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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Let's talk area spring sports

Sports editor Mike Bogan and sportswriter Paul P. Adams get you ready for what should be an interesting spring sports season in the Thumb!!!

DET: OK, so the calendar says it’s the spring sports season. But Mother Nature — once again — isn’t playing fair. It feels like the final few weeks of the fall season.
Anyway, there isn’t anything we can do about it, boys.
So, let’s get going.

DET: Let’s start with baseball in the Greater Thumb Conference. Bay City All Saints and Harbor Beach won league titles in 2010, but those two teams lost plenty of talent from last year. Are there some teams out there capable of pushing the Cougars and Pirates from the top spot?

ADAMS: I think the GTW is very open this year. I look for just about every team to be improved from last year. USA, Bad Axe, Cass City and Reese all look like they could contend, along with BCAS. EPBP is a bit of an unknown with a new coach.
In the GTE, I still think Harbor Beach is the team to beat.

BOGAN: In the GTW, Reese, to me, is the favorite. The Rockets have a bunch of all-league players returning, including a couple of top pitchers.
Bad Axe and Cass City are my Nos. 2 and 3. I think both teams are capable of creeping up and taking the league title. 
In the GTE, Harbor Beach is still my No. 1, but Brown City and Marlette have the tools to capture the crown.
The Green Devils, in fact, are state ranked this week.

DET: The North Central Thumb League gets a new team this season in Deckerville. What are the Eagles’ chances? And which teams are the top squads in the North and South divisions?

ADAMS: Deckerville should contend for the NCTL South title, but I think Memphis is still the team to beat. Also, look out for Peck, which may be the most experienced team in that division.
In the North, it's still North Huron, but I think Akron-Fairgrove and Owen-Gage are closing fast.

BOGAN: I am going with Deckerville in the South Division, mainly because the Eagles have their top two pitchers back from a season ago. I also think Memphis will push them awfully hard.
In the North, nobody has really threatened North Huron in recent years. Until someone does, it’s the Warriors’ title to take.

DET: Let’s move on to softball. The Greater Thumb Conference always produces some of the best Division 3/4 teams in the state. Who are the favorites this season?

ADAMS: USA is the top-rated team in Division 4 and for good reason. 
The Patriots returning most of their players from a team that made its fifth straight trip to Battle Creek. USA is still young, but has experience. I believe it will be another season concluding in Battle Creek. 
What I'm interested in is last year's surprise team, EPBP. In 2010, the Lakers were able to sneak up on everyone. That won't happen this year. How will they deal with expectations? I think they will handle it just fine.

BOGAN: I am going with a mini upset and picking the Lakers to stun the Patriots and win the league championship. That’s how impressed I was with the team last season. 
The Lakers won’t ‘wow’ you with their power or explosiveness. They just excel in the fundamentals — good pitching, timely hitting, solid defense — and pick up victories.
And don’t forget about Reese, which is state-ranked this week. The Rockets are loaded, which should make the GTW softball race one to watch this season.
In the GTE, I am going with Marlette, once again mainly due to experienced returning pitchers. But don’t count out Brown City or Mayville.

DET: What about softball in the NCTL?

ADAMS: In the North, Port Hope and Owen-Gage shared the title last year. I expect the same this year. Both teams have talent and experience, so it should be another good race. 
North Huron and Caseville will also play a factor in the North.

DET: Let’s switch gears to track. Adams, you’re a big track fan. Tell us what is going on this season in area track...

ADAMS: We lost a lot of good talent from 2010, including current CMU athlete and former North Huron standout Megan Heffner, who won state titles in the 300 hurdles and high jump. 
We do have one defending state champion back, though, in USA pole vaulter Tim Canfield. He said last year he wants to go over 15 feet, which I think he can and will do. 
Speaking of USA, I think the boys squad is very talented, with a decent chance at winning the GTW and a regional title. The 3,200 relay looks to be very solid, as does the distance running and field events.
In girls track, it will be interesting to see how EPBP's Gala Shivley follows up last year's breakout. I also believe the Ubly girls will contend for the GTE title.

DET: Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port, Bad Axe and Harbor Beach seem to always have strong girls soccer teams... Are they the top teams again this season?

ADAMS: I don't think there's any doubt these three will be contending again this season. 
I think Harbor Beach has just enough to come away with the crown this year.

BOGAN: I agree, those two teams should be 1-2-3 in the area this season.
The Lakers were 12-0 in league play last year, but I don’t think they will be unbeaten again this season.
Both the Hatchets and Pirates have too much talent to not pull off at least a win or two against them this year.

DET: Area golfers and girls tennis players are getting set for their seasons. Who and what teams can we expect to have solid years?

BOGAN: Let’s start in golf.
Some of the area’s top returning players include EPBP’s Tyler Matteson and Bryan Beachy, and Bad Axe’s Cam Streussnig and Brandon Dean.
Those players could push toward making it to the state finals.
In tennis, Bad Axe has the area’s top player in Anya Odabasic, who is 41-9 for her career at No. 1 singles.
She has a chance to do very well at the state level this season.

