2014 Sports Year in Review: Part Two

As 2014 comes to a close and 2015 begins, the Pioneer is taking a look back at the top 10 sports stories from this past year, finishing up with stories one through five today.

We hope you enjoy the look back at 2014 as we look forward to another great year of local sports action in 2015.

WHAT A YEAR: (TOP LEFT) Ferris State junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan (15) shakes out of a tackle against Grand Valley State in September. Vander Laan was named the 2014 Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the most outstanding player in Division II in December, marking the first time a Bulldog has won the award in the program’s history. (TOP RIGHT) The Ferris State hockey team celebrates after defeating Lake Superior State, 2-1, in the regular-season finale in March at Ewigleben Ice Arena to clinch an outright Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) regular-season title for the team’s second conference title in three years. (BOTTOM LEFT) The Chippewa Hills girls track and field team celebrates with the 2014 MHSAA Division 2 Track And Field State Championship trophy after the Warriors clinched their first MHSAA state title in program history with 34 points at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids on Saturday (BOTTOM RIGHT) Ferris State football coach Tony Annese (right) holds up the number three after beating Grand Valley State for the third time in a row in September. The Bulldogs recorded their first 11-0 regular season in program history in 2014, earning them their first outright GLIAC title and playoff berth since 1996. (Pioneer file photos)

WHAT A YEAR: (TOP LEFT) Ferris State junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan (15) shakes out of a tackle against Grand Valley State in September. Vander Laan was named the 2014 Harlon Hill Trophy winner as the most outstanding player in Division II in December, marking the first time a Bulldog has won the award in the program’s history. (TOP RIGHT) The Ferris State hockey team celebrates after defeating Lake Superior State, 2-1, in the regular-season finale in March at Ewigleben Ice Arena to clinch an outright Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) regular-season title for the team’s second conference title in three years. (BOTTOM LEFT) The Chippewa Hills girls track and field team celebrates with the 2014 MHSAA Division 2 Track And Field State Championship trophy after the Warriors clinched their first MHSAA state title in program history with 34 points at Houseman Field in Grand Rapids on Saturday (BOTTOM RIGHT) Ferris State football coach Tony Annese (right) holds up the number three after beating Grand Valley State for the third time in a row in September. The Bulldogs recorded their first 11-0 regular season in program history in 2014, earning them their first outright GLIAC title and playoff berth since 1996. (Pioneer file photos)

1. Ferris State quarterback Jason Vander Laan wins the Harlon Hill Trophy

This year, there were plenty of great stories of success for athletes in our coverage area, but the biggest story this year is the dominance Ferris State junior quarterback Jason Vander Laan displayed this season to become the first Bulldog in program history to win the Harlon Hill Trophy as the most outstanding player in Division II.

Vander Laan received 152 total points, including 34 first-place votes, to edge Henderson State (Ark.) senior quarterback Kevin Rodgers by eight points to become not only the first Bulldog in the program’s 106-year history to win the award, but also only the third player from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) to take home the trophy.

The dual-threat quarterback led the Bulldogs this season with 1,466 rushing yards with 20 touchdowns while completing 183-of-275 passes for a career-high 2,381 yards and 30 scores. He led the nation in rushing at all NCAA levels and was first in Division II in points responsible for (300) and third in passing efficiency (170.2).

The play of Vander Laan helped Ferris State have the second-best total offense in Division II (524.8 ypg) on the way to a school-record 559 total points this season, with Vander Laan individually breaking the previous program records for total offense and career rushing yards in 2014.

Vander Laan was always quick to deflect credit from himself to his teammates and coaches, but the defensive coordinators already have to be losing sleep knowing Vander Laan will be coming back next year for his senior season.

2. Ferris State football makes history

While Vander Laan was recognized with the highest individual honor, the entire Bulldog team worked together to record what could arguably go down as the best season in the 106-year history of Ferris State football program.

After a 7-4 overall record in the first year of FSU head coach Tony Annese’s tenure in 2012 and an 8-3 overall mark in 2013, Annese and the Bulldogs had plenty of pressure to meet the expectations everyone had for the 2014 season.

The Bulldogs not only met those lofty expectations, they blew them out of the water as they ran the table for the first 11-0 regular season in school history, the first undefeated regular season since 1995 and the team’s first outright Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) title since 1996.

Ferris State made the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and got to host Ohio Dominican in the second round after a first-round bye, but a 46-33 defeat at the hands of the Panthers left a sour taste in the Bulldogs’ mouth.

