By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Michigan’s best generally spend the first few weeks of basketball season testing themselves against other elites, including possible opponents for when the games matter much more in a few months.
That’s certainly been the case this winter, and last week especially in Class A, as we look back at some of those telling matchups and preview more to watch this weekend in our second Breslin Bound Girls Report – powered by MI Student Aid.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
Farmington Hills Mercy 44, Bloomfield Hills Marian 43 – Any meeting between these Detroit Catholic League Central rivals is bound to be one of the best in the state that night, and this evened the recent score some as Marian took two of three from Mercy last winter.
Bloomfield Hills Marian 37, Waterford Kettering 34 (OT) – Marian remains the gauge in Class A with both that loss above and another earlier to Canton, and this win over always-strong Kettering to go with an earlier victory over reigning MHSAA champion Warren Cousino.
Canton 50, Ann Arbor Huron 47 (OT) – Huron, a quarterfinalist a year ago, is another Class A team that’s lined up some tough early opponents; Canton added a second straight three-point win after beating Marian by the same margin.
DeWitt 59, East Lansing 58 – These annually are two of best in Class A in Lansing and statewide, and the Panthers came back to make it five straight over the Trojans.
Sault Ste. Marie 51, St. Ignace 44 – The Blue Devils beat their Straits Area Conference rival by 15 and lost by 26 last season, and will try for the sweep again this season with the next matchup versus the likely Class C contender set for Jan. 26.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
East Kentwood (3-1) – The Falcons were a solid 14-9 a year ago, but already have avenged three of those losses be beating Grand Rapids Christian (after losing to the Eagles in a District Final in March) and this week with wins over Grand Rapids South Christian and Forest Hills Central.
Okemos (3-0) – The Chieftains are 3-0 for the first time since 2008-09, thanks in part to a 63-35 win over Lansing Eastern on Friday keyed by standout sophomore Laya Hartman's 31 points after an earlier one-point win over Haslett.
Alma (2-0) – The Panthers already are on pace to improve on last season’s 11-11 finish after avenging a loss to Ionia in their opener and then two losses last season to Saginaw Swan Valley with a 34-30 win over the Vikings on Thursday.
Buchanan (1-0) – The Bucks are only one game in, but have a huge win; their 32-27 victory over Niles Brandywine on Thursday broke a 14-game losing streak to their rival and after two 20-point defeats by the Bobcats in 2015-16.
Bath (3-1) – The Bees had lost nine of their last 10 against Pewamo-Westphalia before Wednesday’s 48-36 win over the Pirates; the lone defeat this winter was to undefeated Class A Howell.
Galesburg-Augusta (3-0) – The Rams tied for second in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley last season with a split against eventual champion Kalamazoo Hackett, but earned the early step this time with a 33-25 win over the Fighting Irish to go with a 20-point win over Martin (13-7 last season).
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (3-0) – The reigning Class D runner-up surely will miss powerful center Averi Gamble, but defensively is holding strong giving up 10, 36 and 17 points, respectively, in its three games so far.
Pickford (3-0) – The Panthers’ wins are by 12, 22 and 15 points, respectively, as the team looks to build on last season’s District title.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Friday: DeWitt (4-0) at St. Johns (1-3) – Despite a slow start for 2015-16 Class A semifinalist St. Johns, these two combined with Haslett and Lansing Waverly should make the Capital Area Activities Conference Red again one of the strongest leagues statewide.
Friday: Canton (3-0) at Northville (1-1) – This will be a rematch of last season’s Class A District Final, a 44-38 win by the Mustangs.
Friday: Millington (2-1) at Frankenmuth (3-1) – The Eagles’ 97-game Tri-Valley Conference East winning streak is on the line against the third-place team from last season.
Saturday: Midland Dow (3-0) vs. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (5-0) at Detroit Edison – Both have aspirations of finishing the season at the Breslin Center, Dow in Class A and Arbor Prep in B after winning Class C last season; this is part of the Best of Michigan Classic at Detroit Edison.
Saturday: Williamston (3-0) vs. Port Huron Northern (3-0) at Detroit Edison – This is another Best of Michigan Classic matchup of Breslin hopefuls, with Williamston looking to follow last year’s boys team in Class B and Northern building on last year’s Class A Quarterfinal run.
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PHOTO: Marine City is another 3-0 team after starting out the season with a 10-point win over Croswell-Lexington. (Click for more from Varsity Monthly.)
It was known as “The Barn.” And it was home to the 1972 Class D boys basketball champion, the 1973 Class D girls basketball champion and the 1982 Class D boys basketball runners-up.
The Upper Peninsula’s all-time winningest female basketball coach coached at The Barn, as did the Upper Peninsula’s all-time winningest male basketball coach. And when Ewen-Trout Creek advanced to the 2022 Division 4 Final, its roster was littered with names from E-TC’s past:
► Leading scorer Jaden Borseth’s dad played on the 1995 team that advanced to the Class D Regional Final.
