By Tom Westerholm
MUSKEGON–Undefeated Hart boys basketball will take on North Muskegon in a showdown between two teams at the top of the West Michigan Conference – Rivers Division on Friday.
Here’s everything you need to know.
DATE & TIME
Friday, Feb. 17 – North Muskegon at Hart, 7 p.m.
North Muskegon: 15-3 overall, 8-2 in the West Michigan Conference – Rivers Division
After falling to Hart at home in their first meeting on Jan. 6, North Muskegon has won nine of its last 10 games – its lone loss coming to a non-league opponent in West Michigan Aviation Academy.
According to Norsemen coach Chuck Rypstra, the key to North Muskegon’s success is its ability to mix up its styles.
“We always like to run, so we’re looking to get some early offense even after a make by the other team,” Rypstra said. “So we do want to get out and go, but we do have a lot of sets that we’ll run, and we like to go through our offense and stuff. I like both styles. We’re going to run and try to get something early if we can, but if we can’t, we’re really going to try to work for a good shot.”
Hart promises to be the perhaps the toughest test on the Norsemen’s schedule. The first time the two met, Hart claimed a 61-44 victory.
“They are the ones being chased, and we’re going to have to play really, really well to beat them,” Rypstra said. “But we’re capable of it. I don’t know if we’re capable of beating them, but we’re capable of it being a game for sure. It just depends on if the ball goes through the hoop for us or not.”
Hart: 17-0 overall, 8-0 in the West Michigan Conference – Rivers Division
Hart has put together an impressive season to date with a number of convincing wins over league and non-league opponents. First-year coach Nick Bronsema – who previously coached at Orchard View – credits the team’s ability to focus on each game as it comes, as well as the team’s senior leadership.
“I’d say the kids that we’re coaching, I think they are special people first and it allows them to use their character on the court,” Bronsema said. “That’s kind of showing now with how hard they play.”
Despite their undefeated record, the Pirates hold a healthy respect for North Muskegon – their closest competition in the division.
“They pride themselves – they’ve been doing pretty much the same thing, they have a tradition going,” Bronsema said. “Chuck is kind of building his legacy each year, and they are a winner.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Troy McManus – 14.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals
McManus is the key to the Norsemen’s attack – a multi-faceted scorer who hurts defenders with his pull-up jumper, his deep 3-point range and his quickness. As both Rypstra and Bronsema noted, McManus is a lefty as well, which can confuse defenders.
“He’s really come a long way with leadership,” Rypstra said. “As a sophomore, his older brother was on the team, and [Troy] wasn’t really a vocal leader, and even last year not so much, but this year, he’s really taken it upon himself to do that kind of stuff. … He has really stepped in and filled that void.”
Sam Gallo also plays a crucial role for the Norsemen in the middle of the floor. A senior football standout committed to Concordia, Gallo is averaging 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and provides toughness in the paint.
“Really, really strong, so he’ll battle against anybody,” Rypstra said. “He really helps us man the middle.”
Parker Hovey – 25.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, 9.1 assists
Hart’s offense revolves around Hovey, and his ability to both score and get his teammates involved. The senior handles most of the point-guard duties for the Pirates, and he can hit both from 3-point range and at the rim.
“It’s nice having a 6-5 point guard who is a matchup problem for most teams we play,” Bronsema said. “We try to create mismatches in what we do, and when all eyes are on Parker and they leave one of our guys open, luckily we have a lot of shooters and we can make other teams pay for that.”
Junior Blake Weirich has been a pleasant surprise for the Pirates this year as well in his first year as a varsity player, averaging 17 points and 9.5 rebounds per game.
“Blake’s an outside-in kind of guy,” Bronsema said. “He can hit the outside shot, he can finish at the rim. He’s a nice shooter.”
THREE KEY QUESTIONS
- Who wins the battle between Hovey and McManus?
Hovey is nearly averaging a triple-double, and his feel for the game keeps opponents off balance. Both Bronsema and Rypstra believe he could score more if he wasn’t focused on getting his teammates involved in the offense as well.
“If you get into him too hard, he can get by you. If you attack him too much, he finds other guys who can make plays,” Rypstra said. “So they just don’t have a dead spot in their lineup or anything like that.”
McManus, meanwhile, struggled a bit in his last outing against Hart, which made the hill too steep for the Norsemen to climb. Still, the Pirates are uncomfortably familiar with his well-rounded offensive game.
“It seems like he’s been on varsity for eight years. We want him to go away,” Bronsema said with a chuckle. “But no, in all seriousness, he’s a nice player.”
2. Can North Muskegon continue to overcome its injury issues?
If you attend a North Muskegon game, you might notice a number of players in leg braces at the end of the bench – three projected rotation players, including Rypstra’s son Brandon, suffered season-ending injuries before the year began.
Still, the Norsemen have proven remarkably resilient, piling up wins, in part, thanks to important contributions from juniors Jaxon Lisinski and Lamarkis Graham.
“Those are the guys who have really stepped into the starter minutes for those injured guys, picking up some of the scoring slack,” Rypstra said. “They can both shoot it, they can both score.”
Rypstra said he’s “really proud” of the way his team has risen to the challenge.
“We had some good depth, so don’t think our cupboard is bare,” Rypstra said. “… But listen, that stuff has happened to everybody when you coach long enough, so you can’t make that an excuse. I will tell you, it’s been hard — my own son, he’s a senior and stuff, so it’s been tough, but it’s my job, and my son knows it’s my job to get after these other guys and make sure they are as good as they can possibly be. So that’s what we’ve been working for.”
- Does being undefeated weigh on Hart?
The Pirates remain unbeaten in Bronsema’s first season, and only three teams – Ravenna, Shelby and North Muskegon – have come within 20 points in league competition.
So is being undefeated ever a distraction?
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think the kids thought about it, or that we were thinking about it a little,” Bronsema said. “I think it’s kind of human nature, but our goal continues. We try to maintain that focus and we talk about it daily, that sometimes you win a game and it’s almost like you lost.
“Really our goal is just to get better every game, and then by tournament time, be at our best.”
Rypstra believes his team can be competitive if they avoid giving up runs, which was a problem the last time the two teams met.
“If you look at our first game, they got ahead, we came back, and at the end of the first quarter, it was tied 10-10,” Rypstra said. “Then deep into the second quarter, Hovey gets two plays in a row where he gets two and-ones. We were down one, then all of a sudden, we’re down seven – boom, just like that. …
“Everybody can play, and with Hovey being so high level, they have to hopefully help us out a little bit. Or we’re going to have to shoot it like crazy.”
ask not what-ur-team-mates kan do-4-u-…………….ask what-u-can do-4-ur-team-mates…….go pirates