BY Duncan MacLean
Coming off their second regional championship and state quarterfinal appearance in three years, the Spring Lake boys basketball team will look to build off of their recent success this season.
In their first run through the O-K Blue Conference, the Lakers asserted themselves as contenders with a third-place finish and an 8-4 league record. Spring Lake then went on to upset league champion Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the regional finals, before falling victim to a buzzer-beater by Benton Harbor in the Class B state quarterfinals.
Now, the Lakers will focus on established post play as they try to fill the void left behind by a pair of graduated All-Conference guards and vie for another deep run in the postseason.
Six seniors moved on from last year’s squad, including star guards in Cam Ball and Isaiah Pierce and a slew of productive bench players. Those returning to the hardwood for the 2017-18 season, however, shift the balance of experience and skill forward.
The Lakers return a trio of three-year starters in center Sam Johnson and forwards Griffin Lorimer and Jack VanWingen. Reserve forwards Sam Negen and Jason Keena and guards Ben Arteaga and Adam Boes also accumulated quality minutes with the varsity team last season.
“Post play is probably one of the strengths of our team this year,” Spring Lake head coach Bill Core said. “With Sam and Griffin down low and Jack as a tweener, we have a lot of experience. To have three seniors on the front line is something we are excited about.”
While the returning starters hang out under the hoop, Arteaga will take over running the offense as the rising point guard after building into a key backup role last season.
“I am really excited for Ben,” said Core. “He paid his dues going against Isaiah and Cam in practice every day as a junior and has worked hard in the weight room. It is his turn to run the offense, and I have all the confidence in the world in him.”
Joining Arteaga in the backcourt will be sophomore Cayden Ball, taking after his brother, Cam. Core hopes to build off his speed and floor command as the season progresses and he gets used to the varsity game.
Ball is the only sophomore who broke into varsity this season and will be joined in the backcourt by a fellow speedy guard in junior Matthew Vanderwall, as well as shooters Kyle Wiersma and Zach Foster.
Joining the ranks of a crowded frontcourt is Marquette University lacrosse commit Noah Verlinde, along with the physical and athletic Blayne Willet.
The emphasis on post play will create some changes in the scheme for the Lakers, who are used to outrunning teams with their guards. While Ball and his crew have plenty of speed, the varsity game will still take some getting used to.
“Cayden is a just a sophomore, so he will take some time. On defense, we may play a little more zone because of our size and not having that on the ball guard pressure we had in the past.”
WHAT TO EXPECT
With deep postseason runs seeming like an annual tradition for the Lakers, coach Core is wary of comparisons.
“No. 1, this is a new team. A new team with new goals and new challenges,” he continued. “We expect to compete for a conference title and a district title. After that, everything is gravy.”
One given for Spring Lake is a strong regular season schedule. With a talented O-K Blue Conference to work through and aggressive scheduling by Core, this year will be no different.
“I thought we had a tough schedule last year. This year we dropped Oakridge and Montague and are playing Forest Hills Central and Wayland over Christmas at the Cornerstone Showcase. We added Muskegon Heights and have Rockford and Grand Haven again.
“We may not finish with as good of a record, but I think we will be a tough out.”
No one on Spring Lake’s team averaged over 10 points per game last season; expect the same balanced attack this year.
“I expect Sam, Griffin and Jack’s averages to go up a little bit,” Core said. “But, I think you can really damage a team when you have quality scorers across the board. We will run some set plays on mismatches or after stops, but for the most part, we will run an equal opportunity offense.”
With a deep bench and more length than most teams know what to do with, the Lakers will look to tear through their second season in the O-K Blue, and hopefully straight into a 2018 playoff run.
Tribune photo/Duncan MacLean: The 2017-18 Spring Lake boys varsity basketball team. Front row (left to right): Blayne Willett, Kyle Wiersma, Cayden Ball, Adam Boes, Ben Arteaga, Matthew Vanderwall, Sam Negen and Zach Foster. Back row (left to right): Head coach Bill Core, Griffin Lorimer, Jason Keena, Sam Johnson, Noah Verlinde, Jack VanWingen and assistant coach Randy White.