DeWitt Sees Way to 1st Final since 1977

March 20, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – DeWitt girls basketball coach Bill McCullen has seen the motivation for his team’s longest tournament run in nearly 40 years in the eyes of his players for months.

His five seniors found their determination in the eyes of their former teammates at the ends of the last three seasons.

Most years, McCullen carries a few underclassmen on varsity. That additional time molds those players into the next team leaders – and also has allowed these seniors the chance to experience first-hand the disappointment of ending the last three seasons in the District tournament.

DeWitt played in its fourth MHSAA Semifinal on Friday of McCullen’s 19 seasons as coach. The Panthers will play for its first championship since 1977 on Saturday thanks to a 44-36 win over Saginaw Heritage – and the motivation they gained from falling short earlier in their careers.

“More toward the end of every season, we’re not happy with how we finish. That fuels every season from there after,” four-year varsity guard Claudia Reid said. “We get a little farther each time, but it’s always ended in disappointment.

“… (And) the seniors who graduated before us, that we played with when we were in the younger grades, we saw how they went out,” three-year senior forward Abby Nakfoor continued. “We’ve seen how much heartbreak they had to go through with that, and we didn’t want to go out with a loss.”

DeWitt (25-1) will face reigning champion Bloomfield Hills Marian in Saturday’s noon championship game at MSU.

The Panthers had last played in an MHSAA Semifinal in 2009, in Class B. They made the jump into Class A for the 2011-12 school year, and this winter for the first time found similar tournament success.

Seniors Maria Moss, Cayce Palmer and Alex Bilbo all joined Nakfoor and Reid with the varsity as sophomores in 2012-13 and were part of a league title team that winter. But the team didn’t advance past the second game of the District either of the last two.

“I’ve seen it in their eyes, and this goes back months and months and months,” McCullen said. “These kids … have been through a lot. Knee injuries, blood clots on the brain and all kinds of things. We just have some kids that don’t want to be denied right now.”

They had to answer only once Friday, but at a crucial juncture as the Hawks appeared on the verge of breaking away after pushing to get back even.

DeWitt led by as many as eight points during the first half, but found itself slowed way down by the Hawks’ zone defense and trailing 19-18 three minutes into the third quarter after a basket by Heritage sophomore Haley Brefka.

But the Panthers didn’t allow the Hawks to gain a foothold. The teams traded a few shots and turnovers over the next three minutes before Reid found Moss on a transition bucket that seemed to kick the pace back in DeWitt’s favor.

The Panthers’ seniors scored 21 of the team’s 23 points the rest of the way.

Reid finished with 11 points and six assists and Nakfoor added eight points and five rebounds. Junior center Lilly George added eight points and six rebounds.

Saginaw Heritage coach Vonnie DeLong spoke after of her senior guards Allie Miller and Aubree Snow, who combined for 19 points, six rebounds and six assists.

Her words could've applied to DeWitt’s veterans as well. 

“You don’t get here without guard play. It just doesn’t happen,” DeLong said. “That’s usually who wins it, teams with good guard play. Guards will carry you this far.”

Heritage finished 24-4 after its longest tournament run since winning Class A in 2002.  The Hawks played two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior with their senior guards – and should bring back a number of players with valuable experience for another run next winter after making one that DeLong admitted most in Michigan probably didn’t expect.

“I’m disappointed I couldn’t play one last game here, and with this team,” Snow said. “But we did come this far, so I’m proud of that.”

Click for a full box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) DeWitt’s Claudia Reid drives to the basket with Heritage’s Allie Miller (20) defending Friday. (Middle) Miller looks for an opening with Reid closing off part of the lane.

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.