Accomplished Official Also at Home in Huddle Guiding Vandercook Lake Comeback

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

January 11, 2022

JACKSON – Cory Ray is right where he is supposed to be.

The second-year Vandercook Lake boys basketball coach has the Jayhawks off to their best start in years, setting up a key Cascades Conference battle for tonight against another undefeated team, Napoleon.

After spending a decade as a basketball referee in southeast Michigan, Ray has thrown his passion into coaching. It’s been an interesting transition, but one he is thoroughly enjoying.

“I never thought I would switch over to being a coach,” Ray said. “It’s been crazy, but I’m enjoying it.”

Ray is a 2003 Vandercook Lake graduate. He played basketball for the Jayhawks but soon found his calling as an umpire in baseball and basketball official. He has climbed the ladder as an umpire; he worked the MHSAA Finals a few years ago, moved up to NAIA and Division III and now regularly is called for Division I college games. 

His basketball career took a turn when Vandercook Lake needed a junior high coach.

“I started talking to them about it,” Ray recalls. “I started doing that, and coaching just grew on me.”

When the Jayhawks varsity position opened in 2017, he applied, but didn’t get the job. He wasn’t discouraged.

“I didn’t get it because of a lack of experience,” he said. 

He kept coaching at the junior high level. Before the pandemic, he finally got his chance. 

Vandercook Lake basketball“I don’t want a varsity job anywhere but Vandercook Lake. I always figured if I am going to put that kind of investment and time into a head coaching position, I want it here, where I went to school, where my kids go to school,” he said. “If I’m going to do it, I want to do it in the place where I am from.”

Ray, 37, lives in the district and his wife Sarah is the Jayhawks cheer coach. One of their daughters is in the eighth grade. 

He’s thrown himself into the job and helped the Jayhawks taste success after a couple of down years. The 2017-18 team won only two games, and the 2019-20 team just four.

Last year Vandercook Lake went 9-9 in the shortened season, encouraging Ray about this winter. The seniors last year, he said, helped bring along the younger players.

“I had a great relationship with them,” he said. “They really set the foundation for this year’s team.”

The 6-0 start, however, is more than even Ray could have imagined. The 12-player varsity roster includes 11 seniors.

“I knew we could be good,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how good.”

One of the reasons Ray was confident about this season was the return of 6-foot senior Demarion Smith. “It’s always a good starting point when you have someone who averaged 21 points a game come back,” Ray said.

Smith’s presence gives opposing defenses plenty to think about. But he’s far from being the only scoring threat on the roster.

“We have shooters everywhere,” Ray said.

Anthony Jimenez has had some big games already. Jermaine Buckner is the true point guard who runs the show. Tyrell Showers and Avery Pierce are on the verge of breakout seasons.

Against Manchester last week, Buckner nearly recorded a triple-double with 26 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and five steals. An earlier game, he hit four triples in the first half to keep the team close before the others got hot.

“Doing what he does really opens up the floor for Smith and Jimenez,” Ray said. 

Since Ray knew he had an offense to count on, he spent the summer and preseason focusing on defense.

Vandercook Lake basketball“We knew our focus had to be on the defensive end. We knew that had to be good. Plus, we do a nice job of crashing the boards,” he said. “If we can hold teams in the 30s and 40s, it’s going to be hard to lose. We have a couple kids on the verge of being big-time players for us. I see a lot of growth on the floor.”

The community has bought into the team, too, supporting the Jayhawks at every turn, from being in the stands to helping the team give back. 

“The thing that I’m most happy and impressed with is how the community has responded and supported,” he said. 

The transition from referee to coach gives Ray a different perspective. 

“Being a high school basketball coach has made me a better umpire,” he said. “Being on both sides, you can see the investment the coaches put in and why they care so much. It definitely gives you a different perspective. You start to see both sides of it. You get why the coaches are so intense, so into the games.”

It’s still early in the season, but tonight’s matchup between the Jayhawks (6-0) and Napoleon (6-0) has the makings of a beauty. It could be viewed as a possible changing of the guard in the conference, lately dominated by Hanover-Horton, which has won or shared league titles seven of the past eight seasons but is off to just a 2-4 start.

Vandercook Lake last won Cascades Conference titles in 2011 and 2012. Napoleon hasn’t won one since 2008-09.

“You love to see someone from your area, your conference, do well. But, at the same time, you like to see someone else give it a run,” Ray said. “We just have to continue to play with the same identity we’ve been playing.”

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Vandercook Lake coach Cory Ray huddles with his team during a timeout this season. (Middle) Ray and two of the community’s youth players show off championship hardware. (Below) Jayhawks fill a grocery cart during a Christmas shopping trip to benefit a local family. (Photos courtesy of the Vandercook Lake boys basketball program.)

