By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
With 20 seconds remaining in Tuesday night’s victory, the Ravenna student section started chanting:
That was about as wild and crazy as the Bulldogs got after a truly historic achievement – moving to 20-0 and wrapping up the first-ever perfect boys basketball regular season in school history with a 71-51 victory over host Fruitport Calvary Christian.
Afterward in the locker room, one of the players wrote the following message on the whiteboard:
“That’s been our philosophy all year,” explained first-year Ravenna coach Courtney Kemp, whose team is ranked No. 5 in the final Associated Press state rankings. “I remember seeing 0-5 and 0-6 up there. We want to play with the humility, the hunger and the sense of urgency of a team that is desperate to get a win.”
The Bulldogs know they have accomplished something truly special on the hardcourt, an achievement that will be talked about in the small farming community in eastern Muskegon County for years to come.
They also know that they can’t afford to celebrate it right now, as they will be hosting a grueling Division 3 District, starting with a third showdown on Monday against West Michigan Conference rival North Muskegon (14-5). If they survive that, stern tests loom against a pair of tournament-savvy teams in Kent City and Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
“It’s a season to remember, for sure,” said 6-foot-5 senior center Jacob May, who scored a team-high 21 points with five rebounds in Tuesday’s regular-season finale. “It’s been a blast. Our goal was to put a banner up in the gym and we got that conference title, but we can’t be satisfied with that.”
May is one of five senior starters who rose above some early setbacks to win the school’s first boys basketball conference championship in 40 years and first outright WMC title in 47 years. It was the school’s third boys basketball championship in 51 years in the WMC.
The perfect season becomes more impressive when you consider that the team lost its coach in June, when Justin Johnson left after five years to take the same job at Division 1 Muskegon Mona Shores. Johnson, whose teams won a combined 16 games over his first three years, guided the ‘Dogs to a breakthrough 15-7 finish last year and their first postseason win in more than a decade.
In August, star guard Josh Cox suffered a serious knee injury in the season-opening football game against Hopkins. Then in November, 6-5 senior Grant Parker learned he needed surgery and decided not to play basketball to recover in preparation for his college football career at Saginaw Valley State.
The ‘Dogs have never used any of those losses as an excuse, instead wearing down one opponent after another with their deep, senior-laden roster.
The strength of the team is a versatile front line of three seniors – May (14 points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots per game), 6-4 Calvin Schullo (14 points, five rebounds) and 6-4 Hunter Funk (nine points, 8.5 rebounds, four assists).
Kemp, who served as Ravenna’s junior varsity coach under Johnson, also brings good length off the bench in seniors Jack Emery (6-3) and Dom Mabrito (6-2) and junior Joel Emery (6-1).
The backcourt is in the hands of senior football standouts Connor Kilbourne and Trevor Sterken, with sharpshooter Dom Jones coming off the bench.
“They are all so competitive,” said Kemp, who like Johnson before him, played high school basketball at Unionville-Sebewaing. “Our depth is one of the biggest reasons for our success, which makes a huge difference in games and in practice. These guys go at each other hard every day, and it makes them better.”
That depth was on display Tuesday against Fruitport Calvary, which came out on fire from long range but ultimately couldn’t keep up for four quarters. May and Schullo were the only two Bulldogs in double figures, but 10 of the team’s 12 players scored.
Ravenna’s quest for perfection was tested during four consecutive road games in mid-February. The Bulldogs edged Wyoming Potter’s House on Feb. 11, then survived their closest call with a 54-52 win at North Muskegon two days later. Next came Ravenna’s most impressive win, a 70-36 overwhelming of neighboring rival Muskegon Oakridge on Feb. 18, followed by a win at Scottville Mason County Central to improve to 17-0.
Schullo said one of the biggest motivators was a pair of heartbreaking losses on the football field – during the regular season against Oakridge and a season-ending loss to Montague in the Division 6 District championship game.
“They took it from us in football, so we were determined to get it back in basketball,” said Schullo, who scored 13 points Tuesday.
The challenge now for Ravenna is to exhale, momentarily, and enjoy a historic hardcourt achievement at a school known statewide for football – boasting MHSAA Finals championships in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2003 – while simultaneously preparing for a tough District where everyone will be out to hand the Bulldogs their first loss.
“It sounds funny to say, but we still don’t feel like we’ve accomplished anything yet,” said Kemp, who is assisted by Andy May and Tim Jones. “That has to be our mentality because teams are going to be gunning for us next week. We can celebrate 20-0 later.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ravenna’s Jacob May attempts a free throw during a win this season. (Middle) Calvin Schullo operates the offense under the watchful eye of Bulldogs coach Courtney Kemp. (Photos courtesy of the Ravenna High School yearbook staff.)