Updated: Nov 18, 2022
Although the North Branch volleyball team is still going strong at the State Finals this weekend, I thought now would be a good time to reflect on some of my favorite moments from this fall. After writing more than 70 stories in the last three months, I had plenty of great options to choose from.
No. 10 – The BWAC Golf Championship
Almont’s victory came as no surprise. The Raiders had won every league title since 2015 and were undefeated in the conference once again leading up to the championship. They won with a team score of 391, and junior Jesse Kautz led the way with an 86.
But more than watching Almont further its legacy and enjoying a crisp, sunny day on the golf course, I got to sit in on the awards ceremony that followed. It was fun to celebrate with the teams and hear how some of the players had improved throughout the season.
I sat with the Raiders for a bit and asked them how they continue to enjoy and succeed in their sport. They said they just play with a smile and genuinely enjoy the game. It was interesting to hear how relaxed a group of girls could be when competing at such a high level in such a mental sport.
After tying 1-1 with Port Huron Northern in their season opener, the Marysville Vikings pulled off a 2-0 victory on their home field. They rushed the field in celebration and after talking with some of the players, I realized why that victory was worth such celebration.
No senior on that Marysville team had ever defeated neighboring rivals. The tie in the season opener was as close as any of them had ever gotten. They not only finally pulled off a win, but also a shutout on their home field. To say they were excited would be an understatement.
This was the day I learned to always pack extra snacks. After driving to Imlay City for the first BWAC cross country jamboree, I came back to Croswell to watch the Pioneers host the Spartans in their sixth league match of the season. The two teams were tied at 4-1 within the conference, each with only a loss to the state-leading North Branch Broncos.
The match wound up going to five sets, making for a late night and a very hungry reporter. But, it was very exciting and worth the stay.
Cros-Lex went up 2-0 and Imlay City answered with two dominant wins of its own in the third and fourth. And even as the Pioneers led 9-3 in the fifth set, it still wasn’t over as the Spartans closed the gap to 10-8. Cros-Lex eventually did win the fifth, 15-10, and took over sole possession of the No. 2 spot in the league. But that was only the beginning.
The next time these two teams played, a very similar five-set story was told, but that time, it was a happy ending for the Spartans. As Cros-Lex head coach Ryan Wilson said, it was “super stressful and super fun.”
Less than a minute remained as Port Huron Northern clung to a 14-7 lead in the Crosstown Showdown at Memorial Stadium. Port Huron had marched downfield to the Huskies’ 32-yard line and had plenty of momentum. The Big Reds were about to tie the game.
That’s when junior Austin Haeck snatched the game-saving interception and returned it to midfield with 59 seconds left on the clock. The Huskies lined up in victory formation, ready to bring the “Brick” back home with their then-perfect 5-0 record still intact.
It was Yale’s senior night and the Bulldogs won 36-7 in front of an excited – and very full – home crowd. I hadn’t been to a football game in Yale before, and although the field isn’t super conducive for the visitors, the local fans piled into the bleachers and set up lawn chairs around the field. There were a ton of kids playing on the playground and even more playing a pickup football game of their own near the end zone. It sorta felt like a big family reunion.
And beyond the atmosphere, the game carried a lot of significance too. After hearing senior Josh Craig say, “It means everything to me. I couldn’t tell you the last time I beat Richmond or had a BWAC win, so it means a lot,” I was even more impressed by his two-interception performance.
The victory improved the Bulldogs’ record to 2-2 at the time and gave them a ton of momentum heading into their next game against Cros-Lex when they fell three points short in overtime.
Breaking the 16-minute barrier is a pretty big deal for guys running high school cross country. Armada’s Camden Khon had already done it a couple weeks prior to the regional championship with a time of 15:47.9, but there were two other local seniors just hovering around that mark, waiting for a breakthrough.
Port Huron Northern’s Glen Davis and St. Clair’s Carter Boullard had each run a 16:03 (and several other times close to that) leading up to the meet. And with perfect weather and great competition, they each finally ran their personal bests – 15:56.8 and 15:52.7, respectively – to lead their teams and qualify for the State Finals.
I have to admit, I watched the livestream of this match so I didn’t get to fully experience the excitement of the championship, but I could still hear the Imlay City fans erupting in the bleachers when the Spartans made the final goal in the shootout.
Yes, a shootout. Not only was this a district championship against a team that had ended four consecutive seasons for Imlay City, and not only did it go into overtime, but it also came down to a shootout in which the Spartans edged the Mustangs 4-3 to win the match overall, 2-1.
It was super exciting and I got more anxious with each shot, but the five Imlay City seniors who took them didn’t seem nervous at all. I was very impressed – and relieved – when they scored the final goal.
After two decades, the Croswell-Lexington girls cross country team finally won a regional title.
The Pioneers have consistently been one of the top teams in the area and they routinely send runners to the State Finals, but that wooden mitten trophy had been rather elusive.
Sophomore Eva Thompson secured the individual title as well, winning with a time of 19 minutes, 6.7 seconds. Junior Morgan Newton finished third to pack “a 1-3 punch,” as head coach Lisa Shaw called it, and fellow junior Abby Barkley pulled off a PR to join them in the top 15, earning All-Region honors.
As a former Pioneer who ran for Coach Shaw for four years, this might be a little biased, but I knew what that trophy meant to her and I was very excited her team could bring it home.
I thought Brady Beedon of Get Stuck on Sports was going to fall through the press box window as this game went into overtime.
The Armada Tigers stormed back from a 21-7 deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the game 21-21 on a 2-point conversion and send it to overtime. The score remained so after the first overtime, and in the second, Armada went up 28-21.
Marine City scored, however, closing in at 28-27. The Mariners decided to go for two and win it all, but Armada’s defense held strong, winning the most exciting football game of the season. Senior Kyle Coenen said the Tigers would be “a team to reckon with” in the weeks to come, and he wasn’t wrong as they went on to defeat North Branch and claimed a share of the BWAC title.
The anticipation of the district semifinal match between Imlay City and North Branch had been building all season. Both teams were state-ranked back in August. The Broncos won 3-0 in their first meeting and 3-1 in the second, but the Spartans were hungry and steadily improving.
Imlay City won the first set 25-20 and North Branch took the next two 25-19 and 25-21, but when the Spartans answered with an aggressive 25-17 victory in the fourth, Imlay City had made somewhat of recent history.
That was the first time North Branch had played a five-set match since Nov. 12, 2020, and head coach Jim Fish said, “That was anybody’s match.”
The Broncos ended up winning 15-8, but that was the best volleyball match I’ve ever seen. And with a majority of players on both rosters returning next season, I can’t wait for the rematch.
For in-game updates and other news, follow Calli on Twitter @ newberry_calli
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