Lanthorn sports writer Eli Ong reflects on Lanthorn career as he prepares for Medill


Eli Ong, Staff Writer

There’s this quote that goes, “life is a journey with problems to solve and lessons to learn, but most of all, experiences to enjoy.”

My experience as a sportswriter at the Lanthorn began two years ago, and as I reflect on my time here, it is clear that this experience has been an overwhelmingly enjoyable one.

In two years, I have written 75 articles (with this being my 76th) and covered 12 different varsity and club athletic teams — men’s and women’s cross country, football, DII club hockey, men’s and women’s basketball, softball, baseball, boxing club, men’s and women’s golf, and soccer — at Grand Valley State University.

I have also had the pleasure of covering a number of unique events and happenings at GVSU, including a pair of hall of fame induction ceremonies, Rally with the Rapids, and the evolution of club sports under former associate director of campus recreation, Eric Garvelink, who has since taken over club sports at the University of California, Los Angeles.

In terms of special moments, I have covered a no-hitter, a national championship victory in double OT, a national player of the year, a national academic player of the year and a runner who placed high enough to be considered an All-American at the DI level, among many other memorable events.

With all of these special moments in my mind as a sportswriter, I’ve decided to break down my favorite experiences through a series of award categories. So without further ado, let’s kick them off.

Best Game I Covered: December 14, 2019 — GVSU Soccer vs. Western Washington, 1-0 (2OT)

I would argue this is the best college game that I have ever watched, regardless of division or sport. I mean, how can you beat a sudden death, game winning goal in double overtime to bring home a national championship after your team was outshot 22-7 in regulation?

This game is right up there with the 2017 DI College Football National Championship and the 2016 NCAA DI Men’s Basketball National Championship. Absolutely iconic.

Best Team I Covered: 2019 GVSU Soccer

This was an easy choice. 25-1 overall record, a national championship, 9-0 in conference play without conceding a single goal, a first in GLIAC history. GVSU outscored opponents 117-10 on the year, which was a program record for goals and 32 more than the second place program nationally. The Lakers also had the nation’s leading goal scorer and assister, the National Player of the Year and six All-Americans. This team was ridiculous, in short.

Most Dominating Athlete: 1st — Allison Lipovsky (Softball), 2nd — Riko Sagara (Soccer)  

Lipovsky and Sagara are hands down the two most talented athletes that I have covered at GVSU. What gives Lipovsky the edge however, is that every time she stepped in the circle, it was almost a guaranteed shutout and, even more, so a victory.

Lipovsky graduated GVSU holding nine single-season program records including wins (33), shutouts (18), strikeouts (362), strikeouts looking (98), and innings pitched (252.0) from her senior season, in which she won DII national pitcher of the year. She also holds the career program record for lowest opponent batting average (.154) and strikeouts per seven innings (9.76). In terms of other stats, Lipovsky ranks second in career shutouts (44), strikeouts (968), strikeouts looking (235) and third in earned run average (1.04)

In her second year as a Laker, Sagara led the country in points scored and assists for the Lakers soccer program. The senior midfielder from Tokyo, Japan brought home multiple national player of the year awards and was the only player in DII women’s soccer to record 20-plus goals and 20-plus assists on the year.

Although Sagara only played two seasons at GVSU, she also graduated with the second-most assists all-time in program history with 46.

Favorite Athlete(s) to Interview: Tie — Ava Cook (Soccer) and Rylan Peets (Baseball)

This was a tough decision to make. I’ve covered both of their careers for an equal amount of time and I wasn’t able to lean either way.

Cook was GVSU soccer’s vocal and emotional leader out on the pitch this year and that high level of energy and enthusiasm definitely permeated through to any time I was able to interview her.

While some athletes are a little gun shy when talking to the press after games or for profiles, Cook never was. I would equate interviewing her to feeling like you are a teammate reliving a win with her after the game.

We could trade barbs and joke around a bit, but still get down to the nitty-gritty of what went on during GVSU’s match that day. If watching GVSU Soccer beat teams to a pulp from an air-conditioned press box week after week wasn’t enough, Cook’s personality post-game definitely made covering GVSU soccer all the more enjoyable.

The first time I interviewed Peats, I hung up the phone fully ready to run through a brick wall for the guy and I wasn’t even his teammate.

