This year, we saw sports, as well as all of life, upended in unpreedented ways by a worldwide pandemic. An entire sports season was wiped out, and others were cut short.
Still, even amid the chaos and the tragedy, 2020 saw some notable accomplishments by Oceana prep sports teams, including yet another state title for a dynastic program and several conference crowns.
Hopefully 2021 will see a list full of those things, too, and without any of the health concerns.
#1 COVID-19 pandemic wipes out spring sports
For sports fans and for athletes, too, the passage of time is marked as much by the sports being played as anything else. August through November is football season (or volleyball season, or cross-country season, or soccer season, depending on your game). December through March, action takes place on a court or on a mat. And from March to June, it’s outdoors or bust.
But this year was not like the others, as the spring sports season did not occur as the world reeled from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which burst into full form in March.
It came down to timing — when the pandemic began, the world at large had little information on it and was left with little choice but to lock down and buy some time.
COVID-19 has been a tragedy for many reasons, most far more important than spring sports, but the loss of an entire season of competition — and for seniors, their final season of competition — was an extremely bitter pill to swallow. Human resiliency dictates that the Class of 2020 will grow and become better people for dealing with that disappointment — but it was a lot of disappointment to deal with.
#2 Hart girls cross-country wins 4th straight state championship
The Hart cross-country dynasty showed no signs of slowing down in 2020, as the Pirates easily won a fourth consecutive state championship at the state girls meet at Michigan International Speedway.
With the win, Hart became just the sixth school, and the first in Division 3, to win four straight titles in either the boys or girls state meet in over 40 years of the Lower Peninsula finals.
Four all-state runners led the way for Hart, including freshman dynamo Alyson Enns, who finished no lower than second at any race this year, including a runner-up finish at the state meet. Veteran junior Audrey Enns, Alyson’s sister, and Hart’s first-ever four-time state champion runners, Savannah Ackley and Lynae Ackley, achieved all-state honors as well.
Tatro was honored with his first state coach of the year award after the season. The Pirates’ dynasty is secure, but it might not be done yet.
#3 Hart boys cross-country finishes 2nd place in state, best finish ever
Hart’s boys cross-country team continued its steady climb up the state rankings this year, earning a second-place finish in the state finals, the team’s best finish ever.
The Pirates spent most of the year ranked #1 and hoped to pull off a rare double with the girls’ team; coach Terry Tatro said that had Hart done it, it would’ve been the first public school to win both state titles in the same day.
While that didn’t happen — Hart finished 13 points behind state champion St. Louis — Tatro was clear that there wasn’t even a hint of disappointment with his team’s performance.
“They know the rankings and stuff are there, but they knew they had to race the race of their lives to pull it off,” Tatro said after the finals. “And they did run well. I’m not disappointed one bit. St. Louis just ran better.
“I know they’re a little disappointed in finishing runner-up, but they ran a spectacular race. They were grouped just like I wanted them to be.”
Two Pirates earned all-state honors, including senior Alex Enns, who tied his best career state finish by taking sixth. The all-state honor was his third. Teammate Spencer VanderZwaag was also an all-state finisher in the finals and nearly ran his best career time.
The second-place finish capped another terrific year for the Pirates, who won their second consecutive regional championship and again dominated the West Michigan Conference. And while the Pirates will graduate both of those all-state runners in the spring, several other top runners will return, so don’t expect to see Hart fade from the state cross-country scene any time soon.
#4 Hart wrestling secures 1st regional trophy in 30 years
Hart’s wrestling program has had several teams over the past few years that could have reached the final eight but for bad matchup luck or a key match loss here and there. But in 2020, the Pirates finally broke through, securing a regional championship for the first time since 1990 and making it to Kalamazoo and the state quarterfinals.
While Hart has enjoyed some major individual star power in that span, the 2019-20 team used remarkable depth to get the job done. The Pirates sent an incredible 10 of a possible 14 wrestlers to the state individual finals, showing how stocked the cupboard is in the program.
Hart’s most difficult victory in its run to the final eight was its first one, which saw the then fifth-ranked Pirates edge #7 Pine River on the Bucks’ home mat, 34-25. Hart won the final two bouts of the match to break a 25-25 tie and secure the win. Hart then dispatched Mason County Central, Mancelona and Whittemore-Prescott to earn the coveted regional trophy.
The Pirates fell to Manchester in the quarterfinal match, but the following weekend, six of their 10 state qualifiers earned medals, including state runner-up Mason Cantu and fourth-place finisher Trayce Tate, both underclassmen. It was a fittingly successful end to one of the great Hart wrestling seasons ever.
#5 Walkerville girls basketball wins WMD league championship
Walkerville’s girls basketball team enjoyed a banner season in 2019-20, and they brought home a West Michigan D League championship to commemorate it, the program’s first since 2005.
The Wildcats were led by two very talented athletes, both of whom were picked to the all-conference first team — Mykaela Berumen and Zamorah De La Paz.
Both were guards, but neither was afraid to mix it up down low with the bigger girls. Berumen, the point guard, was an overwhelming statistical force and posted over 300 points and 200 rebounds for the season. De La Paz was more of a defensive ace, but she was also capable of using her supreme athleticism (she earned all-WMD honors in cross-country this last fall despite not even starting the season with the team) to make things happen with the ball in the open court. Mercedes Masta and Julie Sheehy also received all-conference attention for their roles in leading the Wildcats to the title.
The Wildcats didn’t have the smoothest road to the trophy, as they were upset by rival Pentwater in a triple-overtime classic late in the season with a chance to clinch the league. However, Walkerville showed resilience and fought past Brethren in its next game to lock up the championship.
Walkerville couldn’t add the district trophy to its case this year, thanks to an athletic McBain NMC team that beat the Wildcats in the finals. But with all five starters set to return, the Wildcats are in line for another successful year in 2021, once they’re permitted to get on the court.
