oh, he did that. I want to do that.’ I learned how to work hard, how to be confident, how to be humble.”

Colleges are watching: “I want to play down south for softball for college … but I will stay up north if that is what fits me best. It’s weird. (Recruiting) comes fast. My parents and my brother are the ones that help me. My dad and brother are probably having the biggest impact – my brother is going through it right now and my dad has experience going through it, and my mom (Crystal) is there for me too. They are the ones helping me do what I need to do, make the right decisions and keep my head where it should be.” 

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2018-19 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard recognizes a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Past 2018-19 honorees

March 28: Rickea Jackson, Detroit Edison basketball - Read
March 21:
Noah Wiswary, Hudsonville Unity Christian basketball - Read
March 14:
Cam Peel, Spring Lake swimming - Read
March 7:
Jordan Hamdan, Hudson wrestling - Read
February 28:
Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling - Read
February 21:
Reagan Olli, Gaylord skiing - Read 
February 14:
Jake Stevenson, Traverse City Bay Reps hockey - Read
February 7: Molly Davis, Midland Dow basketball - Read
January 31:
Chris DeRocher, Alpena basketball - Read
January 24:
Imari Blond, Flint Kearsley bowling - Read
January 17: William Dunn, Quincy basketball - Read
November 29:
Dequan Finn, Detroit Martin Luther King football - Read
November 22: Paige Briggs, Lake Orion volleyball - Read
November 15:
Hunter Nowak, Morrice football - Read
November 8:
Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1:
Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25:
Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18:
Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4:
Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Three Rivers' Kali Heivilin powers through a pitch. (Photo courtesy of Three Rivers' athletic department.)

Algonac Diamond Teams Hope Matching Successes Lead to East Lansing

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 24, 2023

Kenna Bommarito remembers how many people were in East Lansing a year ago to support her and her Algonac softball teammates at the Division 3 Semifinals.

Bay & ThumbSo, she has an idea of how many people from the town would show up if both the softball and baseball teams were there this time around.

“I think everyone would be,” the junior pitcher said.

There’s a decent possibility that Bommarito’s theory could be tested. The Muskrats softball team is ranked No. 2 in Division 3, and Tuesday night clinched the first Blue Water Area Conference title in program history.

That came one night after the baseball team – ranked No. 1 in Division 3 – also won its first BWAC title. The BWAC was created in 2002, and Algonac was an original member.

“It’s amazing – this town loves it,” said senior baseball player Tyler Schultz. “We’ve got a small community, and everybody is tagging along. I remember last year, a couple of our final postseason games, that was the most people I’ve ever seen at a game. All of the sports here are starting to build up. We have athletes all around the school. I think as time goes on, I think each sport will get better and better.”

Bommarito’s imagined scenario nearly played out a year ago, as both teams made their deepest postseason run.

While the softball team was making its historic run to the Semifinal, the baseball team was making one of its own, advancing to the Quarterfinal for the first time in program history.

Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in.The baseball team’s movement toward this started with the 2017 and 2018 seasons, when the Muskrats won back-to-back District titles.

“We had a couple DI (college) players, and when you have those players come through, it generates excitement through the youth,” said Algonac baseball coach Scott Thaler, who took over the program in 2017. “It’s been a trickle-down effect from that initial first two years. That really set the bar. We’ve had some really good baseball players come through, and I have a great staff.”

Thaler had stressed back then that he wanted to build a program at Algonac and not have it be a flash in the pan. That certainly looks like it’s happening, and not just because his Muskrats are winning and sitting atop the state rankings.

Algonac – which has fewer than 500 students in the entire school – has junior varsity and freshman baseball teams. Thaler also said there are 25 eighth graders coming into the program next year.

“I think that when I was smaller in little league, we didn’t really have that where we went out on the field with the varsity players,” said junior pitcher Josh Kasner. “Now, that’s gotten a lot better. A lot of the smaller kids we see around town, they know who we are and about (the program).”

Of course, talent wasn’t enough to get there. Thaler needed to instill belief in his team in order to help the younger generation see what was possible.

“I was a (football assistant) coach under Scott Barnhart, and one of the things we preached to the kids back then is ‘To believe in the things you haven’t seen before,’” Thaler said. “That’s the mantra we brought to them last year, ‘Why not us?’ Just because it hasn’t happened before here doesn’t mean you can’t believe in that. We had to get them to believe.”

The Quarterfinal run provided proof beyond the belief for the Muskrats, and then the Michigan High School Baseball Coaches Association added to it all, naming Algonac the preseason No. 1 team in Division 3.

Luckily for Thaler, his team took it in stride.

The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield.“I mean, it was a great feeling, but part of me had some doubts,” Schultz said “We’ve got some younger kids on the team, and I thought that maybe they might look at that and might get complacent, but me and some of the other seniors have done a good job of keeping all of these guys looking forward. We’ve still got one goal, and that’s to finish (with a Finals title).”

While the softball team didn’t enter the season with a No. 1 ranking, the expectations were certainly there, as was a new target on its back.

But bigger than both was motivation following a walk-off loss to Millington in the Semifinal.

“I think it just shows us that in those big games with those types of teams, you can never say never,” said first-year softball coach Natalie Heim, who was an assistant on last year’s team. “You really have to bear down. That Millington team that beat us, they fought hard. But I definitely think it fuels us more to get back.”

The softball program’s rise may have seemed more sudden to those on the outside, but senior Ella Stephenson said it had been bubbling for a while.

“My sophomore year, we had some talent for sure,” she said. “We had a really good season, but not as good as junior and senior year. The class above me was really talented. But they kind of turned the program around in my eighth-grade year, and it kind of kept building from there.”

During Stephenson’s sophomore season, the Muskrats lost a tough District game against Richmond, which went on to win the Division 3 Finals title. Not only are the Blue Devils a common early postseason opponent for the Muskrats, they’re also a conference rival. As is Almont. And Croswell-Lexington. And … It’s a brutal conference.

The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo.So, much like the baseball team, even during the softball team’s historic 2022 season, winning the conference this spring proved to be tougher than making a deep postseason run.

That made Tuesday night’s sweep of North Branch to clinch the BWAC that much sweeter.

“Honestly, it’s a rush of just happiness,” Bommarito said. “We’re all so excited and just can’t believe we did it. We just played game-by-game today, and really took it one pitch, one out at a time.”

Not only has the BWAC prepared the Muskrats for the possibility of another deep postseason run, it helped keep them focused throughout the season.

“I think a lot of teams don’t have that luxury of facing the best competition during the season,” Heim said. “I think it keeps (the Muskrats) not looking too far ahead. We try to have that approach of one game at a time, one inning at a time, one pitch at a time. It helps with having goals that are a little tougher to achieve. Winning our league, it’s tough. It’s not an easy feat. Especially after last year’s success, it would have been easy to look ahead.”

Now, with league titles secured, both teams can focus on their ultimate goals and the postseason that is directly in front of them.

All with the hope that their similarities – on top of the league titles, both teams are 29-2 as of Wednesday, and both have a University of Michigan-bound player (Kasner and Stephenson) – continue through the third weekend of June with matching trips to East Lansing.

“That’d be unreal. That would be so cool,” Stephenson said. “We all have really good friendships on the baseball and softball teams. Our records are identical. We both won our conference. It’s just really cool. I’m really happy for their success, and ours, too.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Algonac pitcher Kenna Bommarito makes her move toward the plate during last season’s Division 3 Semifinal against Millington. (2) Matthew Rix slides into home as a throw comes in. (3) The Muskrats huddle up in the baseball outfield. (4) The Algonac softball team stands together for a team photo. (Baseball photos and softball team photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)