2019 was one of the finest sports years this county has ever seen. It wasn’t just about the top performances, although the Hart girls cross-country team earning an amazing third straight state championship and Pirate grappler Robbie Altland also claiming an individual title were truly thrilling moments. It was also about the breadth of accomplishments. Every county school saw at least one team win a district championship, including the ending of lengthy title droughts for several basketball teams.
It will be hard to follow up such an impressive year, but fans throughout Oceana will carry great memories forward in a year so filled with titles that it was impossible to fit them all into a top 10 list.
#1 Hart girls XC does it again, earning 3-peat
This one felt different, coach Terry Tatro said after his girls cross-country team entered truly elite company with its third straight state championship at Michigan International Speedway.
The Pirates were again prohibitive favorites all season, but leading up to the state finals, Tatro sensed his team felt a little more pressure than it had in years past, when Hart boasted six all-state runners.
However, when the dust settled, despite a momentary panic over a malfunctioning scoreboard that briefly had Hart listed as plummeting from the top spot, the Pirates had easily pulled off a state three-peat, something only 14 other schools have done in the Lower Peninsula finals era.
Hart had three all-state runners, none of whom were strangers to the podium. Juniors Savannah Ackley and Lynae Ackley and sophomore Audrey Enns have now combined to go 8-for-8 in all-state runs in their time as Pirates. Savannah and Audrey finished fourth and fifth respectively to lead the team, battling a challenging course that was even tougher than usual thanks to wet weather leading up to the race.
The Pirates will be heavy favorites again in 2020, returning all three of those all-staters and four of their five scoring runners overall while welcoming in a new crop of stars.
#2 Altland, Cantu go out in style for Hart wrestling
Hart wrestling will almost certainly never see a better duo in one class than Robbie Altland and Noah Cantu in the class of 2019, and they went out in fitting style, helping the Pirates to their second district title in three years and shining in the individual state tournament.
Altland took the final step up the ladder he’d been climbing his entire career, winning a dramatic state title in the ultimate tiebreaker round of the finals bout against Hudson’s Caden Natale. Forced to the bottom position and made to either score within 30 seconds or lose the match, Altland pulled it off and got to share the moment with his father Brad, the Pirates’ wrestling coach.
Cantu wasn’t quite able to join Altland atop the podium, settling for a runner-up spot. He did, however, join Altland as a 200-win wrestler, one of the rarest of feats for any high schooler. Altland graduated with 203 victories, a school record, and Cantu was right behind him with 202.
The Pirates also won another district title, affirming their rise to contender status in Division 4. Early returns in 2019-20 indicate Hart, despite the loss of the class of 2019’s contributions, won’t fall off too much.
#3 Hart girls hoops races to regional final
The Hart Pirates’ winter successes weren’t limited to the wrestling mat, as both basketball teams claimed historic district championships.
The girls hoops team, driven by a young and athletic roster, advanced all the way to the regional finals round to signal itself a force to be reckoned with. Along the way, the Pirates stunned previously unbeaten Houghton Lake in the regional semifinals.
Before that, the Pirates won only their second district title in history, joining the 1992 squad. The driving force of the team was freshman Jayd Hovey, whose mom Staci had coached the Pirates until the 2018-19 season. Hovey was so good that she earned honorable mention all-state honors as a freshman, a remarkable achievement on a list of players that’s usually stacked with upperclassmen. She scored 25 points in the Pirates’ regional semifinal win, 13 in the fourth quarter, in which she handled the ball on nearly every possession.
Hart has wasted no time early in the 2019-20 season showing the run was no fluke, and the Pirates will be looking to repeat when the districts come around again in March.
#4 Falcons’ golf earns 1st regional title
Pentwater’s golf team has consistently been good the past several years, but until 2019, it had never managed to hang a regional banner. That changed this spring as the Falcons brought home their first-ever regional championship.
Pentwater accomplished the feat in dramatic fashion, edging Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart by only four strokes for the top spot.
The Falcons put forth a team effort all year long, getting major contributions from every spot in the lineup. Gannon McDonough was the team’s top scorer, but teammates Will Kolenda, Seth Matulis and Drew Kolenda were often big pieces to the puzzle. Mackenzie Breitner added consistently solid play from the #5 position.
The group traveled to state a week later and performed well, coming in sixth place. McDonough placed 11th in the state, and each Falcon lowered their score from day one to day two. Four of the five Falcons to play at The Meadows last June will return to the team in 2020, setting up another successful season.
#5 Hart boys hoops roars to district title
Only two years removed from breaking a six-year conference losing streak, Hart boys basketball stamped its place in county lore in March by claiming its first district championship since 1994.
The Pirates didn’t always make it easy on themselves in postseason play, slugging out a hard-fought battle with arch rival Shelby in the first round of that district bracket before pulling away late to down Holton, the team with the second-best record in the field. That set the stage for the Pirates to face Hesperia for the title, and Hart got off to a quick start in that game to turn it into a coronation.
The Pirates created team unity prior to the postseason, when most of the team got together and decided to dye their hair platinum blonde. After Hart’s victory in the district finals, the Pirates’ coaches joined in, with head coach Adam Jerry dyeing his hair and assistant Mike Giddings opting to color his beard.
