By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
HAMILTON – The Hamilton girls basketball team had high expectations this season after the loss of only one senior from last year’s District championship squad.
So far, the Hawkeyes are living up to those lofty goals.
Hamilton entered the week ranked No. 7 in Class B while boasting a sparkling 17-1 record, and improved it to 18-1 with a 61-33 win over Zeeland East on Tuesday. It already has clinched the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green title outright.
“I knew we could have a good team,” said 14th-year head coach Dan VanHekken. “We didn’t win conference last year, but won Districts, so we had a little postseason experience with the kids we had coming back.
“They definitely wanted to win conference, which we feel good about and they should be proud of that for sure, and this has been a pretty challenging league year in and year out.”
The lone loss on Hamilton’s resume occurred in December against Hudsonville, which reached the MHSAA Class A Semifinals a year ago.
The Hawkeyes have gone unscathed in conference play, and have one remaining game against Zeeland West in their attempt for an unbeaten conference season.
“Winning conference was one of our goals, so it was cool to achieve that,” senior Brooklyn Groenheide said. “We worked really hard in the offseason and set some high goals. So far we’re doing pretty good in achieving those goals, and we just have to keep it going. We have to take it one game at a time.”
District play for girls basketball begins next week, and Hamilton is looking toward capturing another crown.
That road will be complicated, though. The Hawkeyes open with conference rival Hudsonville Unity Christian (10-8) and with the possibility of a third meeting with another conference foe, Holland Christian (15-4), in the District Final.
“Unity played us tough the first time, and we won by one at their place,” VanHekken said. “We got them good the second time, but they are playing some good basketball and the third time is never easy. We have a tough District with Holland Christian on the other side.”
Hamilton has never gone beyond the Regional Semifinals, but hopes to set a new standard this time around.
Three years ago, the Hawkeyes posted a school record with 21 wins.
“We’re hoping to make it through Districts, and getting past the first round of Regionals would be a huge goal for us,” senior guard Joslyn Bronkhorst said. “It would be awesome for us to win Regionals, but we will see. Having to beat a team three teams (in Districts) can be tricky, but I think we can do it.”
VanHekken has relied heavily on Bronkhorst and Groenheide. Both have been staples in the program as four-year varsity players.
“We rely on them every day in practice and in the offseason being in the gym,” VanHekken said. “They stay after and shoot, and they are an extension of my voice to the girls. They know expectations, and they deliver.”
A total of six seniors are on the roster. Other main contributors to this year’s success have been seniors Franesha Robinson and Annaka Ediger, junior Ashlyn Wolfran and sophomore Bria Schrotenboer.
“I think on any given night we can compete with some of the better teams,” VanHekken said. “We haven’t seen many teams from the other side of the state, but we feel good about what we have done this year and I think we’ve made a name for ourselves as a team to beat.”
Hamilton, which features an up-tempo offense and pressure defense, doesn’t have a high-scoring superstar on the team.
Instead, it’s a balanced group that shares in the scoring load.
“I have maybe one girl averaging 12 points a game, but I have four or five kids averaging between 8 and 10 points,” VanHekken said. “I love coaching that type of team. I don’t like running a particular set for one kid. I just love running a motion game that is pretty equal for everybody. They can play team basketball, and it’s just fun to play that way.”
Defense has been a main emphasis, according to VanHekken. The Hawkeyes have held opponents to 30 or fewer points eight times.
“They’ve bought in, and they’re enjoying it,” he said. “They understand that deflections can lead to steals, and steals to points.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Hamilton's Bria Schrotenboer maintains possession against Byron Center this season. (Middle) Senior Franesha Robinson handles the ball in the post against Hudsonville Unity Christian. (Photos courtesy of Covering Hawkeye Sports.)