Breslin Bound: 2022-23 Boys Quarterfinal Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 21, 2023

It finally feels like spring, at least here in East Lansing. And tonight, 32 teams will attempt to build into their spring breaks a trip to Breslin Center.


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Below is a glance at all 16 of tonight’s Quarterfinals across four divisions, with all games tipping off at 7 p.m. unless noted. Winners advance to Thursday and Friday’s Semifinals, and we’ll detail the teams more then as we preview those concluding rounds of this year’s tournament.

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Division 1

Ann Arbor Huron (23-2) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (25-1) at University of Detroit Mercy, 5:30 p.m.

After an early postseason exit last season, 2021 Division 1 runner-up Huron has put together another deep playoff run. Sophomore guard Macari Moore leads three players averaging double-digit scoring at 17 points per game. After winning its first Regional title last season since 1998, Cass Tech is back at the Quarterfinals for a second straight March. Darius Acuff is another super sophomore, also leading three double-digit scorers at 21.6 ppg to go with 5.8 assists per contest.

Grand Blanc (24-2) vs. Rochester Adams (17-8) at Lake Orion

Last season’s runner-up is two wins away from playing for another title, but this time the Bobcats are led by first-year coach Tory Jackson. Seniors Tae Boyd (15.4 ppg) and RJ Taylor (14.3) are a strong 1-2 punch. Adams is coming off its first Regional title in this sport, with junior 6-foot-7 football standout Brady Prieskorn among top contributors for a Highlanders hoops team that has won seven of its last nine games.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (14-10) vs. Warren De La Salle (17-8) at University of Detroit Mercy

These Detroit Catholic League Central rivals will meet for the third time, with St. Mary’s winning the first matchup by 17 on Jan. 10 and the reigning Division 1 champion Pilots taking the rematch by 12 on Jan. 31. Sophomore Trey McKenney is a force at 25.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game for the Eaglets, while Phoenix Glassnor is another sophomore standout leading De La Salle at 18.4 ppg.

Muskegon (24-2) vs. East Lansing (16-9) at Caledonia

East Lansing has won six straight and 12 of its last 14 games, with three of those wins over opponents responsible for four of their losses this winter. Only one starter is a senior, and sophomore Cameron Hutson leads the way at 19.3 ppg. Muskegon is in the midst of a ninth 20-win season over the last decade and earned its first Regional title since 2015. Senior Jordan Briggs (18.7 ppg) has qualified for the MHSAA single-season record list with 84 3-pointers, connecting on nearly 40 percent of his tries from beyond the arc.

Division 2

Cadillac (22-4) vs. Saginaw (20-6) at Alma

The Trojans are seeking their first Semifinal appearance since 2013 and have lost only to Division 1 opponents this season, with guard Javarie Holliday leading a mostly senior-powered lineup at 15.8 ppg. Cadillac also won its Regional last season and is seeking to return to the Semifinals for the first time since 2015, with 6-6 junior Charlie Howell the leading scorer (15.3 ppg) and rebounder (7.4 rpg).

Ferndale (18-8) vs. Goodrich (22-4) at Lake Orion, 5:30 p.m.

The Eagles are working to reach Breslin and the Semifinals for a third-straight season and have won 13 of their last 14 games while navigating a power-packed schedule again this winter. Senior Chris Williams leads a balanced lineup at 13.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Goodrich is a combined 93-20 over the last five seasons and playing to make the Semifinals for the first time with senior Jack Locey (18.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.0 spg, 45 3-pointers) among those filling the stat sheet.

Hudsonville Unity Christian (18-9) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (23-3) at Calvin University

These rivals will be filling Calvin for a rematch after South Christian won the regular-season meeting 58-50 on Dec. 16. The bad news for the Sailors is they lost leading scorer Carson Vis (17.7 ppg) to injury in the Regional Final, but senior Jacob DeHaan (13 ppg) leads three others averaging at least 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Unity has won 11 of its last 12 games, with two-point upsets of Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Grand Rapids Christian along the way. Juniors Trayton Fisher and Colin Neiuwenhuis both average about 11.5 points per game and have combined for 97 3-pointers.

Chelsea (21-5) vs. Romulus Summit Academy (24-2) at Milan

These are two more teams looking to reach the Semifinals for the first time, Summit having played in a Quarterfinal as recently as 2021 and Chelsea’s last trip to the season’s final week in 2000. Juniors Jacob Stephens (22.7 ppg) and Joseph Cabana (22.2) set a strong pace for the Bulldogs. The Dragons have doubled up all four of their postseason opponents so far and done the same in 16 wins total this winter.

Tri-unity Christian’s Roy Fogg pulls in a loose ball during his team’s Regional championship victory over Lansing Christian.

