KINGSLEY — Everybody likes winning, and in Kingsley, the Stags have developed a knack and a taste for it.
The run of success for the overall athletic program at Kingsley, a Class B school on the lower end of the enrollment range, was unparalleled during the 2018-19 school year by other area schools. Varsity programs brought home four conference championships, five district titles and numerous individual accolades over the past year, making Kingsley the Record-Eagle sports department’s choice for 2018-19 School of the Year.
“It’s not just one moment but a multitude, the whole year,” Kingsley athletic director Mitch Miggenberg said when asked for his top moment. “There are five or six different things that I could pick.”
The championship teams the Stags fielded represent a good starting point to tell the story of the school’s recent athletic prowess, but even all those trophies fall short in representing the totality of competitiveness and success Kingsley showcased during the last year. And fall, winter and spring seasons each had teams with teams spurred on by state championship aspirations.
The Stags became a force of nature with its hot start in the early months of August and September, riding its own momentum through May and June.
Most believed Kingsley volleyball was headed for another 50-win season behind the likes of Jessica Lefler, Austyn DeWeese and Brittany Bowman — who eventually was named the 2018-19 R-E Female Athlete of the Year — and hype began to build around the football program with the return of Tim Wooer, who coached the Stags to a state title in 2005 and later became the head coach at Traverse City West for a decade.
The volleyball team met expectations, and accomplished a program first by defeating rival and long-time boogeyman Cadillac to capture its first Division 2 regional championship and reach the state quarterfinals. The Stags bowed out in the quarters, but finished with a 51-11-4 record. Coach Dave Hall was later named the R-E’s Volleyball Coach of the Year.
“We had never won a regional or advanced past Cadillac,” Hall said. “That was a big deal.”
Hall could feel the school building off the energy the volleyball and football teams were trading between games each week. While his team’s success was expected, even with Wooer back on the sideline, the football team’s run was anything but guaranteed.
Wooer inherited a team that was 1-8 the year before and hadn’t won more than six games in a season since he last coached it. He was cautious with his own optimism heading into the season, but something clicked and suddenly Kingsley showed flashes of the gridiron powerhouse it had been more than a decade ago.
The Stags went 10-2, winning a district championship, only denied a league crown and further postseason advancement by the same team, twice — Traverse City St. Francis.
“Magical. Special. I get a little choked up thinking about it right now,” Wooer said. “I’ve never seen a team change as that group did. It was an amazing experience. We were bad in a lot of ways and we can sit back and chuckle and laugh now, but I don’t think I can give enough credit to the kids for our success. To watch their work habits change and belief and confidence grow right in front of my eyes was a unique experience.”
Wooer, who was named the R-E’s Football Coach of the Year, and other coaches expressed great satisfaction in the participation of so many athletes across different sports participating in before-school weights and conditioning in the district’s new weight facility. Wooer said more than 55 student-athletes regularly attend “zero hour” class and that it shows the dedication so many have to their respective sports.
“I think there was a strong shared amount of pride throughout all our programs as the school year went along,” Wooer said. “I think I was simply impressed at how eager our kids were to be great. I think that speaks for all sports.”
Ayden Mullin, Nate Ames (football), Lefler, DeWeese and Lark Jankewicz (volleyball) were all named R-E Dream Teamers. Kingsley’s fall season also featured two runners compete at the state cross country meet — Jacob Lathrop and Lauren Wooer.
“It was a lot of fun right from the get go,” Miggenberg said. “It’s neat to see how the community rallies around our athletic program. It carried into the winter and not necessarily a surprise, but our spring season, it was a really cool thing to see the success in the spring.”
With the change in seasons came a shift of focus to girls basketball. The Stags reached the Final Four the year before and were hoping for a repeat run.
Bowman helped lead the Stags within inches of repeating as Northwest Conference champions. Kingsley opened the year 16-2 and unbeaten in league play, but stumbled in its final two games. Glen Lake edged the Stags for the league title, but Kingsley rebounded with three straight playoff wins to win a district championship before an overtime loss to Menominee ended another potential run to the Final Four.
Bowman was named to the R-E Dream Team.
Aidan Shier qualified individually for the Division 3 state wrestling championships.
“Success breeds success,” Hall said. “Kids want to be part of successful programs. It helps you moving forward. We want to continue and take the next step (as an athletic program). The kids are going to work a little harder to not be the team that doesn’t win it.”
Nobody wanted to say the success of the spring season was unexpected, but nearly everyone qualified it that way.
Kingsley baseball won its first Northwest Conference title in 13 years. Girls soccer won its first Northwest Conference title ever and advanced to the district finals. Softball upset Kalkaska en route to a district championship.
Those titles came alongside conference and regional crowns in boys and girls track and field, which historically have fielded more successful teams.
“It was very shocking at first,” girls soccer coach Amanda Field said. “We had seven new players who hadn’t played soccer before or since they were younger. We just kind of took it game by game and it amounted to the huge wins at the end ... Volleyball and basketball have been good. Keeping that consistency. Soccer, we’re never one of the top teams.”
Much like the fall successes of volleyball and football pushed one another, Field said the success, particularly among girls teams, did the same in the spring.
“We won the Kalkaska tournament, girls track won and then softball won their Kingsley tournament,” Field said. “It was fueling on those other team’s successes. Collaboratively doing well.”
Bowman was named the Female Track and Field Athlete of the Year in addition to her overall Female Athlete of the Year. Eight other Kingsley athletes were named to respective Dream Teams in the spring: Jankewicz (softball), Aspen Reamer (girls soccer), Collin Graham, Jacie King, DeWeese (track and field), Owen Graves, Jake Radtke and Joe Lewis (baseball).
“Since Mr. Wooer came back and pushed zero hour … he started a tradition of everybody working hard,” said Bowman, a three-sport standout. “Before, it was some people working hard. Now, it’s everybody.”
Ron Hessem (boys track and field) and Bruce Graves (baseball) were each named R-E Coach of the Year in their given sports.
Over the course of the year number Kingsley athletes signed with play at the college level as well.
“I just think there is a common, shared excitement whenever you have success or a winning program or programs” Wooer said. “I think perhaps even more unique when you can see the quality of kids that go through too.”
Miggenberg said the work of Kingsley’s student athletes is a direct reflection of the parents raising them.
“People in Kingsley get excited when our programs are good. You’re seeing that on the field. The kids are excited to play at our home venues,” he said. “You can look up and down our athletic program and the support we have is really, really good. We have really good parents. Our kids success speaks to how they were raised.”
School of the Year: Kingsley