2017-08-17 / Sports

Look out below

Bushen: Contenders, rivalries and young talent will make fall sports fun to watch
Column By Jay Bushen
Sports Editor


GLEN LAKE cross country runners gather for a post-practice photo atop the Dune Climb in Empire Township on Tuesday. The Lakers will compete alongside runners from Leland, St. Mary and Suttons Bay on Aug. 26 in the season-opening Pete Moss Invitational at Benzie Central. 
Photo: Coach Ryan Schut GLEN LAKE cross country runners gather for a post-practice photo atop the Dune Climb in Empire Township on Tuesday. The Lakers will compete alongside runners from Leland, St. Mary and Suttons Bay on Aug. 26 in the season-opening Pete Moss Invitational at Benzie Central. Photo: Coach Ryan Schut The wait is over.

County teams will officially kick off fall sports seasons tomorrow morning and, if 2017 is any indication, it’s safe to say prep sports fans across the peninsula have a lot to look forward to.

To me, it all starts on the gridiron. A return trip to Ford Field may be a tall task for coach Jerry Angers and the Glen Lake football team, but I wouldn’t put it past them. The Lakers lost more than half of their starters to graduation but bring back a bunch of big-time players, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. Led by quarterback Cade Peterson and tailback Nick Apsey, the offense might just be the greatest show on turf — brand spankin’ new turf, no less. Additionally, as Angers pointed out, about 13 JV players were pulled up for last year’s postseason push. I’m thinking five weeks of playoff intensity and scout-team reps against Duke Angers and the rest of Glen Lake’s senior class sped up the varsity learning curve in a hurry.

I’m also eager to see how Suttons Bay does in its first season of 8-man football. It was tough to cover the team’s early cancellation of the 2016 campaign, but I’m hoping to see the Norsemen put that behind them. Three straight home games to open the 2017 season could help them do just that.

What else can we expect as trees change colors and mugs are filled with pumpkin spice lattes?

Longtime sports fans in Leelanau County know what to expect by now: death, taxes and winning seasons from the Leland volleyball team. Lately, that’s been an understatement. The Lady Comets came up just short in their pursuit of a third straight state championship appearance last season, finishing their 42-11-4 campaign in Battle Creek with a four-set loss to Plymouth Christian in the state semis. With an early season schedule fit for a Class B program, something tells me the girls will continue to improve and find their way back to Battle Creek.

The biggest volleyball question in my mind pertains to the other teams on the peninsula: Which program improved the most this offseason?

On the pitch, meanwhile, I’m interested to see if the Northwest Conference soccer race is anything like last year’s. More specifically, I look forward to seeing if reigning co-champions Leland and North Bay take their rivalry to the next level. I expect that will be the case.

Don’t sleep on Glen Lake, either. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lakers make some noise under the tutelage of their new coach, Andy Smith, who has seen his share of success in the spring as coach of the Glen Lake girls.

When I think cross country, I think St. Mary. That’s because the Lady Eagles were the only team in the county that qualified for states last year after a third-place regional finish — and are expected to bring back every runner from that team this fall. Keep an eye on Hanna Grant. Glen Lake teams, meanwhile, probably won’t fly under the radar for long. There’s some serious athleticism among underclassmen in the southern half of the peninsula.

Leelanau tennis coach Tim Sutherland is well aware. Sutherland, who recently completed his first season as coach of a Glen Lake middle school softball team, has nothing but good things to say about his young 2017 tennis co-op. That said, his top competitor this season will likely be upperclassman Xander Okerlund, who has more than enough athleticism to shine in No. 1 singles. Okerlund, the 2016 Enterprise Basketball Dream Team MVP, looked an inch taller when I saw him at a scrimmage on Tuesday. The now-6- foot-4 junior confirmed he’s grown about an inch since basketball season — and is dunking with ease. Tennis may not be his top sport, but it should be interesting to see him go toe-to-toe with the area’s finest.

Win or lose, I’m looking forward to seeing county athletes compete this season. The peninsula is home to some talented, hard-working athletes and some teams with a lot of potential.

This fall season should be fun.

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