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MWPA Quarterfinal Preview | Pioneer vs. Jenison

In the Saline half of the bracket, State Tournament Quarterfinal action opens with what appears to be the Spiderman-Pointing-At-Spiderman Meme type of match up. Ann Arbor Pioneer, with their long tradition of excellence, comes in as a defensive stopper with strong goaltending and a star that moves the needle on offense. Jenison is many ways, the same. Strong goaltending, good defense, and an offensive weapon that draws a lot of game-planning. It should be an interesting test in the vein of immovable object meets immovable object.

Meet the East Region Champion Pioneers

Record: 23-9-2

Prior Match Ups: This is their first meeting

This Year: East Regional and District 4 Champions

Head Coach: Don Packard

Award Winners:

Gabe Sanchez Burks - East Region Regular Season & Tournament MVP

Mathieu Ruelle (G) - East Region First Team, East Region Tournament First Team

Luke Packard - East Region First Team, East Region Tournament Second Team

Alex Farmer - East Region Second Team, East Region Tournament First Team

Zach Edwards - East Region Tournament Honorable Mention

One thing I love in a good team is a team that's unafraid to lose. The Pioneers tested themselves with the strongest strength of schedule in the state (22 Top Ten Games), played six times against out of state foes, duked it out with a district rival several times, and weren't afraid to lose a game that didn't have postseason meaning. Why do I like that? That's how you learn about your team. In the process, you get more bodies in the water, develop depth, and put your team in position to learn how to do things they might not be used to doing. And that, is one big reason Don Packard is the East Region coach of the year. The mastermind behind the curtain has pulled all the right levers to get them a number one East Region Seed.

Gabe Sanchez Burks is the East Region MVP, he swept all MVP honors in the East Region with a postseason run so far that was described by one source as, "Out of his mind, good." Mathieu Ruelle brings flair and big save capability, while a strong supporting cast including Luke Packard, Alex Farmer, Zach Edwards and others show off the depth the Pioneers have built this year. Coming off a good tournament a year ago with a younger squad, the Pioneers are poised to make noise...if they can knock off a team that seems to be their mirror image.


Meet the West Region's Fourth Seeded Wildcats

Record: 14-8

Prior Match Ups: This is their first meeting

This Year: West Region Third Place, District 1 third place

Head Coach: Jason Sweedyk

Award Winners:

Ben Jansen - West Region Second Team, West Region Tournament First Team

Gavin Haight (G) - West Region First Team, West Region Tournament Second Team

Travis McKellar - West Region Tournament Second Team

They may not have quite as many award winners, but the scrappy Jenison Wildcats burst back onto the scene with a great deal of help from West Region Coach of the Year, "Shoeless" Jason Sweedyk. Half of their games came against top ten teams and they went from out at Districts last year, to the state tournament this year, much like the Jenison girls squad this year. It's no small FEET (Sweedyk pun!), that they are here. It's a balanced group, one that made things interesting into the fourth quarter against Hudsonville at the West Regional tournament as well. They are as dangerous as any.

Let's preface this with Ben Jansen has not gotten all the recognition he probably deserves. He commands extra defenders and is a horse at both ends of the pool. Gavin Haight has been a revelation in goal for the J-Cats this season, helping one of the state's better defensive squads to where they're at. Travis McKellar was a HUGE threat at the West Regional tournament last weekend and showed off a big arm from the outside. If they can generate consistent offense against Pioneer, they'll have a real good shot to be in this one right to the end.

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