Landing Memorial Cup Tops Sports Stories for 2023

    Additional Reporting by
    icon Jan 11, 2024
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Year after year we record – and applaud - the top sports and athletic accomplishments from throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region, whether they come from individuals, teams, or organizations.


For 2023, the region’s top sports story comes from the sport of ice hockey. The Saginaw Spirit, with the aid of several community stakeholders, scored a coup when they bid on and eventually won the rights to host the 2024 Memorial Cup Tournament. It marks the first time that the Canadian Hockey League’s championship event – often dubbed as the Super Bowl of Canada – will be held in the United States in 26 years, and the very first time that it will take place in an American Ontario Hockey League city.


Awarded to the best team in junior hockey, the Memorial Cup is one of the most coveted trophies in the sport and it has shaped the way junior hockey is played in North America. First awarded in 1919, in remembrance of the many soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice for Canada in the First World War, the Memorial Cup was rededicated to the memory of all fallen Canadian Military Personnel in 2010.


Saginaw Spirit owner Richard Garber and president/managing partner Craig Goslin led a contingent that traveled to Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada, to watch the 103rd Memorial Cup championship, which determines the champion of the Canadian Hockey League (CHL). Garber and Goslin came away with the steadfast mindset “why not us?” The first point person they contacted was Dr. Annette Rummel, president/CEO of the Go Great Lakes Bay Region CVB. Rummel jumped on board during the bid process and has been working feverishly since.


But it took plenty of advance work and planning before the Spirit franchise could put their best foot forward with its bid package. The Dow Event Center, owned by Saginaw County, needed serious upgrades. To the tune of nearly $10 million. The Saginaw County Board of Commissioners voted affirmatively for the upgrades, which include new/updated locker rooms, additional suites, updating of ice-making equipment, bathrooms in the suite and press area, upgraded lighting, and numerous cosmetic changes. Additionally, major upgrades were made to the parking ramp adjacent to the event center.


The Memorial Cup Tournament presented by Dow will be held over nine days from May 24-June 2, 2024. All games will be played at the Dow Event Center. Officials estimate that the economic impact on the region will be upwards of $25 million.


Hemlock Girls Win State Basketball Championship


The Hemlock High School girls’ basketball team capped off the 2022-23 season with its first-ever state championship with a 59-43 win over Blissfield in the Division 3 title game at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University. Hemlock was led by senior guards Regan Finkbeiner and Chloe Watson with 19 and 18 points, respectively, while junior center Lauren Borsenik chipped in with 16 markers.


Hemlock shot a remarkable 88 from the free throw line, going 22 of 25. Finkbeiner was a perfect 7-for-7 from the foul line while Watson made 11 of 13 free throws. The Huskies, who finished the season 26-3, forced 17 turnovers while limiting the Blissfield offense to just six assists. Hemlock head coach Scott Neumeyer was named the Division 3 Coach of the Year and Finkbeiner was named to the All-State team.


Isom Named Winner of the Harry Hawkins Award


Braylon Isom of Heritage High School capped his record-breaking senior season by being named the winner of the fifth annual Harry Hawkins Award. The award, patterned after college’s Heisman Trophy, is presented by the Saginaw Club and is awarded to Saginaw County’s top senior football player.


The Heritage wide receiver broke a 22-year-old Michigan High School Athletic Association record for receiving touchdowns in a career with 52, breaking the record J.T. Jones of Ithaca High School set in 2001. Isom, a 3-star prospect who has committed to Miami (OH), also set a record for career receiving yards with 3,830. He is the son of Dean and Carrie Isom of Saginaw Township. Isom also received All-Saginaw Valley League first-team honors as well as being named to the Associated Press Division 1-2 All-State first team.


The other Harry Hawkins Award finalists included Nouvel Catholic Central’s Preston Otter and Freeland High School’s Samuel Talaga.

Previous Hawkins award winners include Brady Devereaux of Hemlock High School (2019), Christopher Parker of Heritage High School (2020), Cole Lindow of Frankenmuth High School (2021), and Gabe Blanchard of Freeland High School (2022).


Jebb Drafted in 2nd Round by the Pittsburgh Pirates


In the 2nd Round of the 2023 Major League Baseball Draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Mitch Jebb from Michigan State University. Jebb, a graduate of Swan Valley High School, played three seasons at MSU from 2021-23. In 147 games at Michigan State, he hit .327 with 7 home runs and 97 RBIs, while also walking 82 times to 68 strikeouts for a .413 on-base percentage.


