[the division 2 review]High school sports year in review： Greater Lansing had plenty to celebrate in unique year
A year ago, there was uncertainty surrounding what the 2020-21 high school sports calendar would look like.
Would high school football be moved to the spring? And if so, how would that impact other sports?
There were also questions?about whether the Michigan High School Athletic Association would be able to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic to successfully have fall, winter and spring sports seasons that ended with championships.
Plenty of challenges presented themselves along the way, which included delayed starts to seasons and sports shutdowns amid rising case numbers.?But the MHSAA successfully completed its goal for the school year.
With that goal came memorable moments for numerous programs in?Greater Lansing. And standout teams and individuals will be celebrated for their accomplishments from this school year at 8 p.m. Wednesday during the virtual Greater Lansing Sports Awards show.
Here’s a look at notable moments and achievements in the area?from the 2020-21 high school sports season.
Coach Chris Silker had a loaded lineup of players from top to bottom, headlined by Michigan State signee Josh Portnoy. And that group helped the Chiefs capture a third state championship in four seasons to send Silker out a winner in his final season leading the varsity squad.?Okemos went 29-0 in the fall while finishing as the Division 1 champion. The state title was the first for Okemos while competing as a Division 1 school.?
Portnoy ended the season and his high school career as the singles state champion to cap an incredible season for Okemos.
More:Loaded with talent, Okemos boys tennis sends coach out on top with state title
The fall was a historic one for the Lansing Christian girls cross country team, which?captured its first-ever state championship. DePaul-bound Madison Volz led the way all season and the Pilgrims overcame her fall at the state finals to win the Division 4?title. Volz found her way across the finish line despite the fall to place 12th, which was key to the team championship.?Ashlyn Kephart led the Pilgrims by finishing sixth.
Lansing Christian’s state championship was part of a Division 4 title sweep for the area. Carson City-Crystal claimed the boys team title behind Coleman Clark, who was the individual state champion. The title was the third for the Eagles’ boys program and the first since they finished as the Class C champion in 1994.
More:Lansing Christian girls, Carson City-Crystal boys win state cross country titles
Plenty of times over the years, coach Rob Zimmerman has had teams knocking on the door of winning state championships. DeWitt football broke through this year in what was a dominant season. The Panthers navigated a two-month COVID shutdown during the middle of the state playoffs to capture the Division 3 state championship. The title was the first in program history for the Panthers. Quarterback Ty Holtz was the Associated Press Division 3-4 player of the year and Zimmerman was the Detroit Lions state coach of the year for their roles in the Panthers’ strong season.
More:Finally champs: DeWitt football gets past River Rouge for first state title
Playing sports in a pandemic required flexibility for all involved. So when high school sports were shut?down in mid-Novermber amid rising COVID-19 cases, athletes competing at the girls swimming finals and teams in the latter half of the football and volleyball state tournaments were impacted. Things eventually picked up in January. That marked a unique challenge as football teams that had to navigate the outdoor elements presented by January weather conditions in Michigan and swimmers had little time to get?back up to speed in the pool.
The challenges were successfully navigated as DeWitt football got its first state title and Williamston swimmer Gwen Eisenbeis and DeWitt’s Jordyn Shipps each were swimming state champs.
Hockey programs from Greater Lansing aren’t known for finding success in the state tournament. But the Mid-Michigan Marauders went on quite the run this winter through the MHSAA state tournament getting to the Division 1 state semifinals before falling to Rockford in overtime. The Marauders became the first area program to reach the state semifinals since Okemos in 2000.
The basketball season ended on high notes for a pair of area girls teams that had crowning moments at Breslin Center in early April. Behind all-state selection and school career scoring leader Ashley Bower, Portland broke through this winter with its first state championship in program history. Portland claimed the Division 2 crown with a 52-32 victory over Newaygo. Raider coach Jason Haid was named the AP Division 2 coach of the year for his role in the historic title.
More:Portland girls basketball captures first-ever state title behind dominant second half
Fowler broke through for its second state title in program history, with sisters Emma and Mia Riley leading the charge. Mia Riley was the AP Division 4 player of the year and helped the Eagles in their dominant run in the state tournament that was capped by a 54-20 victory over Bellaire in the title game.
More:State Champions: Fowler girls basketball routs Bellaire to win Division 4 title
A trio from the area captured their second consecutive individual state titles during the school year.
Fresh off being named the state’s Miss Golf winner as a sophomore in 2019, Okemos’ Allison Cui ended her junior year as the medalist at the Division 2 state finals. Cui finished as the medalist at every event she played in the fall in her latest state championship season.
Mason’s Jonas Cantrell ended his high school swimming days as a repeat champion at the Division 3 state finals. He won the 500-yard freestyle at the state meet, which followed a sophomore year where he also won the event. COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 boys swimming finals, preventing Cantrell from having a title shot.
Williamston junior Ryker Johnecheck finished as a champion at the Division 3 wrestling state finals for a second straight season. After claiming the title at 125 pounds as a sophomore, Johnecheck was the champion at 130 pounds this winter as part of a season he finished 27-0.
Zane Forist emerged as the top shot put and discus thrower in the state this spring and was one of the best nationally. And his dominance helped vault Carson City-Crystal to its first state championship in boys track.? Forist broke state finals records in both events as the Eagles finished as the Division 4 state champs. Coleman Clark was also a champion at the state meet, winning the 3,200.
More:Carson City-Crystal boys capture Division 4 track and field state championship
The success on the track once again continued for Pewamo-Westphalia. with its girls program repeating as the Division 3 champs. The Pirates didn’t have any individual state champions, but leaned on a number of top-five finishes to end up tied with Grass Lake for the state title. The state title was the fourth since 2013 for P-W.
More:Pewamo-Westphalia wins Division 3 girls track championship
Throughout the years, the Dean Shippey Capital Diamond Classic has often ended with the Grand Ledge baseball program hoisting the championship trophy at the end. That was once again the case this spring. The Comets won the event for the 29th time, thanks to the heroics of Diamond Classic MVP Noah Warren, who delivered a key late home run to vault Grand Ledge past DeWitt in what was the 59th installment of the annual tournament.
More:‘A loss for words’ – Noah Warren stuns DeWitt again as Grand Ledge wins Diamond Classic
On the softball side, Eaton Rapids continued its recent supremacy in the Greater Lansing Hall of Fame Softball Classic, which celebrated its 40th season. ?The Greyhounds won their fourth consecutive?title and avenged an earlier loss to Holt while claiming the title. The Softball Classic championship was the ninth for Eaton Rapids,?all coming since 2009.
More:Eaton Rapids seniors win Softball Classic for third time with 10-8 win over Holt
Owosso had never won a state championship in a MHSAA sponsored sport before this school year. The Trojans’?softball team changed that this month by capturing the Division 2 state title.
Owosso had never won a regional title in softball before breaking through this spring behind Kent State commit Macy Irelan and knocking off Lakewood in extra innings in a regional final. It built off that success by getting three more victories and wrapping up the state title with an 8-5 victory over Marysville.
More:History makers: Owosso softball caps magical run with Division 2 state championship
Contact Brian Calloway at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @brian_calloway.