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Athletics at Grand Rapids Catholic Central are hitting a high note

By: Steve Vedder, November 16, 2016, 5:14 pm

Grand Rapids – It’s been a perfect storm in terms of success at Grand Rapids Catholic Central this fall and it’s threatening to blow into the winter season.

Not only have Cougar teams collectively combined for a remarkable fall season, there is likelihood of an interesting winter for teams.

The success starts with a Catholic Central football team which is shooting for a Division 4 state title. The Cougars (11-1) play Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-2) in Saturday’s 1 p.m. semifinal at Greenville.

The fall success, however, hardly stops with football. The soccer team swept to a state title, the tennis team was fifth at the state meet, the volleyball team won a conference championship, the girls swim team has a shot at finishing among the top three in this weekend’s state meet and the girls cross country team qualified for the state meet for the first time in 18 years.

C.C. athletic director Trevor Hinshaw said the success begins with a commitment to weight training by athletes, includes an outstanding mix of talent in both the senior and junior classes and benefits from a prevailing attitude among the teams to match the success of other teams.

The school also opened a new facility this past August. The football/soccer stadium has seats for 3,500, with a total capacity of 10,000. It has two team meeting rooms, one for film and a second for pregame and halftime talks, plus a coach’s room. There is a practice field outside the lockerroom, along with a varsity track, a grotto and memorial garden.

"It’s been a fantastic fall," said Hinshaw, who also coaches what is arguably the best girls basketball team on the west side of the state. "I think it starts with all the sports in weight training and agility program. They have this work ethic in and out of school.

"And we also have a strong senior class. You don’t win without a strong senior class, but we’ve got a lot of good juniors, too, and teams have some strong sophomores and freshmen sprinkled in which have really helped teams get to the next level."

That mix of athletes is evident on a Cougars soccer team which dropped a 1-0 decision to Spring Lake in the fifth game of the season, then never lost again. The Cougars finished 19-1-4, including a 1-0 win over Flint Powers in the Division 3 championship game.

There were six seniors on the roster, but only two started. Coach Brian Hughes said all played key roles, but the team was also bolstered by a talented group of juniors.

Hughes said the team’s success actually began a year ago when the Cougars were convinced they underachieved. That attitude led to a recommitment by the players.

"It sounds kind of backward, but we were disappointed. We finished about .500 and had a lot of individualism. We spent a lot of time in the off-season working on that," he said. "And I think we developed as a team because of it."

Hughes also credits the football team’s success with sparking the school’s other teams. Hughes said there is no doubt other teams wanted to follow in the football team’s path.

"Football has this tradition in winning state titles and they set an example for the other programs," Hughes said. "They are an inspiration to the rest of us."

The football team, led by a punishing defense, has been outstanding. The Cougars have outscored three playoff opponents 115-7. The defense has eight games in which it’s allowed a touchdown or less. The team opened 7-0, lost to Grand Rapids West Catholic, and has won four consecutive games since.

Kolster said each of the teams has fed off the success of the others.

"No question, that’s what you want," he said. "It could be the soccer team or cross country, it’s definitely contagious."

Kolster credits much of the school’s success to the unity among athletes.

"It used to be you’d go to practice and that’s all you’d do," he said. "Now coaches and the kids spend so much time together and that’s a good thing. There is definitely a correlation between kids’ relationships and success."

That success will likely carry over into the winter, at least for the girls basketball team. The Cougars have reached the last two Class B quarterfinals and has won 46 of 50 games. Four players who played on both those teams return in Shaniya Huggins, Sophia Karasinski, Myka Cromwell and Kyra Bussell. Russell and Karasinski signed with Central Michigan, Huggins will play at Davenport and Cromwell at Oakland.

Hinshaw said it’s the type of team which will not rest of the laurels of the last two seasons.

"No question one of the keys is staying committed to doing the little things – defense, rebounding, how to communicate and being unselfish," he said. "We can be a good team."