By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – The way Canton wins would be easy to overlook, if not for the key word in that statement.
It’s become impossible to ignore the defensive-minded Chiefs, who entered this postseason as only an honorable mention in the final Associated Press Class A poll – and advanced to their first MHSAA Final on Friday at the Breslin Center.
Canton prides itself on defense, giving up only 28 points per game this season.
And the Chiefs made that average stick in handing No. 4 Grand Ledge a 35-28 defeat to advance to Saturday’s championship game against Bloomfield Hills Marian.
“Sometimes we haven’t been thought of as a leading team or whatever, underestimated,” Canton senior center Taylor Hunley said. “It’s great to work so hard to make the final day of the season and be able to spend as much time with each other as possible.”
The Chiefs just missed advancing to the Class A championship games in both 2009 and 2010. But this team is different in that its run is a bit unexpected.
Canton’s only losses were to Marian, Mercy, and a couple more contenders in Grosse Pointe South and Waterford Mott. But it was lack of flashiness in their wins that maybe made this team easier to forget – and yet now, unforgettable.
“We always talk about playing on the last day. The first two (Canton) teams that came, that was sort’ve expected because they were ranked in the top three all year and there was a lot of pressure to get here,” Canton coach Brian Samulski said. “These guys have really been able to enjoy this run they’ve put us on. There’s no real pressure. No one talked about them. But we refuse to lose and keep plugging away, and go from there.”
The first few minutes Friday ended up a good indicator of what was to come; Grand Ledge scored the game’s first basket, but not until more than three minutes had been played.
The Comets entered the week with three players averaging double figures scoring – senior sisters Hannah (15 ppg) and Lindsay Orwat (13.4) and 6-foot-3 junior Cori Crocker (10.7). As a team, Grand Ledge averaged nearly 58 points per game before Friday.
But the trio combined for only 21 points, led by Lindsay Orwat’s nine.
“Me and my sister love to shoot off ball screens, but they were right there in our faces,” Hannah Orwat said. “We’d dump it in to Cori, and there would be five girls on her. We couldn’t get in a flow.”
The teams identically took 39 shots, both making 11. But whereas Canton has been used to this kind of game, the Chiefs could sense by the second quarter that the Comets were getting frustrated.
They were knotted 19-19 heading into the fourth quarter before Hunley and senior Paige Aresco keyed an 8-0 run that seemingly put this low-scoring game out of reach for Grand Ledge.
“A lot of great teams are focused on offense, offense, offense. And then they come up against us,” Aresco said. “We’ve done a great job shutting them down, and it’s been kinda shocking for them, I think.”
The Comets, who will graduate six players, were in their first Semifinal appearance. They finished 24-3.
“This group of Grand Ledge girls has been going to school together their whole lives, and we kept focusing on that as the year went on,” Grand Ledge coach David Jones said. “Experiencing this together, being together, we’re proud of accomplishing getting this far. And a lot of the credit goes to this senior class.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Canton’s Paige Aresco (14) works to drive against Grand Ledge’s Hannah Orwat. (Middle) Orwat searches for an open teammate as two Chiefs converge.
HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Grand Ledge grabs a 17-15 third-quarter lead against Canton on a pull-up jumper by Lindsay Orwat. (2) Canton scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to break the game open. This layup by Aresco starts the run.
STAMBAUGH — Danica Shamion has enjoyed plenty of success in track & field throughout her high school athletic career.
The West Iron County senior is also quite successful in basketball.
Shamion joined the 1,000-point club here Jan. 23 while scoring 34 in a 63-60 loss to Norway.
“That really felt good,” she said after last week’s 93-41 win over Bessemer on Senior Night. “I’m glad I was able to do that at home. Although, it would have been even better had we won that game.”
The Wykons scored five in double digits against the Speedgirls, led by senior Siena Stine with 20 points. Junior center Sidney Storti added 17 points, and Shamion finished with 16 points and 17 assists.
“Sidney is a real asset to our team,” Shamion said. “I can see the floor pretty well, and the other girls are doing a pretty good job getting open. This was our last home game. It definitely meant something to us.”
Shamion, an All-Upper Peninsula Division 1-3 first-team selection a year ago, twisted her ankle in a season-opening 47-40 triumph over Iron Mountain and missed the next three games.
West Iron was 1-3 going into the holiday break before getting back on track with a 42-28 victory over Kingsford on Jan. 2. That enabled the Wykons to improve to 4-3 before dropping six of their next seven games.
West Iron, which was 5-9 after dropping a 73-55 decision at Negaunee, had won four in a row prior to Thursday’s 46-44 loss at Calumet. But the Wykons bounced back with a 51-49 win over Ishpeming Westwood on Tuesday to get back to .500 at 10-10.
“We were trying to forge our identity and weren’t hitting our shots (earlier in the season),” Shamion said. “Although, we’ve been playing better defense lately. We’re pretty good one-on-one and usually play man-to-man. We try to run the floor and score in transition.
“Negaunee is probably the best team we’ve seen this year, although Ishpeming and Houghton are also very good and Calumet and Westwood are tough,” she added.
In track & field, Shamion set U.P. Division 2 Finals record in the 200-meter dash (26.34 seconds) and 400 (57.18) last season. She also won the 100 (12.79) and placed second in high jump at 4 feet, 10 inches. She is a three-time Finals champion in all three sprint races.
Shamion also made the all-U.P. Volleyball Dream Team in the fall.
She will continue on the track at Central Michigan University after she graduates from West Iron this spring.
“I didn’t know much about their program, but I was interested in what they had to offer,” she said. “The girls on the team are nice, which is part of the reason why I chose Central. It’s a relief to have that decided.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) West Iron’s Danica Shamion (24) blocks a shot during her team’s game at Ishpeming on Jan. 15. (Middle) Shamion maintains possession of the ball. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)