Since getting drafted Jebb has played 34 games for Low-A Bradenton, hitting.297 with 1 home run and 13 RBIs but also walked 17 times and struck out just 11 times, leading to an OBP of .382. With his above-average speed, he could also be a stolen base threat. In those 34 games, he stole 11 bases while getting caught once. Jebb can play multiple positions, including second base, third base, and shortstop.


Freeland’s Hansen Shines at State Cross Country Meet


Freeland High School junior T.J. Hansen has aspired all season to become a state champion cross country runner. He accomplished that goal with an astonishing, record-breaking time in winning the Division 2 boys’ final at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Hansen, who averaged split times of well under five minutes per mile, turned in an outstanding time of 14:52.8 to break the previous D-2 record of 15:02.5 set by Richland Gull Lake’s Kurtis Marlowe in 2000. Hansen’s time was not only a D-2 state record but also is tied for the seventh-fastest time in Michigan High School Athletic Association history across all divisions.


Carrollton to Name Gymnasium After Ron Vondette


Ron Vondette, who helped put the Carrollton High School’s boys’ basketball program on the state map, will be honored by the Carrollton School District on December 19th. The gymnasium floor at the high school will now be called the Ron Vondette Court. Vondette began his storied basketball coaching career in Carrollton in 1960 at the junior high level. In 1965 he was named the varsity boys coach at the high school and held the position until 1994 (27 years). Along the way he racked up an impressive 425-164 record, with 20 league championships, seven district titles, four regional titles, and his 1969-70 Cavalier team was the Class B runner-up, finishing the season with a splendid 23-1 record.


Vondette was the first director and co-founder of the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan and was an Executive Director of the BCAM for 20 years. He was inducted into the BCAM Hall of Fame in 1990, the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 1993, the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Arthur Hill High School Letterwinner’s Hall of Fame in 2012.


The National High School Basketball Coaches Association’s Court of Honor was established to recognize individuals who have contributed to the growth of the NHSBCA and had an impact on scholastic basketball nationally. Vondette was inducted in 2020 – just the third person from the state of Michigan to attain such an honor.


Six Individuals, Two Nouvel Basketball Teams Enter SCSHOF


On November 5th, the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame honored its 2023 induction class at the Horizons Conference Center. Individuals inducted included Saginaw News/MLive Sports Reporter Hugh Bernreuter (Frankenmuth High School), professional football player Alfonso Boone (Arthur Hill High School), Hemlock softball coach Larry Graf, Michigan State University basketball standout Tori Jankoska (Freeland High School) NBA star Jason Richardson (Arthur Hill High School), track standout Don Voorheis (Frankenmuth High School), Central Michigan University softball pitcher Jenni (Rasmussen) Kammer (Swan Valley High School), Saginaw Valley State University football standout Ken Tolfree (Merrill High School), and the 2006 and 2008 Nouvel Catholic Central girls state championship basketball teams.


Finkbeiner, DeBeau named Dr. Tom Slade Award Winners


Hemlock High School’s Regan Finkbeiner and Frankenmuth High School’s Dalton DeBeau are the recipients of the 2023 Dr. Tom Slade Student/Athlete of the Year award that is presented annually by the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame. Finkbeiner was a multi-sport athlete for Hemlock, earning 15 varsity letters in basketball, volleyball, softball and track and field. She is the all-time leading scorer in Hemlock girls’ basketball history with 1,520 points. DeBeau, meanwhile, excelled in football and track for Frankenmuth, winning back-to-back state championships in the discus.


Eight individuals, One Team join SVSU Cardinal Athletic HOF


Saginaw Valley State University’s Cardinal Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 was composed of five student-athletes, two coach/administrators, one athletic department contributor, and one team. The inductees were John Darga (cross country/track and field), Becca (Rudey) Schlaff (track and field), Andrea Buxton (volleyball), Elizabeth (Liz) Mulvaney Garcia (track and field), Dale Brown (men’s basketball), Robert Maybouer (track and field) Dr. Robert Pratt (men’s basketball), Joe Vogl (contributor), and the 1997 national championship bowling team. Brown was a three-sport standout at Carrollton High School before excelling on the hardcourt for the Cardinals. Mulvaney Garcia, a multi-sport standout at Hemlock High School, earned NCAA All-America status in the shot for SVSU.

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