Countdown To Preseason Polls: Eagles Reign on Both Sides
Hudsonville, Mich. - While it might not be “The Batcave,” the Eagles’ stronghold could reasonably be referred to as The Fortress of Champitude.
The Eagles are the first program since Ann Arbor Skyline (2015) to hold both State Championship titles in the same calendar year. For the last to hold it in the same academic year, you’d have to go back to the Rockford Rams Boys (2012) and Girls (2013).
The girls side, under the direction of Ian Hewett, has built a dynasty. The Eagles are three-time defending champions. Prior to that, they were runners-up in 2016. Now for the girls squad, the challenge of a four-peat comes with a nearly complete varsity roster turnover, with two full classes gone since they hoisted the championship trophy at Zeeland in the spring of 2019.
“The roster has changed quite a bit since we last played two years ago,” Hewett said. “We have graduated some talented athletes, as well as some great leaders. We are looking forward to seeing our current roster of girls step up in a big way this year.”
Some of those greats included superstars Claire Tuttle and Grace Boeve, who could both dominate games. For the Eagles, nine players on the State tournament roster from 2019 have cycled out due to graduation. Luckily for Hewett, his current senior class is both large and talented.
“I am looking forward to our seniors stepping up this year. With them missing last season, I know that they are excited to get back to playing water polo,” Hewett said. “As with all teams on the women's side, I am sure the transition from playing as sophomores to now playing as seniors will be challenging, but they are a great group and I am sure they are up for the challenge.”
Boys coach Josh Ahrendt had felt the sting of a couple of heartbreakers prior to getting over the top in 2019. The Eagles, lost a gut-wrenching all-time classic state championship game to Okemos at East Kentwood in 2018, spanning five sudden death overtime periods.
In fact the Eagles went to the title game three times in five seasons leading up to their win, finishing second to Okemos (2018), Ann Arbor Skyline (2015) and Rockford (2014).
The 2019 title over Dexter became that much sweeter for the Eagles, but like Hewett, Ahrendt has a very new look to his roster.
“We will need many people to step up this year, as we graduate a large percentage of scoring and defense,” Ahrendt said. “Looking for the senior class, Colin McDowell, Gabe Ecenbarger, Nate Chalmers, Eli Boonstra, Tyler Bayle to lead us. Hopefully, the talented juniors can step up and fill in gaps as well.”
For Hudsonville, the teams both moving into the Spring season should be seamless, as Ahrendt and Hewett are never and have never been too far apart to begin with.
“We cross paths a decent amount because we are friends as well as coworkers,” Ahrendt said of Hewett. “I’d expect it will be even more this year with the simultaneous seasons.”
“Josh was one of my coaches in high school and was also my college coach at Grand Valley,” Hewett said. “So we have known each other for many years. We have become good friends and am sure we will find some creative ways to tackle this season together.”
With the roster turnover, both have had to turn to creative solutions, but things are slowly returning to some form of normalcy.
“When the season was cancelled last year, the team remained in contact through zoom meetings, daily workouts, and videos,” Hewett said. “In the summer, we were able to do some outdoor workouts on the football field for conditioning and as a way to keep the team together. This winter, we have been able to hold some practices for conditioning, which has been great to see them back in the pool.”
Ahrendt, who doubles volunteering as a swim coach for Hudsonville, was able to at least be around them during the winter season.
“We were able to have outdoor workouts in the summer and able to get in the water a bit this fall for some swimming and drills,” Ahrendt said. “I also volunteer coach the swim team and most of my boys swim, so I'm in contact with them on a pretty regular basis.”
Aquatics, clearly, is king at Hudsonville. The boys swim squad was narrowly projected to win the 2020 state title over West Ottawa last season, per MLive.