#6 Hart girls basketball repeats as district champion
Hart made it two district championships in a row in girls basketball in 2020, sneaking that in just prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns. The Pirates’ regional defeat against Manton was one of the final county sporting events to take place prior to the shutdown.
This time, Hart was able to take home the district title on its own court, although it wasn’t easy. Hart and rival Shelby played a thrilling overtime battle in the district semifinal round, with the Pirates winning 42-41. Rylee Noggle and Jayd Hovey teamed up on the winning play, as Noggle saved a ball from going out of bounds and Hovey later scored an offensive rebound putback basket to win the game in the final minute.
The Pirates were no strangers to high-level high-stakes games in 2019-20, posting a strong 19-5 overall record. Hart very nearly won a West Michigan Conference title, playing a classic triple-overtime game against Montague in a de facto league championship showdown late in the season. In a game coach Travis Rosema dubbed “one of the most epic in Muskegon County history”, the Wildcats won in the final minute of the third extra period, denying Hart its first league title since 1992.
However, the Pirates were able to hold off Shelby in that semifinal and then defeat fellow county foe Hesperia in the finals before ending the season against Manton. Hovey was again the team’s top performer, earning all-state honorable mention for the second season in a row. The Pirates have now won more district titles with Hovey on the roster — two — than they ever did without her, and with several other key players set to return for Hart this year, more success should be coming this year.
#7 Pentwater boys hoops claims share of WMD league title
Pentwater, along with fellow county school Shelby, never got to find out if it would have won a district championship in 2020 because the basketball tournaments were halted by the pandemic before their scheduled finals games could be played. However, the Falcons, at least, were able to get their hands on a trophy in March when they earned a share of the West Michigan D League title.
It was the first time since 1996 Pentwater’s boys team has earned a league championship, and the Falcons displayed consistent guts and skills in doing so.
The Falcons were one of a few area teams to see their seasons affected by flu outbreaks that swept through West Michigan in the winter, outbreaks that presaged what would happen in March. The shorthanded Pentwater squad eked out a double-overtime win over Walkerville while several players were out sick, a win that would prove huge in the chase for the title.
Another win that the Falcons couldn’t have won the league without getting came at Manistee Catholic in January, when senior Gannon McDonough banked in a half-court shot at the final buzzer of a 53-51 win over the Sabers. McDonough was one of several Falcons that played key roles in the title run, along with double-double machine Khole Hofmann, steady point guard Tyler Plummer-Eisenlohr and tough rebounder Jack Stoneman.
#8 All three county head football coaching jobs change hands
It’s perhaps fitting that in a year as weird as 2020 was, that something as unusual as all three county football head coaching jobs turning over would occur.
Each of the three county schools had enjoyed recent stability at head coach, but as we all now know, 2020 cares not for your stability.
Had Witteveen had his way, of course, Hart’s job would never have come open. He resigned when the MHSAA announced that football season would be played in the spring, due to his busy work schedule in the spring precluding him from coaching at that time. Hart then hired Eric Anderson before the switch back to fall was made a couple of weeks later. Witteveen ended up joining Bolles’ staff for the season at Hesperia.
Rodriguez departed Shelby after coaching his son Lorenzo at quarterback the past two seasons. He said after the season that it was time to do something new, and he may try coaching at a different level at some point. Bolles echoed similar sentiments in his leaving Hesperia, at which he had previously coached boys basketball and softball as well.
It remains to be seen what the football coaching lineup will look like in 2021, but for the teams’ sake, hopefully it will remain the same for a while after that.
#9 WMC expansion moving forward
The spark Hart lit four years ago by threatening to leave the West Michigan Conference appears to be set to bring about results in early 2021.
The WMC recently had its athletic directors make a recommendation to the executive committee, made up of its schools’ principals, regarding expansion. The recommendation hasn’t yet been made public, but it appears as though the WMC will expand in some form.
This not only will affect Hart and Shelby, but potentially also Hesperia. The Panthers expect to receive a WMC offer, said athletic director Jeff Knapp, and if Hesperia makes the move, they’ll create natural county rivalries with both Hart and Shelby.
#10 Hart cheer team returns to top of conference
Hart’s cheer team finally returned to the top of the West Michigan Conference in 2019-20 after Shelby had won the past several championships.
The difference for the Pirates was success in the last of the three rounds. In three WMC jamborees, Hart was not in first place heading into the last round, but vaulted to the top spot with impressive scores in the final round.
Hart had a small roster in 2019-20, but it was an experienced one, as veteran seniors Diahmante Torres, Hannah Babbin and Leslie Reyes spearheaded Hart’s rock-solid performances all year long.
BONUS: Shelby boys soccer earns 1st-ever district title
The Shelby Tigers made their own history in 2020, scoring their first-ever district championship and advancing to the regional finals.
It was a long time coming for Shelby, which has had several excellent teams in recent years that could have won the title. This year, though, the Tigers secured the #1 seed in the district bracket and lived up to the billing with impressive victories.
Shelby rode a terrific defense to the title, only twice allowing more than one goal in a game. The Tigers were led by high-level play from the likes of all-state performers Brian Garcia, Henry Kidder and Logan Claeys. Freshman Mauricio Castillo was a major contributor on that end as well. Up front, steady and solid play from leaders like Joseph Hayes helped Shelby score enough goals to make some great things happen.
The Tigers showed off how far they've come in a dramatic comeback win in overtime against Oakridge in the regional semifinals, the program's proudest moment to date. Coach Jairo Coronado received a Gatorade bath, and even in cold temperatures it was impossible not to enjoy it.
Coronado often talked about how his team gave him their best "plus one", and it was effort well spent.