Practices Begin For Fall Sports Teams
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Practices for Grayling High School’s fall sports – football, volleyball, cross country, boys soccer, and girls golf – began this week, and many teams will play in their season openers soon.
All of the varsity head coaches from last year are back for another season: Eric Tunney (football), Brad Wagner (boys soccer), Tim Zigila (volleyball), Justin Andre (cross country), and Brad Duncan (girls golf).
In years past, Michigan high school football programs have started their practices earlier than other sports, but the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) made some changes this year, allowing football, cross country, and soccer to start practicing on the same day, Monday, August 12.
“Football practice traditionally begins before the rest of fall sports, by rule on the 16th Monday before Thanksgiving. However, a change approved by the MHSAA Representative Council will allow sports with MHSAA Finals tied to a specific weekend every fall – for example, Lower Peninsula Cross Country Finals always are the first weekend in November – the opportunity to begin practice on that 16th Monday as well, which will keep those teams from losing about a week of practice and competition during ‘late’ Thanksgiving years when the holiday is during the fourth full week of November. Volleyball and Lower Peninsula girls swimming and diving – which, like football, have Finals tied to Thanksgiving – are not affected by the lateness of the holiday and will begin practice Wednesday, August 14, keeping with their traditional starts,” according to the MHSAA.
The varsity football program from Grayling High School started its official practices for the 2019 season on Monday.
“They’re tweaking the offense a little bit to fit the mold of the guys we have,” said Nate Maury, Athletic Director for Grayling High School. “The big thing right now is we’re a little bit down in numbers. We’re looking at a lot of kids having to play both ways.”
Grayling is still in the Legends Division of the Northern Michigan Football Conference for football. The division this year will feature the same teams as in 2018: Benzie Central, Boyne City, Cheboygan, Grayling, Kalkaska, Kingsley, and Traverse City St. Francis.
Maury said the 2020 season in the Legends Division will feature changes.
Sault Ste. Marie and West Branch Ogemaw Heights are joining the conference in the Legends Division. Kalkaska and Boyne City will be moving to the Northern Michigan Football Conference’s Legacy Division.
“It’s just a straight swap,” Maury said.
This year, the Vikings will open their varsity football season with a nonconference home game against the Roscommon Bucks at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 29.
Grayling’s second varsity football game of 2019 – slated for Friday, September 6, at 7 p.m. at Viking Stadium – will be a league contest vs. the Cheboygan Chiefs.
The Vikings will then play conference road games at Kingsley, Boyne City, and Traverse City St. Francis. Grayling will play at Benzie Central, host Ogemaw Heights, and play on the road at Glen Lake in its last three regular season games.
This summer, the MHSAA announced that significant changes for the football playoff system have been approved and will go into effect in 2020. The adjustments will eliminate the automatic playoff berths for six-win teams.
Maury said all schools will be put into divisions and the top 32 teams in each division according to playoff points will earn spots in the postseason. Maury said the new system is more “strength of schedule-based” and less reliant on win totals.
“The changes are designed to reward teams that play more successful opponents,” according to the MHSAA. “Beginning with the 2020 season, eight divisions will be determined before the season, and 32 playoff qualifiers from each division will be selected at the end of the regular season based on playoff-point average – there no longer will be automatic qualification based on win total. The adjusted playoff points formula will award bonus points for all opponents’ wins, regardless of whether the team beat or lost to those opponents. Currently bonus points are awarded only if the team defeated an opponent. More points also are awarded for defeating teams from larger divisions.”
“The Football Committee proposed these changes believing the bonus points received for a ‘good loss’ – combined with the elimination of automatic qualifiers – will be enough incentive for teams to schedule more successful opponents, easing the annual difficulty in football scheduling and taking away arguably the most cited reason for the breakup of leagues and conferences,” according to the MHSAA.
The Grayling High School soccer program started its official practice sessions on Monday.
“Numbers are good,” Maury said. “We’re right around 20. It could always change with the number of foreign exchange students we get.”
Maury said one of the squad’s main challenges will be replacing its starting goalkeeper, but he expects the team to have another good year. The Vikings were 11-4 during last year’s regular season.
“I expect us to be as strong as we have been,” Maury said.
The boys soccer team from Grayling High School will open its 2019 season with a home game vs. Benzie Central at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, August 19.
The MHSAA made a change to its postseason for soccer, implementing an adjustment to the district tournaments with a seeding process.
“Beginning with the 2019-2020 school year, girls and boys basketball and soccer will employ a seeding process to place the top two teams in every district on opposite sides of that bracket, guaranteeing those two teams could not play each other before the district championship game,” according to the MHSAA. “The two teams to be seeded in each district will be determined using a Michigan Power Ratings computer formula based on regular-season results against other MHSAA tournament-eligible teams and opponents’ strength of schedule. The MHSAA will draw all brackets two weeks before the start of district play. After the top seeds are determined and separated to opposite sides of the bracket, the draw process will place the remaining teams on the bracket based on a randomly selected order determined earlier in the season. However, the draw process does not guarantee the seeded teams will receive byes or serve as home teams.”
Volleyball teams in Michigan were slated to start practicing on Wednesday, August 14.
Grayling’s first varsity meet – the Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart Invitational – is scheduled for Saturday, August 24. The Vikings will host Reed City and Oscoda on Tuesday, August 27.
“He loses a couple seniors that were starters but they have a good group of sophomores and juniors from last year,” Maury said.
The school plans to have three volleyball teams this year. In past seasons, the program hasn’t always had enough for a freshman squad. Last year, the Vikings had a varsity team and two junior varsity squads. Maury said this year’s program will have a JV “A” and a JV “B” team like last year, or a JV team and a freshman team.
“That’s kind of the key there, giving kids the opportunity to play. Having two levels at the JV level will allow those girls extended playing time,” Maury said.
Maury said the Grayling High School cross country team has solid numbers this year.
“They should have enough for a full team, a boys team and a girls team,” Maury said. “Sixteen, seventeen kids, pretty much split between boys and girls.”
The program had a camp slated for its first few days of official practices. For its normal practice sessions, the team runs at Hanson Hills Recreation Area.
The team has a meet slated for Monday, August 19, at Houghton Lake and the East Jordan Invitational on Wednesday, September 4. The Charlevoix Mud Run is slated for Saturday, September 7.
At the end of the 2019 season, Grayling will host the Lake Michigan Conference championship meet at Hanson Hills.
“It’s the first time we’ve had the chance to host that,” Maury said.
Maury said they’re planning to alter the current course, removing one of the hill climbs.
“A little flatter course,” Maury said. “They’ll have to run up the hill once, not twice. That’s been a key part of that race. We’re not taking it out.”
The girls golf program is still working on increasing its overall numbers and experience level.
“Six girls signed up. The good news is half those girls are returning golfers,” Maury said.
Last year, the group had only one returner.
This year, Maury said players have been playing on their own at the Grayling Country Club prior to the start of official practices.
“I look for each of those girls to continue improving,” Maury said.
The golf team’s first meet of 2019 is slated for Friday, August 16, at Kalkaska.