DET: Anything else you boys want to add?

ADAMS: After a long winter of being indoors, I know I'm glad to get outside again, even if it does still feel like winter.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lakers spring teams hoping to fly high again

PIGEON — Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port’s softball team is hoping history repeats itself in 2011.
Last season, the Lakers captured their first district championship since 1987, finishing 30-7 overall.
This year, coach Eric Wissner’s squad has all the tools to make another record-breaking run.
Topping the list of returning players are senior pitcher Erin Albrecht and junior catcher Kacy Shetler.
Albrecht was a first-team All-GTW hurler, as well as honorable mention All-State, while Shetler was an honorable mention All-GTW performer.
Wissner is expecting big things out of his ace this season.
“Erin is not overpowering, but she moves the ball around, hits her spots, changes speeds well, and does not walk a lot of people,” Wissner said.
Also back for the Lakers is senior outfielder Brooklyn Foy, a first-team All-GTW pick, and junior infielder Ashley Richmond, an honorable mention all-leaguer.
In baseball, coach Adam Grybauskas’ team should improve on last season’s 1-9-2 league mark.
On the mound, Brody Lawrence and Nathan Schulz should provide plenty of innings.
Top hitters include Tim Warack, Sam VanTifflin and Brock Shope.
In soccer, coaches Chad Craig and Shawn Orlik are blessed with plenty of talented players. The Lakers finished 12-0 in league play in 2010, earning their 10th district championship in the last 11 seasons. They finished 16-5 overall, losing to Memphis in the regionals.
Heading the list of returning players is senior Taylor Comment, a first-team All-GTC center midfielder. She’s joined by senior sweeper Katie Smith, a second-team all-leaguer.
Other returning players who earned honorable mention all-league accolades include senior outside midfielder Trisha Machowicz, senior defender Kacey Peterson, senior midfielder Andrea Schuette, and junior defensive midfielder Rebecca Schember.
In golf, coach Charlie Henry is excited about the upcoming season. The Lakers were second in the GTW in 2010.
“We have five or six solid players that have significant golf experience,” Henry said. “And we have a couple of dual sport athletes who could help.
“But we don’t have much depth and we are young, with just one senior in the top six.”
Topping the list of returning players for the Lakers is sophomore Tyler Matteson, a first-team All-GTW player. Matteson finished in the top six at districts and was 13th at the regionals.
He will get plenty of help from junior Bryan Beachy, a second-team all-league player, sophomore Adam Hazard and freshman Drew Lawrence.
“Adam gained tremendous experience as a freshman and worked hard on his game over the summer,” Henry said. “And Drew is the hardest worker on the team.”
Senior Jordan Bonke and sophomore Wade Foltz also will see plenty of match action.
“We should be able to compete for the GTW title,” Henry said.
In track, coach Shane Yoder has 14 returning letterwinners on his boys and girls teams, though both teams are still low on numbers.
“We have some returning athletes in key events and have a large influx on freshmen who I hope will fill some crucial roles,” Yoder said.
“But small numbers are always our weakness. We do well in the  events we enter, but we are not able to field an athlete in every event.”
On the girls side, Gala Shivley is back in the 100, 200, 400 and long jump, Cassie Goglin will help in the 800 and 1,600, and Kayla Deering should excel in the shot put and discus.
 For the boys, Nick Gordon will help in the 200, 400 and hurdles, Jacob Engelhardt in the 800 and 1,600, and Nick Hilborn in the 200, 400 and pole vault.
“I hope we can send some athletes to the state finals and place well at some invitationals,” Yoder said.
In tennis, coach Brenda Smith has a dozen girls on her preseason roster, including a few with some major playing experience.

