Small Schools, Big Northern Lights Finish

By John Vrancic
Special for

February 29, 2016

HANNAHVILLE — Not too many high school conferences in Michigan have their own basketball tournament.

The Northern Lights League in the Upper Peninsula, however, is one of the exceptions to the rule.

Each year the league’s eight schools meet at Hannahville for their annual tourney.

“This is such a great tournament for our conference,” said Maplewood Baptist boys coach Steve May. “What an opportunity for small schools. These are the types of things these kids will never forget. This is their chance to shine. They get to experience March Madness, although it comes a little early.”

The tournament, traditionally held in late February, showcases all the talent these schools have to offer.

This year’s girls tourney featured the league’s first all-U.P. player in senior Hannah May, a second-team selection a year ago.

“This is really a nice tournament,” Hannah said. “All the small schools come together and make some new friendships. This is the highlight of the year. This gives us something to shoot for.”

Hannah May showed why she’s all-U.P. in the championship game Feb. 20, sinking a buzzer-beating 20-foot jumpshot from the right wing to force overtime in Maplewood’s 79-70 triumph over Wilson Nah Tah Wahsh.

She scored 35 points, and classmate Harmony Bailey added 24.

“We enjoy this tournament,” said Maplewood girls assistant coach Caroline May. “We look forward to it every year.”

Senior Selena Williams, looking to play ball at Gogebic Community College in Ironwood next season, led Hannahville with 26 points. Sophomore Cecilia Beaver added 23.

“I love our team,” said Beaver. “We all get along. We’re also real good friends with Maplewood Baptist, and we get along with the other teams. We’ve developed a lot of friendships.”

The Maplewood Baptist boys also captured the league tourney crown in a 73-54 conquest of Hannahville.

Senior Patrick Gomes scored 19 points for the Kinross-based school, which placed four in double-digits. Senior Cody Meshigaud paced the defending champs with 24.

The tournament provides plenty of opportunity for team bonding and camaraderie among all the teams.

“I like it and the kids enjoy it,” said Ojibwe Charter girls coach Ashley Bishop. “You see the upsets and victories. It’s nice to see all the teams get together. All the schools are very small, and I think the kids make better friends this way. At the motel we stayed at in Escanaba, we had kids and coaches from 4-5 schools hanging out together.”

Ojibwe boys coach Brandon Kerfoot believes the tournament is part of the learning process for a team with no seniors.

“I think being able to end the season with schools about our size is a big stepping stone for the kids,” he said. “It’s a different game once you hit the tournaments. Anything can happen once you reach this point.”

The Ojibwe boys started two juniors and a sophomore, freshman and eighth-grader in a 69-46 semifinal loss to Maplewood Baptist.

Ojibwe’s girls started two juniors, two sophomores and an eighth-grader in a 56-34 loss to Hannahville in the semifinals.

PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Kinross Maplewood Baptist defenders surround a Wilson Nah Tah Wahsh player bringing the ball upcourt during the Northern Lights League Tournament. (Middle) A Maplewood defender works to wall off a Bay Mills Ojibwe Charter guard. (Photos by Paul Gerard.)

Lansing Catholic Closes Season With Memorable Victory Close to Home

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 18, 2023

EAST LANSING – The Lansing Catholic girls basketball team took a short drive to end a long wait.

Playing just three miles from their high school, the Cougars defeated Frankenmuth 43-29 Saturday at the Breslin Center to win the MHSAA Division 2 Final. It was the first Finals title for the program since 1995.

“It felt like homecourt advantage a little bit,” Lansing Catholic senior guard Hannah Pricco said. “Our bus trip wasn’t super long. It just kind of felt like we were coming to our own court.”

The Cougars treated it that way, dominating from the beginning of the matchup in their first Finals trip since that 1995 title. They scored the game’s first 11 points and never looked back.

The Cougars’ Anna Richards (10) attempts to get a shot up over Frankenmuth’s Lexi Boyke.“This is, as you can imagine, extremely surreal,” Lansing Catholic coach Kacee Reid said. “You’re going through literally every emotion on the bench, especially in a game like that. Frankenmuth is making such a great comeback, and we knew they were going to fight to the end. To go through the anger and sadness and happiness, and now it’s over and we’ve won it. It’s just been a rollercoaster of emotions, and I can’t describe the pride I have in these girls.”

It was the second meeting between the two teams, with Lansing Catholic taking the first 74-42 on Feb. 2. But Reid wasn’t going to let her team come in overconfident.

“They didn’t get here by accident,” Reid said. “They’re in the state championship because they’re playing their best ball of the year. We played them a month and a half ago. … We’re a totally different team, and we knew they were a totally different team. We knew they had been playing some really good basketball, and it didn’t matter at all what that first outcome was. We knew this was going to be a battle.”

Lansing Catholic (24-5) never trailed, and led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter. Leah Richards led the Cougars with 16 points and nine rebounds, while Anna Richards had 14 points. Gabby Halliwill added seven.

The Cougars were spurred by their defense throughout, holding Frankenmuth to 9 of 36 shooting from the field and forcing 13 turnovers.

“For us, defensively, we had to switch it up,” Reid said. “We had to keep switching up between man and zone. They were making adjustments and we couldn’t really sit in one thing for too long; they got comfortable. That’s a credit to their coaching staff always making adjustments. We had to continue to switch things up defensively and try to hopefully make their shooters second-guess their shot, or maybe not know where we were coming from.”

Frankenmuth (25-3) didn’t go away, despite trailing by double digits for the majority of the game. 

That was helped by Lansing Catholic shooting 1 of 11 from the field in the third quarter, and going scoreless for the final 5:26 of the frame.

Tessa Roe (12) works to get past Clare Conzelmann and to the basket.The Eagles cut the lead to seven with 2:45 to play on a steal and layup from Clare Conzelmann, but never got closer.

“There was always belief no matter what detriment we got ourselves in,” Frankenmuth senior Lexi Boyke said. “I wouldn’t want to choose any other girls to play with and be in with at that point. I think we fought back and really prided ourselves on, ‘We can still do it.’ We didn’t stop fighting until the end.”

Lansing Catholic always figured Frankenmuth would make a run to get into the game, but was ready when it came.

“We knew they were going to make runs, we knew we weren’t going to hold them to seven points the whole game,” Anna Richards said. “We knew in the third quarter they were going to score, so we just had to stay composed, work the ball around on offense to get the good shots that we wanted.”

Boyke, who scored Frankenmuth’s first 10 points and was its only scorer well into the third quarter, finished with 16. She also reached 1,000 career points in the game, and had six rebounds, while Izzy Bernthal had seven.

Frankenmuth was making its first Finals appearance since winning the Class C title in 1996, one year after Lansing Catholic. 

“That’s a really good Lansing Catholic team, and you’ve seen that from their postseason run and beating an undefeated West Catholic team, and tonight finishing their season off with a state championship. So, congratulations to them,” Frankenmuth coach Joe Jacobs said. “I’m super proud of our kids. They didn’t quit tonight. They could have. … Fun experience, one that we want to treasure forever, but the motivation to come back again is here after tonight’s loss.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Lansing Catholic celebrates its Division 2 championship Saturday night at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Cougars’ Anna Richards (10) attempts to get a shot up over Frankenmuth’s Lexi Boyke. (Below) Tessa Roe (12) works to get past Clare Conzelmann and to the basket.