Division 3

Detroit Loyola (25-1) vs. Flint Beecher (21-4) at Waterford Mott

A 67-58 loss to Division 1 Flint Carman-Ainsworth on Jan. 29 remains the only defeat on Loyola’s list this winter. All five starters are seniors, with Dashawn Martin (15.1 ppg) leading three averaging double-figure scoring. Beecher’s losses were to Division 1 and 2 opponents, including three playing tonight. Robert Lee leads a senior-dominated lineup at 24.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game as the Bucs attempt to make the Semifinals for a third-straight season.

Laingsburg (25-0) vs. Ecorse (19-4) at Ypsilanti Lincoln

The Wolfpack’s closest game this season was seven points, its Regional Semifinal win against Jonesville, as it attempts to reach Breslin for the first time since 2013. Junior Zander Woodruff is averaging more than a point per minute of playing time, leading at 24.4 ppg. Ecorse is seeking a return trip to the Semifinals and has won 17 of its last 18 games. Senior guard Malik Olafioye also is putting the finishing touches on a high-scoring career.

St. Ignace (22-4) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (22-4) at Gaylord

St. Ignace is playing in its first Quarterfinal since 2001, seeking to reach the Semifinals for the first time since 1983. Junior Jonny Ingalls (22.4 ppg) leads three Saints averaging at least 13, plus he’s dishing 5.4 assists per game. St. Francis has won 11 of its last 12 games with that lone loss to Cadillac (see above) in overtime in the regular-season finale. Senior Wyatt Nausadis has paced the scoring at 20.1 ppg after quarterbacking the football team to a Division 7 runner-up finish in the fall.

Pewamo-Westphalia (19-6) vs. Niles Brandywine (24-2) at Portage Central

Brandywine has reached the final week for the first time with its first Regional title, and its only losses this season remain against Division 2 Benton Harbor. Junior Jaremiah Palmer leads a lineup with four players averaging at least 9.7 ppg at 12.9 per game. P-W is making its second-straight Quarterfinal appearance after edging North Muskegon by three and then Grandville Calvin Christian by two last week. Senior Jamison Eklund is averaging 22.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

Division 4

Painesdale Jeffers (25-1) vs. Munising (24-1) at Negaunee

The Upper Peninsula is guaranteed to send a one-loss team downstate to the Division 4 Semifinals, and for both programs it would be a first-time trip. Jeffers is playing its first Quarterfinal, and Munising its first since 1954. Junior Levi Frahm leads four Jets scoring in double digits at 20.5 ppg, while senior Kane Nebel is surrounded by a similar balanced attack and leads four double-digit scorers at 15.8 ppg.

Taylor Trillium Academy (21-3) vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (15-11) at West Bloomfield

Trillium is another first-time Regional champion, taking this step after falling just a four-point loss shy of reaching the Quarterfinals a year ago. Senior DaMaryon Fishburn is averaging 22.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game for the Wildcats, and junior Keymarryon Fishburn adds 15.3 ppg. Cardinal Mooney has won seven of its last nine games to reach the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2016 and after falling in Regional Finals the last two seasons – avenging the 2022 loss to Genesee Christian to advance. Senior Trent Rice leads three double-digit scorers at 12.9 ppg.

Frankfort (17-8) vs. Hillman (22-4) at Gaylord, 5 p.m.

Frankfort is another team on a nice streak with eight wins over its last nine games including 50-44 over 2022 semifinalist Lake Leelanau St. Mary in last week’s Regional Final. Senior Emmerson Farmer and sophomore Carter Kerby supply the backcourt with between 10-11 ppg apiece. This will be Hillman’s fourth Quarterfinal over the last nine seasons as the Tigers seek their first Semifinal trip. Trenton Taratuta is a big-time scorer averaging 27.4 ppg with 60 3-pointers but also 9.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 5.2 steals per game.

Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (20-6) vs. Kalamazoo Phoenix (17-2) at Richland Gull Lake

This is a familiar spot for Tri-unity Christian, the reigning Division 4 champion. All five starters average between 6-13 ppg and four have high games of at least 20 points this season; senior Roy Fogg tops both lists at 13 ppg and 25, respectively. This is new territory for Phoenix, which won one game just two seasons ago but has won 10 in a row heading into this week. Senior Cameron Lewis-Atkins (19.9 ppg) leads five players averaging 11 or more points per game. Phoenix avenged one of its losses, to Eau Claire, in the Regional Semifinal.'s weekly “Breslin Bound” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTOS (Top) A fan holds up a sign supporting Painesdale Jeffers between the third and fourth quarters of last week’s Regional Final win over Stephenson. (Middle) Tri-unity Christian’s Roy Fogg pulls in a loose ball during his team’s Regional championship victory over Lansing Christian. (Top photo by Cara Kamps; middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)