The ‘blonde bombers’ didn’t make it out of the regional semifinals, but before bowing out, the Pirates treated their fans to one last battle, pushing a strong Calvin Christian team into the final quarter before ending a run few in Hart will soon forget.
#6 Wildcats’ hoops team ends drought
Hart wasn’t the only long-suffering Oceana basketball team to make a leap in 2018-19, as the Walkerville boys hoops team powered its way to a district championship, its first since 2003.
The Wildcats’ star players, Adrian Haligus and Dillon Brown, had been eighth-graders when the program finally broke a losing streak that lasted over 100 games, and they didn’t want to be a part of any such run. So they worked on their games and became one of the best scoring duos the West Michigan D League has seen, both eclipsing 1,000 points for their careers in February.
Then came the postseason, and a challenging draw against two fellow contenders in the West Michigan D League, Pentwater and Manistee Catholic. However, the Wildcats passed both tests in hard-fought battles to bring home the crown.
Like Hart, Walkerville entered the regional semis an underdog, against Leland, but like Hart, the Wildcats played with passion and purpose to give themselves a chance in uncharted territory before ultimately falling short. However, the Wildcats will always have that banner.
#7 Hart boys XC takes best state finish yet
While many other programs in the county were ending long championship droughts or making unexpected runs, the Hart boys cross-country team just kept doing what it does: Churning out impressive state finishes.
This time it was the best finish in program history, as the Pirates moved up one spot from last season’s sixth place, which was tied for the best finish yet, to fifth place and new territory for Hart.
That said, given the team’s roster, it probably won’t be unfamiliar territory for long. As with the girls team, the Pirates were young in 2019, with four of the top five runners set to return. One of those was Alex Enns, a junior who earned his second consecutive all-state honor by coming in sixth place overall in the Division 3 finals in Brooklyn.
The Pirates, naturally, didn’t take much time to rest on the accomplishment, quickly noting that they’d come just 19 points short of rocketing up to second place. With freshmen Clayton Ackley and Seth Ackley set to return next season along with junior Spencer VanderZwaag, it’s a safe bet that Hart will have its eyes on an even higher finish in the 2020 finals.
#8 All-state Miller leads Falcons to district
Pentwater’s baseball team claimed its second straight district championship this year behind an upperclassman-led team, spearheaded by all-state first-teamer Glenn Miller.
Miller, now preparing for his freshman season at Spring Arbor University, was one of the best the Falcons have ever had, and capped his career with another district title, posting a 1.31 earned run average and a .579 batting average.
The Falcons were never threatened in the district tournament, winning three games by a combined score of 41-1, capped by a mercy-rule-shortened no-hitter from Miller in the finals. Of course, as each of their previous two runs this decade have, the Falcons’ ride was rudely ended by a powerhouse Beal City squad in the regionals. However, Miller’s impact will last far longer than even his post-seasons did.
“He was the absolute leader of the Pentwater varsity baseball team, not only this year, but playing a significant role over five years of varsity ball,” Falcons’ coach Rick Magrath said of Miller in June.
#9 Adelyn Ackley ends HS career on track
Adelyn Ackley, now at Liberty University, is the most decorated Hart athlete in school history, and in June she finished her career with one last incredible performance at the state track finals in Jenison.
While Ackley was denied any further state championships to add to her massive trophy case, it was not for lack of effort, as she and longtime friendly rival Amber Gall of Shepherd staged an epic duel on the final lap of the 1,600-meter finals that saw each of them break the previous Division 3 finals record in the event. Ackley took the lead early in the lap, but Gall snatched it back on the final turn and barely held off a furious effort from Ackley to win by .02 of a second.
Ackley also finished second in the 3,200-meter finals, leading the Pirates to an eighth-place finish at state as a team.
#10 All-state Felt leads Tigers to district
Few teams had harder luck in close games than the Shelby Tigers baseball squad did in 2019, but their fortunes turned around just in time in the district tournament. Shelby won the district title behind dominating pitching from Chris Beyer in two of the three games.
The Tigers went 8-16 in the regular season, but many of the defeats were in close games, games in which Shelby just couldn’t get the big hit. In the postseason, Beyer made sure they wouldn’t need one, shutting out Mason County Central and Hesperia in the districts.
The offense all season was led by Matt Felt, now at Davenport University preparing for his freshman baseball season. Felt, incredibly, hit for over a .600 average in each of his final two seasons in purple, driving in 38 runs this year and scoring 33.
The Tigers’ postseason run was a just reward for a hardworking group that kept plugging away even as the results didn’t change — until the perfect time.
“All year, I’ve been telling the kids, ‘You’ve just got to keep believing and something good’s going to happen,’” Shelby coach Brian Wright said after the team’s district semifinal win.
Something good did, and Shelby got to celebrate a title.
So great was the 2019 calendar year in Oceana that three district title teams had to be left off of the list. Congratulations to the Pentwater volleyball team, Pentwater girls basketball team and Hesperia softball team, each of whom earned their own titles and made memories no one who followed those teams will soon forget, either.