During 1983 and 1984, Flint Northwestern stepped out of rival
Flint Northern's shadow and into the spotlight as the premier
girls basketball team in the state.
an effort to promote educational athletics by showcasing some
of the great teams of past years, the Michigan High School Athletic
Association instituted a program called "Legends Of The Games"
in 1997, which honors its third girls basketball school at halftime
of the Class A Final this weekend.
For five seasons, Head Coach
Roger Zoll and his Flint Northwestern basketball squad patiently
waited for their turn. Each year, the lofty accomplishments of
their Saginaw Valley Conference rival, Flint Northern, overshadowed
the success of the Wildcats program.
half a decade, Northern had ended Northwestern's tournament dreams.
In four of those five seasons, 1978 to 1981, Northern finished the
year as Class A champions. In 1982, it earned MHSAA runner-up
honors. Sporting six seniors, Northern's 1983 squad was again
favored to make a sixth consecutive trip to the final round.
On the other
side of town, Zoll had assembled a starting five comprised of
all underclassmen. Led by juniors Taraisa Wills, Paulette Backstrom,
and Cynthia Lyons, and sophomores Shanta Burks and Tonya Edwards,
the Wildcats were young but experienced.
In 1982, they opened the
season with five consecutive victories before losing to Northern.
The margin was 15 points, but Zoll's starting lineup included
only one senior. Edwards, a 5-8 freshman guard, scored 31 points
in that game. With a full season under her belt, Edwards was already
a highly regarded player.
1983, the Wildcats again recorded five straight victories before
their conference showdown with unbeaten Northern. Zoll's squad
opened up a 31-11 lead midway through the second quarter, as Northern
suffered from poor shooting, fouls and turnovers. Northwestern
fought off a third-quarter rally by the Vikings and coasted to
a 60-46 win before a packed house. Edwards finished with a game-high
24 points and five assists.
the win, Northwestern began its rapid ascent to the top of the
state rankings. The Wildcats were unbeaten in 15 straight, but
the season was far from over. The rematch with Northern was the
first in a pair of formidable tests.
second scheduled showdown with their crosstown nemesis was a battle
for first place in the conference. Northern, 11-3 overall, was
still smarting from the early season defeat &SHY; its only loss
in conference play. A crowd of 1,300 watched the host Vikings
jump out to a 17-2 lead in the first quarter, and a 36-23 halftime
advantage. Yet, thanks to solid play and Northern foul trouble,
Northwestern roared back and left the gym with a 68-57 victory.
Edwards notched 29 points, while Backstrom added 19, including
10 without a miss from the free-throw line. Coming off the bench
to help the inside game, Wills added 14 points.
Four days later, Zoll's squad
met defending Class A champ, Farmington Our Lady of Mercy. Northwestern
watched Mercy erase an eight-point deficit in the final minute
of regulation and steal a 51-48 victory in overtime.
In the opening rounds of
the tournament, both Northern and Northwestern trounced their
opponents en route to the seemingly inevitable showdown in this
civil war. Edwards scored 12 in the first half, but the Vikings
led 20-19 at the intermission. But once again, foul trouble doomed
Northern. Neither team shot well from the field, but the Wildcats
were 18-of-30 from the charity stripe. Wills dominated the inside,
scoring 10 of her 11 points in the second stanza while senior
Soroya Pendleton came off the bench to score seven.
"We've been knocking
on the door," said Zoll after the game "Now it's our
disposed of Midland Dow and Flint Kearsley in the Regionals and
after five years, the city of Flint was sending a new representative
to the Quarterfinals.
win over Waterford Kettering set the stage for a rematch with
Farmington Mercy in the Semifinals. The Marlins concentrated on
shutting down Edwards, holding the sophomore to 12 points. This
time a new underclassman emerged as the hero. Freshman guard Stephanie
Tipton nailed three 14-foot jump shots at the start of the fourth
quarter to lead the Wildcats to a 44-41 victory. Mercy, which
had defeated Northern in the Finals the previous year with a fourth-quarter
rally, pulled to within a point with 2:46 to play. This time however,
Northwestern held the Marlins scoreless in their final four possessions
to advance to the title game. It was Zoll's 100th career coaching
a 50-47 win in the Class A Final over Harper Woods Regina, Northwestern
finally burst into the spotlight, but it was anything but easy.
The Saddlelites had easily handled Northwestern's powerful press
and led by four, 47-43, with 4:23 to play.
The Wildcats buckled down
defensively. Wills scored on a rebound to pull within two. On
the inbound pass, Backstrom came up with a steal &SHY; her seventh
of the game &SHY; and dished off to Edwards who tied things up
with 3:34 left. Cynthia Lyons added a free throw with 58 seconds
remaining to push the Wildcats into the lead.
A three-second violation
on Regina then allowed Northwestern to work the clock. Center
Shanta Burks took a quick pass from Wills and scored the final
points from under the basket.
the game, Zoll was quick to praise his assistant coach, Tony Holliday,
for the success of the team.
young man really dedicated himself with these girls and gave them
the knowledge and discipline they needed to succeed," Zoll
which opened its doors in the fall of 1964, had never won an MHSAA
title in any sport. The boys produced a pair of runner-up teams
in the spring of 1975 &SHY; one in basketball and one in track.
The girls cage squad advanced to the 1975 quarterfinals before
the rise of Northern.
all five starters returning, Northwestern was the natural pick
to return to the Finals in 1984. The Wildcats did not disappoint,
cruising through the regular season undefeated.
Edwards again paced the team,
averaging over 24 points per game, while Wills earned all-state
honors at forward. The team tore through the District and Regional
rounds of the tourney with ease. Victories over Pontiac Northern
and Detroit Cass Tech boosted the team into the Finals for the
total team effort was required in the championship game with Benton
Harbor. Edwards, who finished with a game-high 17 points, missed
the majority of the second quarter after picking-up her third
foul. Wills, one of six seniors playing their final prep game,
pulled down 10 boards. She was one of three Wildcats with eight
points as Northwestern defeated the Tigers, 48-38. Senior Darcyl
Abernathy and sophomore Janice Cooper stepped in and helped the
Wildcats go on a 7-0 run during Edward's absence.
With the win, Northwestern
extended its winning streak to 39 heading into the 1985 campaign.
Edwards, now a 5-11 senior, was joined by Burks, Tipton, Cooper
and Carolyn Fitzpatrick in the starting lineup, and the team was
poised for a third consecutive trip to the championship game.
Conference rival Midland Dow stopped the winning streak at 45,
but it was the only blemish on an otherwise flawless season.
Wildcats advanced through the tournament to the Class A title
game. This time, however, they were stopped, 45-36, by Detroit
Martin Luther King.
was held to 14 points, but ended her career as the state's all-time
leading scorer with 2,307 points.
would have been nice to win again," said Edwards after the
game, "But I'll settle for what I've won. I've been to the
top before and nobody can take that away from me."
Ron Pesch is the historian
for the MHSAA. To submit story ideas and potential statistical
records, write to Pesch at 1317 Lakeshore Drive, Muskegon, MI