Onekama’s Buswinka, Thomas qualify for state finals

BELMONT — The Onekama ski team extended its season this week, as a pair of Portagers punched their tickets to the Division 2 state finals with some strong regional performances at Cannonsburg Ski Area of Belmont.

Joe Buswinka — a Manistee Catholic Central senior on the co-op Onekama team — led the way by qualifying in the both the slalom and giant slalom, while freshman teammate Kylar Thomas made the cut in the giant slalom.

The two secured their spots to compete individually, while representing the Portagers, in the state finals on Feb. 25 at Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls.

“Joe has worked so hard at this,” said Onekama coach Curt Mathieu of Buswinka. “This was his year. He’s just been phenomenal, and his leadership on the team this season has been unbelievable.”

Buswinka placed second in the boys giant slalom among nearly 70 skiers competing in the Division 2 regional on Wednesday, clocking a combined two-run time of 58.43. He took fifth in the slalom with a combined time of 1:05.56. A top-10 finish in regional competition automatically qualifies a skier to the state finals.

“I can’t say enough about the young man,” Mathieu said. “He started with us as a boy and has become a young man. It’s pretty awesome.”

Buswinka is no stranger to the state finals, having qualified the past two seasons with the Portagers.

“I truly believe he is All-State first-team capable, which is top 10 (in both events),” Mathieu said. “Could he win it? I think he’s got a chance. If everything lines up, I really think he could.”

While Buswinka will carry experience into the state finals, Thomas will be making his debut at high school skiing’s highest stage.

“Kylar has earned this,” Mathieu said. “He’s really grown into a strong racer this year. He changed his style, changed up his lines, and fine tuned the little things that he needed to throughout the year.”

Thomas placed 11th in the giant slalom with a combined time of 1:00.62, but was still able to qualify to state due to a large number of skiers from East Grand Rapids — which qualified as a team — placing in the top 10.

“There was room for another individual (outside of the top 10) to qualify and he was right on that bubble,” Mathieu said. Thomas also placed 16th in the slalom in 1:09.75, but did not qualify in that event.

Overall, the Onekama boys placed seventh of 11 teams at the regional, totaling 225 points as East Grand Rapids took the crown by scoring 46. The Portager girls placed 10th with 272 points as Forest Hills Central topped the field with 64.

Rounding out the boys giant slalom for Onekama was Briten VanVoorst (49th place, 1:08.99 combined time), Colin VanVoorst (50th, 1:09.79) and Andrea Scarfone (51st, 1:11.11). Scarfone placed 45th in the slalom in 1:21.64 while Colin VanVoorst was 47th (1:27.60) and Briten VanVoorst was 48th (1:32.39).

The Onekama girls had a bittersweet end to their season, as sophomore Alora Sunbeck and freshman Michayla Bell put together blazing runs in the girls slalom, but finished 11th and 12th, respectively, to just miss out on qualifying for the state finals.

“When they found out they weren’t going, obviously it’s heartbreaking to be that close but their attitudes are always awesome,” Mathieu said. “Those two girls have just worked their tails off. They’ve changed their style of skiing and racing, and the results show it.

“Michayla’s a freshman and Alora’s a sophomore, so for them to do as well as they did, you’ve got to be proud of them, and they’ve got to be proud of themselves.”

Mathieu believes this is just the start to a couple incredible careers.

“I had really hoped that they would have made it to state, but next year I guess I would just expect it,” he said. “They’re so close now, and they just work so hard at it, I can’t imagine them not going next year.”

Rounding out the girls slalom for Onekama was Carmen Diez (46th, 1:39.04), Heloise Decoster (47th, 1:40.75), Hilda Anthun (50th, 1:48.44) and Camilla Blohm (52nd, 2:11.26).

In the girls giant slalom, Sunbeck placed 25th in the combined time of 1:04.26, followed by Bell (26th, 1:04.40), Decoster (50th, 1:14.13), Anthun (55th, 1:19.79) and Elena Cunsolo (57th, 1:34.99).

“I was super proud of all of them, just for how far I’ve seen them come since the beginning of the season,” Mathieu said of his team as a whole. “Some of these kids are exchange students who have never done this. Some have only skied a few times in their life, so for them to come out and be able to race at regionals is incredible.

“They take this seriously but still have fun doing it, and they’re super supportive of each other,” he added. “Not one of our kids went inside until the last racer came down the hill. They all cheer for each other and they work with each other to get better.

“As a coach, what more can you ask for?”

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