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.)

Game May Change, But Success Continues as Wilson Nears 800 Coaching Wins

By Pam Shebest
Special for

April 16, 2024

SOUTH HAVEN — No dugouts, no outfield fences, $25 bats.

Southwest CorridorThings have come a long way since Wilma Wilson took over the coaching reins at her alma mater 35 years ago.

“When I played, we didn’t have fences, we didn’t have dugouts; we had benches,” the South Haven softball coach said. “If you hit a home run, it had to be an in-the-park home run because there were hardly any parks that had any fences.

“It’s come a long way. Now you go to fields that are turfed. I love it. I’m glad to see the change for the girls and to see more emphasis on them playing and being involved.”

With a 791-406 record over her 35 years coaching the Rams softball team, Wilson is closing in on 800 career wins. Her current record puts her 19th among MHSAA coaches and just 16 victories behind former Monroe coach Vince Rossi’s 807 victories.

The Rams are 2-2 on the young season, but started off with a bang — actually three bangs over the right field fence in a one-run squeaker against Paw Paw on March 26.

Although the team has just 11 players, it is stacked with experience. Nine players saw action last season, and the five seniors have three or four years of varsity time.

Those seniors include twins Kamryn and Taylor Holland.

Against Paw Paw, Kamryn hit her first grand slam, a walk-off homer in a 12-11 win.

The Rams enjoy watching Marlee Wilson’s Broncos this season. “I knew it was going to be close as soon as I saw it,” the third baseman said. “I just kept running and started jumping up and down when I saw it go over.”

She was one of the veterans instrumental in the team’s postseason play last year, as South Haven reached its Division 2 District Final before losing 6-2 to Hamilton.

The Rams are focused on a longer run this year.

“A lot of the girls have been on the same team, and we’ve played together the past three years,” Kamryn said. “We know enough about each other and work good together. Everything clicks.”

Her sister, a shortstop/pitcher, agrees she and her teammates already have solid connections and said Wilson is a big reason.

“I love how much she pushes me,” Taylor Holland said. “She’s always there when you need her. She’ll take you aside if you need anything and always wants us to be our best. I just love that about her, because she loves us on and off the field.”

Wilson does more than work on softball with the players.

“(Last week) I sat down with the girls and had a good heart-to-heart, working through frustrations, trying to help kids maneuver through things in life, whether at school, at home, in the game,” she said. 

“That’s a huge part of coaching and what keeps me in it, knowing I can make a difference helping these kids manage life a little bit.”

Continuing the legacy

One of Wilson’s former players who is still very involved in the sport is her daughter, Marlee Wilson, in her first season as Western Michigan University’s head softball coach.

The Broncos won their 20th game of the season Sunday, making Wilson WMU’s winningest first-year softball coach. 

Wilson, right, joins daughter Marlee to form an accomplished mother-daughter coaching tree. “I coached her when she was small, coached her through high school, coached her in travel ball,” Wilma Wilson said. “She’s a very competitive kid, plays really hard. She has that same love for the game that I do, same drive.”

Marlee Wilson said one important thing she learned from her mom was to make softball fun.

“Practices in high school were always really fun,” she remembered. “It was the best part of the day. I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. (I want to) continue that and also develop the student athletes as people.

“There’s not a huge career in softball like there is in baseball and other sports, so you’re going to play four or five years in college then hopefully be prepared for life after sports, which (Mom) did a really good job with me.”

When she has a chance to talk with high school athletes, Marlee Wilson tells them to have fun and learn the basics of the game.

“That’s huge in high school,” she said. “At the college level, we can tell players who went through really good high school programs or travel programs that have those really good fundamentals or softball IQ.

“(Mom) does a really good job of developing players as a whole so when they get to that level, they understand that part of the game.”

Wilson played softball at WMU from 2014-18 and was a three-time academic all-Mid-American Conference honoree, a 2017 MAC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete and a four-time NFCA All-American Scholar.

Sparking like Sparky

Although Wilma Wilson calls him a “co-coach,” Dave Gumpert considers himself her assistant the last 11 years.

“I respect her many years as being a coach,” he said. “We talk things over, but she makes the final decisions.

“It’s been a really good relationship. She bounces things off me, I bounce things off her. It’s been a good run so far.”

Gumpert, who had a seven-year stint as a major league pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals, is the one who good-naturedly calls Wilson “Sparky” and not because of her sparkling personality.

Myraql McGee settles in under a fly ball. “She pretty much lets me run practice, and she walks around,” he said, smiling. “I played for (Tigers manager) Sparky Anderson and that’s what he did. He walked around the outfield, just talking to people and doing all the PR stuff while all the other coaches were getting the work done. So I like to tease her.”

Equipment has been another area of change during Wilson’s tenure.

“The equipment has gone crazy from the technology of bats,” she said. “A bat back in the day would be $20, $25. Now they’re $400. 

“If take my school budget and buy balls for the season for both our (varsity and JV) teams and a bat, I’ve used two-thirds of my budget.”

But South Haven is making those bats work. Senior centerfielder Myraql McGee said hitting is among the team’s most noticeable improvements from a year ago.

“Our whole lineup is good power hitters. It doesn’t matter where you are, our lineup is pretty stacked,” said McGee, who will continue her career next season at Missouri Valley College.

“Fielding-wise, we could work on a couple things, but we don’t make as many errors at routine plays as many other teams.”

Other seniors are Sam Beeney and Kayley Gorham, and juniors are Madi Dotson, Grace Strebeck and Molly Verseput. Sophomores are Addison Dekoning and Erin Bos, and they are joined by freshman Ly’Nique Cunningham.

Gumpert was with Wilson when the Rams reached but lost in the Division 2 Final in 2018 and sees some similarities between that and this year’s team.

“Offensively, we had a good team, but I would dare to say this team is as good offensively as that team was,” he said. “It’s going to boil down to how well our pitching does, how well our pitchers progress. If we have the pitching I think we can develop into, I think we’ll be competitive with anybody.”

Pam ShebestPam 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 protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) South Haven softball coach Wilma Wilson, right, welcomes home Kamryn Holland after Holland’s grand slam March 26. (2) The Rams enjoy watching Marlee Wilson’s Western Michigan Broncos this season. (2) Wilson, right, joins daughter Marlee to form an accomplished mother-daughter coaching tree. (4) South Haven senior Myraql McGee settles in under a fly ball. (Top and WMU photos provided by Wilma Wilson, family photo by Pam Shebest, and McGee action photo provided by McGee.)