Okay, so full disclaimer: I grew up loving and playing the game of baseball. It was the foundation of my livelihood for the first 18 years of my life and I definitely am a little bit biased toward America’s pastime, but that doesn’t change how blown away I was with Peets.

I have always had tremendous admiration for those who both love their craft and work tirelessly on it, and that is Peats to a T. The way he described his passion for baseball and his story of how he got involved with the sport was nothing short of inspirational.

On top of that, anyone that I have talked to about Peets has returned rave reviews about his work ethic, personality and character. Whether it be current teammates and coaches commenting on his competitive fire, or his high school coach and parents of former teammates telling tales about how he would stay after varsity practice to work with JV players on their game, I was always left impressed with what I heard.

That competitive fire has continually shined through on and off the field for Peats at GVSU, as he won GLIAC Freshman Pitcher of the Year at the end of the 2019 baseball season and appeared to have added 15-20 lbs of muscle over the offseason in preparation to perform even better this year, before spring sports were cut short due to Coronavirus.

In short, if I could have picked who I played baseball with growing up, this guy definitely would have made the short list of players that I would have chosen.

Favorite Coach(es) to Interview: 1st — Jamie Detillion (Baseball), 2nd (tie) — Carl Trosien (DII Club Hockey), Jeff Hosler (Soccer)

My bias once again shines through, although Trosien gets extra points for being the best communicator and Hosler gets extra points for having the most swag.

Being able to sit down next to Detillion in the dugout after home games last year was my favorite part about being a sportswriter for the Lanthorn. Everyone who has loved playing a sport has a place where they feel at peace, whether that place is a court, a field, or a diamond.

Although last season was an anomaly in the history of GVSU baseball, sitting in that dugout and breaking down each day’s action with Detillion was my place of peace and I am extremely thankful for having had the opportunity to partake in those experiences.

Trosien was probably the easiest coach to communicate and coordinate interviews with over my two years. He was always kind, cordial, and frank when pointing out where his team needed to improve. He definitely made my job at the Lanthorn a hell of a lot easier.

Hosler definitely has the most swagger of any coach that I met and I have strong respect for his shoe game on the sidelines as well. He is the tall and confident type with a winning smile who’s knowledge of the game of soccer is rarely rivaled at the DII level and that never failed to shine through in his post game interviews. His quotes were always crisp, detailed, and never lacked in content that I could add to my stories.

Most Inspirational Stories: Rally with the Rapids, Blake Vershum (Baseball)

Rally with the Rapids was an inspirational event and arguably my favorite story that I covered at GVSU. Vershum is the most inspirational athlete that I have met in my time at GVSU.

Rally with the Rapids is an annual Special Olympics basketball game held between GVSU and Ferris State’s Special Olympics districts at the GVSU Fieldhouse.

The first time I covered the event, Rally with the Rapids was in its first year, so I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that there was going to be an organized basketball game for kids with special needs from the area played at the fieldhouse and that it was put on by a class of students from the sports management program at GVSU.

What I walked into was nothing short of amazing to behold.

The atmosphere of the game reflected the energy of a college basketball game, as each team had a pregame starting lineup introduction, GVSU’s cheerleaders and dance team led celebrations from the sidelines throughout the game, two GVSU basketball players had a dunk contest at halftime, and the crowd of what seemed like more than 1,000 buzzed with electricity as each shot, block, or steal was made by either team.

For a group of Special Olympics athletes who may not have otherwise had an opportunity to be celebrated the way they were that day, it was something magical to behold and it was clearly evident on their faces after the game. It is an experience I will never forget.

Vershum is actually my latest story ironically enough, but that does not mean that he has not been the most impactful athlete that I’ve interviewed at GVSU.

Vershum, who under normal circumstances would currently be filling the role of utility man for GVSU baseball–hopping between catcher, corner outfielder, and pinch runner–is now back in his hometown balancing the duties of being a full time student with being a full time firefighter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Detillion lauds Vershum as being the hardest working athlete that he has ever been around since he started coaching college baseball and it is evident in Vershum’s attention to detail that he adheres to in his day-to-day life. Vershum, like Peats, would also make that short list of players that I would have liked to have played with growing up.