Spring Lake has ruled the small diamond in recent years, making repeated runs deep into the playoffs under the leadership of head coach Bill Core. Grand Haven has been biding their time, building into what promises to be an explosive season in 2019 with eight of nine starters returning from a year ago.
With huge promise on both sides of the river, let’s take a closer look at what to expect from the girls on the sandlot this spring.
Last year: 21-16, district finalist
Key returners: Ashlyn Hall, Haley Aldred, Baby Hang, Kaelyn Stafford, Madison Shumaker
Notable newcomers: Emily Walcott, Regan Riemersma, Skyler Covelli, Erika Suchecki
Strengths: Defensive depth, pitching
Head coach John Hall: “These girls are hungry to compete at a high level. The seniors came up with their own motto for the season: ‘Set the Standard’. They want to set the standard to which all future Grand Haven softball teams look up to, both on the field and off.
“We return eight of nine starters from last year’s team. We lost Jackie Crow to graduation, but we are strong as ever. We have four players who are All-Conference first team as well as being awarded All-District and All-Regional honors.
“Senior Ashlyn Hall plays anywhere we ask her. She played six of the nine positions last year at a very high level. Fellow senior Haley Aldred is one of the best catchers in the O-K Red and is a feared hitter throughout the league. She will be playing at Aquinas next year.
“Senior Baby Hang plays shortstop and was our leadoff hitter last year. She is one of the toughest outs in the league. She will be playing at Ferris (State University) next year.
“Junior Kaelyn Stafford plays centerfield and is one of the best players in the league, period. She is as close to a five-tool player as I have seen. She can steal bases, hit for average, hit for power, throw you out from the warning track and play exceptional defense. She has interest from Division 1 schools in the MAC and from every other level, too.
“Junior Madison Shumaker returns as our No. 1 pitcher and she has put a lot of work in over the offseason on her craft. She has increased her velocity, but even more importantly has really worked on spinning the softball. She is hopefully poised or an All-Conference season. She has drawn interest from programs ranging from Division II to the NAIA.
“We also return a number of players who got their first significant varsity experience last year and are looking to put a stamp on the lineup. Seniors Alyssa Spencer, Riley Rademaker and Megan Faber, as well as juniors Sadie Murray and Gracie Vermurlen, are in that group.
“We also have four newcomers that will instantly impact the program. Three of those players are freshmen. Emily Walcott, Regan Riemersma and Skyler Covelli, and one is a senior, Erika Suchecki.
“The three freshmen fill needs at various positions. Emily really shores up our middle infield and is a gamer. Regan will start off as our No. 2 pitcher. She has worked extremely hard in the offseason getting ahold of her command. Being thrust into varsity pitching can be daunting, but we will bring her along appropriately for her development. She is one of the strongest kids I have seen as a freshman. Skylar is a player who can play multiple roles on this team. She can play infield and outfield, as well as pitch. Regan and Skyler both possess an attribute that you can't teach; they are extremely fast. We will use that speed to our advantage this year.
“Lastly, Erika moved back into the area after spending her eighth to 11th grades in Yorkville, Illinois. She has great pop on her bat and will provide a stabilizing force at the corners as a catcher.
“One of the reasons I love the outlook of this team is that defensively we don’t have any holes. In years prior, If I changed pitchers I would have to alter four other positions, and that would make us vulnerable. This year, that is not the case. We are solid defensively and the rookies are pushing the vets for playing time. Pitching-wise, we are in a really good spot. We have three quality arms and some other players that can come in and change the pace of the game with a slew of different looks.
“Do I believe this team can compete for an O-K Red title? You bet. Do I believe this team can win a district title? You bet. Do I believe this team has the potential to win Grand Haven’s first regional? You bet. To do that, they must play as a team, 100 percent of the time, all the time.
“The O-K Red is unarguably one of the toughest conferences in the state. Caledonia is the defending state champ and ranked No. 1 in the preseason poll. Grandville was the 2017 state runner-up and is always tough, along with Hudsonville.
“We like our non-conference schedule to be tough to prepare us for conference and tourney time. We especially look forward to our meeting with Spring Lake every year.”
Last year: 40-1, 18-0 O-K Blue, state quarterfinalist
Key returners: Leah Vaughn, Jenna Core, Molly Poole, Alicia Mumby, Janna Ercole, Layni Wyns
Notable newcomers: Emily Harvey, Juliette Goldberg, Avery Flynn, Megan Knollinger
Strengths: Pitching, hitting
Despite graduating a few key pieces from their historic run to the state quarterfinals last year, the Lakers reloaded just fine. While a one-loss campaign is tough to beat, Spring Lake is ready to charge into another season with a number of four-year starters returning to the lineup.
Most notable is No. 1 pitcher and All-State honorable mention Leah Vaughn, who racked up a 28-1 record from the circle featuring 235 strikeouts and a 0.83 ERA. Over her career as a four-year starter, Vaughn is 64-7. She isn’t just dominant from the plate, boasting a .555 batting average with 70 RBIs last season.
Joining Vaughn as a historic talent for the program is Jenna Core, who already holds the Spring Lake career home run record with 25 through her junior season. The three-time All-Conference and All-District player and four-year starter hit .433 last year with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs.
Molly Poole has committed to continue her softball career at Cornerstone University, but has one last lap as a Laker to pad her already impressive stats. A .344 average produced 44 RBIs for the catcher last season, while she threw out 37 percent of attempted base stealers. As a three-year starter, Poole has earned two All-Conference nods and an All-District award in 2017.
Alicia Mumby returns after exploding onto the scene as a freshman last season, hitting .396 to rack up 27 RBIs and 27 runs scored. She will move from third base to shortstop this year, undoubtedly holding down the position.
Also returning as letter winners from last year are seniors Janna Ercole and Layni Wyns. Ercole will start this season in both the outfield and at first base after hitting .273 last year. Wyns batted .310 during an injury-riddled junior season and returns as an explosive player ready to make the most of her final season.
New to the team and ready to contribute are senior Emily Harvey in the outfield and at second base, junior Juliette Goldberg and sophomore Megan Knollinger as versatile fielders and freshman Avery Flynn as the Lakers’ No. 2 pitcher.
The Lakers have won 78 conference games in a row, stretching through their entire time in the O-K Blue Conference back into their days competing in the Lakes Eight Conference. Allendale poses the biggest threat to their conference crown, while Grand Haven will be a tremendous test in their rivalry matchup.