Hatchets eager for spring seasons

BAD AXE — Entering his 30th season as Bad Axe baseball coach, Wayne Turmell has learned never to overestimate — or underestimate — his team’s finish in the league standings.
That’s why nearly every year he’s cautiously optimistic about evaluating his team’s talent level
And the 2011 season is no exception.
“We should be good defensively, and we have our top pitcher back,” Turmell said. “But our depth is questionable, and we have three sophomores on the team, which means we have some young kids.”
Turmell welcomes back six letterwinners from last season’s team which finished 25-9 overall, 6-5-1 Greater Thumb West. The Hatchets lost in the district finals to Reese last year.
Topping the list of returning players are seniors Derek Susalla, Brett Turmell and Ethan Sisco.
Susalla, a first-team All-GTW infielder, led the team in home runs while Turmell, another first-team All-GTW player, is an excellent defensive first baseman.
Sisco, who earned second-team All-GTW honors, is a four-year varsity player who has pitched in many important games for the Hatchets over the last few seasons.
“Reese, Cass City and Vassar should all be good,” Turmell said. “All Saints and USA might be at our level...”
In softball, coach Don Cieslinski’s team finished 10-22 overall, 2-10 GTW last year.
He figures his six returning letterwinners will help the Hatchets improve on that mark.
“I feel our hitting will be one of our greatest assets this year,” he said. “We are hoping our hitting, along with our defense, will keep us in the games.
“Our six returning letterwinners will play a big role in how we do this season. I feel that they are a little young, but they do have varsity level experience. Experience playing in the GTW can help greatly.”
Heading the list of returning players are senior co-captains Taylor Braun, Amanda Gentner and Julia Geiger. Braun was a second-team All-GTW infielder last year.
“Taylor will be strong at third base, Julia will handle first base, and Amanda can handle shortstop or any place in the outfield,” Cieslinski said.
“Emily Sisco and Alyssa Kociba will handle most of the pitching duties. A very dependable hitter is Tori Orban — she can play the infield or outfield and she has experience at both. I also have some very talented players that are first-year varsity players, and I will depend on them more as the season moves on.
 “We are hoping to be very competitive and try to end up in the middle of the league this year. I think that our program has improved and the girls know what it takes to be a winner in the GTW. I think the GTW is one of the toughest leagues to play in, and I also think that the number one spot is up for grabs again this season.”
In girls soccer, veteran coach Dave DeCourval has 12 returning players from a team which finished 11-4-2 overall, 8-3-1 GTC.
“We have a good group of girls who have played with each other for the past three years,” DeCourval said. “Playing together as a team is our greatest strength.”
Heading the list of returning players are seniors Justine Morneau and Samantha Janik — both first-team all-conference performers last season.
“Justine will play both defense and striker — and is equally strong at both positions,” DeCourval said. “And Samantha is coming off a solid season with 14 goals.”
Juniors Alison McVey and Shelby Fligger are back after earning honorable mention all-league last year at midfield. Senior midfielder Sami Rochefort and senior defender Morgan Messing also are back.
“As a team, we hope to compete for the league championship and continue strong into the districts,” DeCourval said.
In track, longtime coach Lee Kahler is excited about both teams this season.
On the girls side, Kahler hopes the squad can repeat as league champion, as well as build on the team’s second-place regional finish.
“We feel that we will be a strong competitor in the league meet as our youngsters grow in experience,” he said.
Kahler also gave a synopsis of this season’s team.
“We look for a great deal of improvement in the field events, especially the discus and shot with the return of Taylor Breault and Tori Batzer, both of whom qualified for many special meets last year as juniors. Cassandra Hanson offers us a strong middle distance runner this year, coming off a fine cross country season. She will be supported by Crystal Schaible and Hailey Richards, both of whom had good cross country seasons last fall. Julianna Fucinari will give us a great deal of help in the 400 and pole vault. Also, returning in the middle distance is Kaitlyn Grifka, who really showed signs of improvement last spring at the end of the season. Taylor Wolschlager, as a junior, gives us a great deal of help in the sprints and the sprint relays. We are looking to Heather Smith, Makenzie Tolin and Marianna Salcido in the hurdles. Madison Champagne will really help us in the shot and discus, giving us a very strong core there. Jordyn Studer and Rachel Breault will round out our shot and discus area. Freshman Kelsey Capling will be another strong member of the pole vault and hurdle group, as well as in the sprints.”
The boys team hopes to improve on last season’s third-place league finish and ninth-place regional showing.
Kahler explains:
“We feel that we will do better this year in the league and regional because of an overall larger number on the team... Returning from last year who we are counting on will be David Fucinari, who will be a great asset in the sprints and sprint relays, having gotten a lot stronger in the off-season. We will look to Jeremy Pawlowski to also be a distance threat because of his performance in cross country. We will get some new help with juniors Brett Metzger in the vault and sprints, Charlie Prich in the distance races and relays, Jordan Dorsch in shot and discus, Lad Kowalski in shot and discus, and Tyler Price and Connor Studer in the middle and distance races. 
“We have expanded the team a great deal, especially in the junior class group, and we have added some excellent field and running event people. These athletes are yet to be tested, but will have a big affect on where this team ends up this year.”
In golf, coach Scott Adams has nine players on his preseason roster.
Heading the list of returning players are first-team all-leaguer Cam Streussnig, second-team all-leaguer Brandon Dean, and honorable mention all-leaguer Jacob Kennedy.
Junior Andrew Batzer and sophomore Colburn Hanson also return.
“I think we can contend for first place this year,” Adams said.
In girls tennis, coach Mark Prescott has a big preseason roster of 19 players.
The Hatchets have one of  the top players in the area in senior Anya Odabasic, who is 41-9 for her career at No. 1 singles.
“We have six freshmen who are adding some healthy competition to the eight returning letterwinners,” Prescott said. “The strength of our lineup is our top three singles players who are all seniors — Anya, Lisa Hursin and Alyssa Steinbis. We look to win most of our dual matches.”