Powerful Pirates: Hart savors successful winter sports season.

April 16, 2021

Photo courtesy of Kirstie Smith.

Powerful Pirates: Hart savors successful winter sports season.

Pirate News is a service of Hart Public Schools in cooperation with Oceana County Press. 

By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART — Despite a challenging season posed by COVID-19, the Pirates prevailed in winter sports.

The Hart High School wrestlers won the regional title for the second year in a row; the girls basketball team earned its third straight district trophy; and the competitive cheer squad placed second at both regional and state competitions.


The Pirate wrestling team competed at the team state meet after winning back-to-back regional titles. Due to an enrollment increase, the Pirates were bumped up from Division 4 to a more competitive Division 3. 

Ending the season with a 26-4 record, Brad Altland and Rocky Smith were named regional coaches of the year.

Ten wrestlers made it to the state finals. There were three all-state wrestlers (finishing in the top eight) — junior Mason Cantu (145 lbs.), third place; sophomore Trayce Tate (119 lbs.), fourth place; and senior Thomas Tanner (160 lbs.), eighth place.

Other key wrestlers were senior Spencer VanderZwaag (130 lbs.) who captured his 100th win; junior Leo Guadaramma who was undefeated entering regionals; junior Chance Alvesteffer (135 lbs.) team captain and a state qualifier; and some key underclassmen and state qualifiers, freshman Austin Martinez (125 lbs.); sophomore Bryce Jorrisen (103 lbs,); and sophomore Trenton Swihart (112 lbs.). 

“They were well-disciplined and made sacrifices to fill some holes,” Coach Altland said of his younger grapplers. 

The Pirates made it through the whole season without anyone getting sick with COVID, getting tested twice a week. “The first two months, not having wrestling, that was tough,” Altland recalled of the delay of the start of the winter sports season due to the virus. 

“Our first two weeks, it was non-contact practice, so it was more like boot camp,” said the coach. The wrestlers did push ups, sit ups, running, jump rope, etc. “It was more like they were getting ready to put on camouflage instead of singlets.” 

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Pirates enthusiastically stepped onto the mat. “They practiced seven days a week, and nobody missed a practice. The kids were ready to go right out of the gate.”

“Those kids wrestled really well as a team,” he said. “It was a team effort the whole time.”

Altand, who has been coaching for 22 years, took the helm as head coach about nine years ago. He was honored to receive the Coach of the Year honor, but found it even more exciting for the Pirates that his assistant coach, Rocky Smith, was honored right along with him. It’s rare for two selections from the same school. Smith has been assistant coach for about seven years.

The middle school coaches — Brad Whitney and Adam Smith — have also been instrumental in developing a successful program. “They do an extremely good job of helping the program go forward.” 

Photo courtesy of Chrissy Klotz.

Girls Basketball

While the boys dominated on the mats, the girls prevailed on the courts. 

“They had a great season,” said Hart High School Athletic Director Tim Hertzler. The Pirates won their third district in a row, finishing with a 16-5 record. They made it to the regional finals, but lost to Glen Lake. The young team is “starting a fire” said the AD. “There are high expectations for next year.”

“They’re quick and aggressive,” said veteran Coach Travis Rosema, who has been at the helm of the varsity squad for three years. Rosema coached JV three years prior and rec ball for seven years.

Four of their losses were handed to them by state-ranked opponents with only one loss — Montague twice, Kent City and Western Michigan Christian. Conference foe Montague was a strong force with its starting lineup of five seniors.

A “three-peat” of the district title came after a long dry spell of nearly 30 years. The only other time the Pirates won a district championship was in 1992. 

“We had five losses but we played a tough schedule,” said Rosema. “We played some solid competition.”

The team loses three seniors to graduation — Rylee Noggle, Cassidy Copenhaver and Emma Weesies. Seven juniors, two sophomores and one freshman made up the rest of the squad. 

Receiving first-team all conference honors were junior Jayd Hovey and sophomore Aspen Boutell, and second-team accolades went to juniors Morgan Marvin and Kendall Williamson. Hovey also received all-state honorable mention distinction.

Unfortunately, a torn ACL took Williamson out for the last third of the season, the coach said. She tore the ACL in her other knee the previous season.

Contributed photo

The Pirates tallied 10 threes against Beaverton in the regional semifinals, pounding them 55-30.

Another highlight of the successful season was defeating archrival Shelby three times, Rosema said. 

“I have a lot of girls and their parents who sacrifice a lot of time,” said Rosema. “I am blessed to have these girls and their family.”

The Pirates’ winning ways are getting the younger kids excited about playing basketball for Hart, he added.

Competitive Cheer

Hart’s varsity competitive cheer team also sparked a lot of excitement with its highly successful season. The Pirates made it to the state finals with a second-place regional finish.

“We had a great season,” said Coach Jennifer Hlady who started the competitive cheer program at Hart back in 2008. “Our goals were to be conference champs and make a run in the postseason.” That is exactly what the Pirates accomplished during a “crazy season” due to COVID-19. 

The Pirates took second place in both districts and regionals, and they were among eight teams state-wide to move onto the state competition.

Boys basketball

Under the leadership of Coach Adam Jerry, the Pirate boys basketball team made it to the district finals, finishing with a 5-13 record. The young team’s performance this season shows lots of potential for the future.

“They were a young team with only two seniors,” said Hertzler. “They will come back strong next year.”

“Winter sports have been successful the last couple of years,” said Hertzler. “The school has been doing well and is attracting good coaches. The kids are putting in the effort. It’s the process more than the results. The cross country team is a great example — other kids are doing the same things.” Hart’s girls cross country team won its fourth straight state title last fall. Related story here “It has a ripple effect.”

Photo courtesy of Moko Media, Alison and Colton Molofsky.

With the difficulties COVID presented, the Pirates managed to push through. “It’s great to see that they’re dedicated,” said the AD. “They’re connected. Sports are so important to their emotional wellbeing.”

The cheer team was resourceful and practiced via Zoom when Michigan high school sports were stalled during Thanksgiving and Christmas. “They stuck it out,” said Coach Hlady. 

“There were tons of kids working out on their own,” said Hertzler. “It takes a certain amount of perseverance — especially not knowing if the season is going to happen. The coaches and the kids have really worked hard.”

Hertzler is finishing his fourth year as AD. He’s the 11th person to hold the position in 15 years, so it was tough to build any consistency before. “I don’t want to take credit, but consistency helps change the culture.”

Consistency among the coaching staff and administration has made a big difference. “The mindset has changed over the years,” he said.

With the West Michigan Conference expansion slated to take effect in two years, the community is “super excited” to see how Hart performs. “The outlook is really good.” Related story here

“Sports are the most visible part of a school district,” he said, “and when your teams are winning, the community is excited.”

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