► Kelsey Jilek’s dad played on the 1992 team.
► Brendan Polkky’s dad is currently an assistant coach for E-TC and played on the 1991 team that also advanced to the Class D Regional Final.
► Caden Besonen’s dad Dave starred on the 1982 state runner-up team. Caden’s uncle Brad is the E-TC head coach. And Brad’s dad, Bryan, played on the 1972 championship team.
The Barn hosted its final E-TC game in 1998 and is now owned by Gary Fors, who also played on the 1972 title team. It’s now a community gym of sorts, and many members of the 2022 team worked out there growing up.
E-TC grad Kristin Ojaniemi – an award-winning documentary film maker and photographer, and the TV producer and host of “Discovering” for 906 Outdoors – is taking a look at the history of “The Barn” as well as its ties to the 2022 team in an eight-part series called “Born in the Barn.” The first two parts are complete, and the entire series will be available to view at KristinOjaniemi.com.
I had a chance to ask Ojaniemi about the project and why it’s so special to so many people.
Kristin, how did you come up with the idea to document the history of The Barn?
The idea to document the history of The Barn and E-TC basketball developed over time. Five years ago I had a conversation with Dan Truckey of the Beaumier Heritage Center at Northern Michigan University, and when I told him where I went to high school, we got on the topic of basketball and how E-TC was a powerhouse and that "there must be something in the water" here. Fast forward to 2021, and I saw on Facebook some photos of the inside of The Barn and all the newspapers Gary Fors had lined the walls with, sort of like a museum. February of 2022 I realized it was 50 years since the 1972 boys state championship and 40 years since the 1982 state runner-up seasons. I like anniversaries in history and thought it would be the perfect time to do some sort of documentary. Originally my focus was Gary and The Barn and more of the 70s and 80s boys and girls seasons, but once the 2022 boys started advancing in the tournament, that obviously changed.
What did the 2022 team’s run to the Finals mean to the players from the ’72 and ’82 teams?
The 2022 run meant a lot to the players of '72 and '82 because many of those boys are sons, grandsons, great-nephews of those guys. Bryan Besonen of the '72 team is coach Brad Besonen's father. Many of them traveled to every tournament game, and watching the 2022 season brought back memories of their glory days. They're definitely very proud of the 2022 team and the tradition that E-TC has continued through the years. Watching them watch those games was just as fun as watching the court. The 2022 team's run to the Finals meant a lot to the whole community. So many others traveled all the way to Lansing to cheer them on, and there is just a ton of pride in this team. I went to the banner unveiling a few weeks ago, and it was a huge crowd at the game to watch those few seconds of history being made.
What is your history with The Barn?
I graduated from Ewen-Trout Creek in 2000. We were in the "new" school then, but I spent four years – seventh-10th grade – in the "old" school, which had so much more character than the new one! I did play basketball seventh-10th – junior high and junior varsity. I was a benchwarmer most of those years. I loved the game but didn't spend any time offseason playing or practicing like others. I was also a cheerleader those years too, and if you look closely at one of the newspaper photos from the last game in the Barn, I'm in the background. Ha ha! This was back when girls basketball was in the fall and boys in the winter, so you could do both. As others in the documentary mention, The Barn was also where you hung out at lunch, and gym class was in there, and homecoming activities. Filming in there brought back a lot of memories.
What did Nancy Osier (U.P.’s winningest female basketball coach) and Tom Caudill (U.P.’s winningest male basketball coach) think made The Barn such a difficult place for opposing teams to play?
Thinking back to Nancy and Tom's interviews, I think the difficulty for other teams really boiled down to the atmosphere and the E-TC fans and that intimidation factor. E-TC had the ultimate homecourt advantage in The Barn, and their players spent hours upon hours practicing on that floor. And the school's history and tradition of rarely losing a home game is also intimidating.
There’s obviously a lot of family ties from the 2022 team to earlier teams – and it was the 50th anniversary of the ’72 win – did they feel more pressure along the way because of that?
I think the 2022 boys had this feeling that they wanted to one-up their grandfathers/fathers. I think it was Kelsey Jilek that told his grandfather, George Hardes (1972), that they had one more game in their schedule so they could potentially have a better record if they won all their games. But none of them came out and mentioned that the anniversary put pressure on them, but I’m sure it was there. They set out to win it all from the beginning and put the work in, and it paid off. There are a lot of parallels in these winning seasons.
When will the next part of the series be released?
Part 3, I should have done by the end of February. Part 3 focuses on the 1973 girls state champs; 1973 was the first year there was a state final for girls basketball after Title IX, and E-TC won the Class D title. And then I plan to release each part every two months with the final, Part 8, done by the end of 2023. This is just a fun hobby/personal project, I guess you'd say, so I only have so much time to dedicate to it after all my "real" work.
(PHOTOS of "The Barn" courtesy of Kristin Ojaniemi.)