Flint Northwestern Honored In Legends
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE --November 16, 1999
Contact: John Johnson or Andy Frushour-- 517.332.5046
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Nov. 16 - A back-to-back winner of Michigan
High School Athletic Association Class A girls basketball championships
in 1983 and 1984, Flint Northwestern High School will be honored
through the Association's "Legends Of The Games" program
at ceremonies at halftime of the Class A championship game of
the 1999 Girls Basketball Finals at Rose Arena in Mt. Pleasant
on December 4. The Class A game begins at approximately 1 p.m.
In its third year, the Legends program promotes educational athletics
by showcasing some of the great teams of past years. At least
seven members of those teams are expected to be in attendance
to receive commemorative plaques and a banner to display at the
school during the ceremony.
(The story that follows was written by MHSAA Historian Ron Pesch
of Muskegon, for this year's MHSAA Girls Basketball Finals Souvenir
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
For 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
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 in game six. 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
Northwestern, 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-ups in the spring of 1975 - one in basketball and one
in track. The girls cage squad advanced to the 1975 quarterfinals
before rise of Northern.
Once again, the Wildcats 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 before a packed house. Edwards finished with a game-high
24 points and five assists.
With the win, Northwestern began their rapid assent 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 formable tests.
The second scheduled showdown with their cross-town nemesis was
a battle for first place in the conference. Northern, 11-3 overall,
was still smarting from the early season defeat - 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 exited 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 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.
Northern hit 2-of-4 from the free throw line. 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 turn."
Northwestern 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.
A win over Waterford Kettering set the stage for a rematch with
Farmington Mercy in the semis. The Marlins concentrated on shutting
down Edwards, holding the sophomore to 12 point. 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 championship contest a year previous
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 final game.
It was Zoll's 100th career coaching victory.
With a 50-47 win in the Class A Final, Northwestern had finally
burst into the spotlight. Harper Woods Regina, the opponent in
the championship game, nearly prevented the dream from coming
true. 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 - her seventh of the game - 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
A three-second violation called on Regina forced a turnover and
Northwestern worked the clock. Center Shanta Burks took a quick
pass from Wills and scored the final points from under the basket.
Following the game, Zoll was quick to praise his assistant coach,
Tony Holliday, for the success of the team.
"This young man really dedicated himself with these girls
and gave them the knowledge and discipline they needed to succeed."
With 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. A 58-52 victory
over Farmington Our Lady of Mercy in the fourth game of the year
was the tightest margin.
Edwards again paced the team, averaging over 24 point per game,
while Wills earned all-state honors at forward. The team tore
through the district and regional rounds of the tourney with
ease. In the regional championship game, Traverse City controlled
the pace and avoided a blowout, but still fell, 34-25. Victories
over Pontiac Northern and Detroit Cass Tech boosted the team
into the finals for the second time.
A total team effort was require 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 personal 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 at Western Michigan University's Read Field House. 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 their winning streak to 39
consecutive headed into the 1985 campaign. Edwards, now 5-11
and a 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.
Again, the Lady Wildcats advanced through the tournament into
the Class A title game. This time, however, they were stopped,
45-36, by Detroit Martin Luther King.
Edwards was held to 14 points, but ended her
career as the state's all-time leading scorer with 2,307 points.
"It 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."
Expected to be in attendance at the awards ceremony are (List
accurate as of Nov. 15 - All last names are from playing days):
Head Coach Roger Zoll
Tonya Edwards - Number 32/33 - Forward - 1982-85
Stephanie Tipton - Number 22/23 - Guard - 1983-85
Taraisa Willis - Number 30/31 - Forward - 1982-85
Carolyn Neal - Number 40 - Forward/Center - 1983-86
Paulette Backstrom - Number 10 - Guard - 1982-85
Saroya Pendleton - Number 44 - Forward - 1981-83