The team.

The South Christian High School girls' golf team embraces as a group at Diamond Springs Golf Course in Hamilton at the Division 3 Regional last week. (Photo: Courtesy South Christian High School)
The South Christian High School girls' golf team embraces as a group at Diamond Springs Golf Course in Hamilton at the Division 3 Regional last week. (Photo: Courtesy South Christian High School)
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The Sailors last week courageously played and won the Division 3 regional at Diamond Springs Golf Course in Hamilton. Their title came only a day after losing coach Rob Van Dyke, a 22-year South Christian math teacher who died in a Georgetown Township bicycle-automobile accident.

Their triumph came in the wake of tragedy, something not simple to do or easy to overcome regardless of the circumstances.

"It's been a wild week," said South Christian High School Athletic Director Curt Copeland, a longtime colleague of Van Dyke's. "A lot of thoughts and prayers have been shared ... over each other."

The Sailors are playing in the Division 3 state finals today and Saturday at Michigan State University's Forest Akers East Golf Course in East Lansing.

Taking part are seniors Rachel Theule, Lauren Hofman, Marissa Smits and Nicole VanderYacht and juniors Hannah DeVries and Nicole Hoekwater. That they are doing so is no small feat, especially given the trauma and tears they have trudged through with much familial and community support and prayers over the past week or so.

"It's been just like an emotional roller coaster, all those emotions, because he's no longer there," Theule says.

"We had no doubt that we knew we had to play at the end of the day. ... We definitely knew we had to do it for him."

South Christian competing in the state finals is a tradition under Van Dyke, who has coached the Sailors' girls the past 19 years and had also coached boys' golf. He led South Christian's girls' teams to Division 3 state titles in 2009 and 2007 and state runner-up finishes in 2011, 2008, 2007, 2003 and 2002.

'It was really tough'

The South Christian High School golf team has found support from its school, its families and "the second family" of the team itself after losing coach Rob Van Dyke. (Photo: Courtesy South Christian High School)
The South Christian High School golf team has found support from its school, its families and "the second family" of the team itself after losing coach Rob Van Dyke. (Photo: Courtesy South Christian High School)
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However, Van Dyke was more than just a coach and teacher for South Christian. He was a settling influence, with a jovial demeanor and a faith-filled passion. He cared in a deep way, and his Sailors' team truly embraced him.

Last "Wednesday was hard," DeVries said. "The whole thing. There was crying. ... There was laughing. It was all in that one day.

"Having the support of our school ... and our families helped."

When South Christian boys' coach Mark VanStee and girls' junior varsity coach Shari Cashen were hurriedly forced to fill in, it came with the firm realization they could never quite fulfill what Van Dyke's presence meant for the team.

The 54-year-old's loss was an immediate shock. The Oct. 7 accident on 36th Avenue between Baldwin Street and Port Sheldon Road came in the morning and Van Dyke died later the same day at Spectrum Health's Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids, authorities said. He had received CPR on the scene and the driver involved had called 911.

"It was really tough," VanStee said. "For me, because I knew him so well, ... it's great memories we want to create."

It's been a matter of moving forward, he said. "We stil want to do well. We don't want to sandbag it. But we try to tell the girls 'don't try too hard.'"

That was the foundation for the regional, do your best because that's what VanDyke would want.

"So, we talked about what a beautiful day it was," VanStee said. "I said, 'Let's spend another week together.

"It'll be beautiful."

It was. South Christian won the regional with 357 strokes, 18 ahead of Lakewood and 20 in front of Grand Rapids Christian. The Sailors were led by Hoekwater's runner-up individual medalist finish to Lakewood's Emily Barker.

'Last week was crazy'

Theule and DeVries says the girls' found solace in the support they found from each other and others surrounding them.

"The last week was crazy," DeVries said. "It was the full range of emotions coming together at once.

"I was kind of angry that God took him away. Why now? It's been a mess."

The remaining constants with Van Dyke's loss -- funeral services were last Friday at Hudsonville Reformed Church for the married father of three -- has been the golf and "the second family" of the team, Theule said.

"They've been very distracted because of that," Copeland said. "It's been fortunate that they've had that."

With the fortitude and perseverance they found in claiming the regional and advancing to the state finals, the Sailors, perhaps, played better than they had all season.

While South Christian had won all three Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold Division jamborees this fall, the Sailors had been runner-up to Catholic Central in the OK Gold Conference tournament. They were ranked fifth in Division 3 in the latest Michigan Interscholastic Golf Coaches Association poll.

VanStee says he's now going to do what he can in coaching South Christian this weekend.

"I just don't know," he said. "I don't know. ... But I do know we'll do our best."

South Christian is one of 15 teams competing in the Division 3 state finals, which also include Catholic Central, Forest Hills Eastern, Grand Rapids Christian, Lakewood and Spring Lake in addition to individual qualifiers from Cedar Springs, Coopersville, Hastings, Plainwell and Wayland Union.

Athletes of the Week

At a time of sadness and with our condolences for the loss, a heartfelt congratulations to South Christian's Hannah DeVries, Nicole Hoekwater, Lauren Hofman, Marissa Smits, Rachel Theule and Nicole VanderYacht, from Meijer and WGRD in addition to Channel 95.7, 100.5 The River, 98.7 WFGR and 1410 AM The Touch.

UPDATE: South Christian Takes Eighth at State Finals

Led by VanderYacht's 18-hole rounds of 87 and 93 for a 36-over-par 180 at Forest Akers East Golf Course, South Christian came in eighth with 743 (366-377).

Spring Lake won with a 36-hole total of 659, 18 strokes ahead of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood. Spring Lake was led by Anna Kramer's 78-75--153, three strokes behind individual medalist Cordelia Chan of Cranbrook-Kingswood.

For South Christian, Hoekwater shot 91-92--183, Theule 90-96--186, Hofman 104-97--201 and Smits 97-106--203.

Forest Hills Eastern was sixth with 369-354--723, led by Henna Singh's 82-80--162 and Megan Skoog's 83-82--165 as both finished in the top 10 individually. Lakewood was seventh with 371-367--738, led by Emily Barker's 79-81--160. Catholic Central was ninth with 372-372--744, led by Gabrielle Wierda's 87-88--175. Grand Rapids Christian was 12th with 393-395--788, led by Anna Prince's 94-96--190. Wayland Union's Ali Martus took 10th as an individual state finalist with 84-82--166.

Coach Rob VanDyke and the South Christian High School girls' golf team pose for a group photo for the 2014 season. (Photo: Geskus Photography)
Coach Rob VanDyke and the South Christian High School girls' golf team pose for a group photo for the 2014 season. (Photo: Geskus Photography)
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