This was no doubt a historic season for the FSU program, but the fact the Bulldogs are not satisfied with what they accomplished in 2014 should put a little fear into the rest of the GLIAC heading toward the 2015 season.

3. Ferris State hockey cements its national presence

Since a surprise ride all the way to the 2011-12 Frozen Four and a berth in the national championship game that season, the Ferris State hockey team finally seemed like it had finally broken onto the national scene.

While some people thought that improbable run to the title game was somewhat of a novelty act, the Bulldogs 2013-14 season proved that “Bulldog Hockey” was here to stay.

There were some questions coming into the season, with the Bulldogs moving over from the disbanding Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), but Ferris State immediately proved they wouldn’t have a hard time with the transition.

FSU would go on to reel off a school-record 16-game unbeaten streak after starting with a 3-2 record and wouldn’t suffer a loss in its first 12 WCHA games to sit at No. 2 in the country in the national polls at the end of 2013 as they headed to the holiday break.

The Bulldogs were riding high when their record unbeaten streak finally came to an end on Jan. 4 with a loss to Colgate in the finals of the Mariucci Classic, but it was the adversity the Bulldogs faced in the second half of the season that proved they were for real .

Ferris State swept Michigan Tech the weekend following the Mariucci Classic, but a sweep at the hands of Minnesota State amid a three-game losing streak over the next two weeks would cut the Bulldogs’ cushion atop the WCHA standings to just a two-point lead over the charging Minnesota State.

At a time the Bulldogs could have wilted under the pressure and allowed the Mavericks to remain the top dogs atop the WCHA, FSU finished the regular season with a 4-2 mark in its final six games to come away hoisting the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA regular-season champions.

That led to another trip to the NCAA Tournament that saw the Bulldogs advance all the way to the Elite Eight before suffering a 2-1 double overtime loss to North Dakota State in the regional final.

Big Rapids is familiar with “Bulldog Hockey,” but the 2013-14 season proved the entire nation should get comfortable seeing it on the national stage.

4. Chip Hills grad Kristen Hixson sets national record in pole vault

There have been several prep athletes in our coverage area who have went on to have success on the collegiate level, but very few break a national record.

That’s exactly what Grand Valley State’s Kristen Hixson, a 2010 graduate of Chippewa Hills High School, did in 2014 when she blew away the competition as she set a national NCAA Division II record in the pole vault with a vault of 14-9 1/4 on her final jump at the Outdoor Track and Field Championships at the GVSU Track and Field Stadium on May 22.

The jump not only broke the previous championship, facility and GVSU records, it also was the fourth-best jump in the United States in 2014 and the eighth-best mark in the entire world, which has qualified Hixson for the Olympic trials.

The victory gave Hixson her third national title in the event after winning both the indoor and outdoor titles in 2012 but according to Hixson, she said she never could have envisioned herself having the kind of success she’s had in college without the support and coaching she received with the Warriors in high school.

With Olympic aspirations, it might not be too long before we see Hixson trying to break a world record in the near future.

5. Warrior girls win first state title in track and field

The track and field program Hixson came from at Chippewa Hills has a long and storied history of success, but 2014 saw the Warriors do something they’ve never done before when the Chippewa Hills girls won their first MHSAA Division 2 Track And Field Championship in June.

The Warriors came into the final race 10 points ahead of Lansing Waverly and the foursome of Emonee Anderson, Jennifer McNeal, Megan O’Neil and Nicole Snyder used every last bit of energy they had to secure a sixth-place finish in the 1,600 relay (4:03.87), clinching the state title with 34 points to edge out second-place Lansing Waverly, which scored 31 points.

Chippewa Hills didn’t win an event the entire day, but they scored highly in six of their events to add their first MHSAA state title trophy to a trophy case that already features 12-straight Central State Activities Association (CSAA) titles, three-straight regional crowns and their first Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association (MITCA) Division 2 state title, which came the weekend before the MHSAA state finals.

It also marked the end of O’Neil’s tremendous career with the Warriors before the senior joined the University of Wisconsin track and field team this fall. She capped off her stellar prep career with second-place showings in the 800 (2:17.09) and 1600 (4:53.92) in addition to being part of the 1600-relay team and joining Kylie Schafer, Emily Starck and McNeal on the 3200-relay that placed fifth to earn O’Neil four All-State medals in her final state meet. O’Neil came in as the defending champion in the 800 and 1600.

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