Tom Keller is willing to talk about the streak if you ask him.
He’s starting to get used to it.
“It’s funny; it seems like a lot of people are bringing it up lately,” said the Frankenmuth girls basketball coach, who has led his team to 97 straight Tri-Valley Conference East wins. “We actually talked about it in practice the other day for one of the few times.
"(The streak) happens on a day-to-day basis. In our program, we don’t really set a lot of goals; we’re much more concerned about the process. If we do things the right way day after day, those wins and those streaks kind of take care of themselves.”
Frankenmuth hasn’t lost a conference game since Feb. 10, 2009 -- a 37-31 setback against Birch Run. Since then, eight senior classes have graduated, and dozens of players have gone through their entire varsity careers without a conference loss.
While it’s not something Frankenmuth players dwell on, it’s also not something they take for granted.
“You don’t just show up and put on your uniform and get the streak,” senior Hannah Karwat said. “We do have to work hard to get the winning streak we have. We work hard in practice.”
Karwat is one of very few Frankenmuth players on this year’s team with varsity experience. She’s a third-year player and first-year starter. Her classmate Lindsey Mertz started several games as a junior and is in her fourth year with the team, but Frankenmuth graduated five of its top six players from a year ago.
The Eagles have done well so far, starting the season 3-1, including earning a 36-34 win this past week against TVC East rival Essexville-Garber to stretch the streak to 97. Their next league games are Wednesday at Bridgeport and home Friday against Millington.
“It’s always an interesting way to start the season when you have kids who are brand new to varsity,” Keller said. “Also, we have those kids that are returning in completely different roles than what they played in the past. We have two seniors who have played, and they’re going from being role players to go-to girls on this year’s team.
“It’s fun. I think it makes for great competition. When you have so many openings for a new team, it’s fun and great competition because everybody is vying for those roles. It does seem to draw out the best competitors.”
Mertz has settled in as a forward, although she has experience as a post player and a guard from her first three seasons and can go back to either if the Eagles need it. Karwat’s role has expanded following the graduation of a pair of 6-foot-plus post players. She’s 5-4½, but appears unfazed by the height disadvantage she faces each night.
Mertz and Karwat are two of five seniors on the team. Among the others is Sara Aldrich, who spent her junior season toward the end of the bench but has worked her way into a starting role, something Keller said he loves to see. Kayla Kueffner and Emily Janson, the Eagles’ other two seniors, are injured and have yet to play this season.
What those seniors may lack in experience, they make up for with leadership.
“Something that our program has valued is leadership,” Mertz said. “We have been doing leadership lunches once a week where we meet and talk about leadership and how serving the other girls on the team and dedicating time would help everyone grow on the team.”
Frankenmuth is matching that leadership with an aggressive style of play, making up for a lack of size.
“We’re making efforts to really attack the paint,” Keller said. “We still get touches inside, but we do it through penetration. In years where we’ve had two 6 footers, we were a high-post, low-post kind of team and we took advantage of that. This year, we’re very guard-oriented.”
Changing his team’s style based on personnel has helped Keller find success in each of his previous 10 seasons as Frankenmuth’s girls coach. The Eagles have won a conference title in each of those seasons, and added five Class B District titles, including at the end of the last two seasons.
Keller said he was fortunate to inherit a great program, one that won the Class B title in 1992 and Class C in 1996 and also owns four MHSAA Finals runner-up finishes.
It’s a tradition, Mertz and Karwat said, that has girls in the community’s youth program pining to put on a Frankenmuth jersey one day. They also grow up knowing what it takes to get that honor.
“When I was younger, a lot of the girls in my grade loved basketball,” Mertz said. “But a lot of girls have quit because they know what’s expected and they know they can’t match that effort. Sometimes we’ll frighten some girls out of the program, but that makes the team we have one of the toughest group of girls because you have to be tough to be a part of it.
“Usually the girls that come out are the ones that are in it for the long haul, and willing to do the dirty work and put in the effort.”
Keller said he wasn’t quite sure what would equal a successful season for this year’s team. Getting better and more consistent each day is his main focus, and he’s optimistic that will happen.
As for the streak, Keller and the Eagles would love for it to survive. If it doesn’t, however, they’ll simply work to start the next one.
“It’s going to come to an end eventually, whether it’s this week or later this season or next season,” Keller said. “When it happens, we’ll just come back the next day and get ready for the next game.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Frankenmuth's Brooklin Karwat drives to the basket against Essexville-Garber last week. (Middle) Eagles coach Tom Keller speaks with Kaylee Kujat during the tightly-contested matchup. (Below) Frankenmuth players celebrate after defeating the Dukes 56-54. (Photos by Chip DeGrace/Eagle Eye Photography.)
Hemlock and Rockford's drives to their first Girls Basketball Finals championships in March were paced in part by some of the strongest 3-point shooting in MHSAA history.
The Division 1 title-winning Rams connected on 243 3-pointers – third-most all-time – over 29 games in tying the single-season wins record while finishing 28-1. Grace Lyons, a senior this fall, made the single-season individual list with 70 3-pointers.
The Huskies won in Division 3 having connected on 229 3-pointers over 29 games, seventh-most in MHSAA history, on 678 attempts, which ranks 12th on that list. Chloe Watson made the single-season list with 75 3-pointers, and Regan Finkbeiner did as well connecting on 67.
Watson also made the career 3-pointers list with 224 and Finkbeiner with 194, and 2017 Hemlock graduate Samantha Krauss was added for 65 3-pointers as a junior in 2015-16 and 188 for her career. Additionally, past Hemlock standout Karli Herrington was added for her 317 rebounds in 2012-13, and Peyton Apsey was added for 144 steals in 2010-11.
Watson is continuing her career at Mid-Michigan College, and Finkbeiner is playing softball at Madonna. Herrington went on to play at Central Michigan and Northwood, Krauss played at Ferris State and Apsey played at Oakland.
Read on for more recent record book additions for girls basketball:
Hudsonville’s Maddie Petroelje joined the list of top 3-point shooters in MHSAA history as a junior in 2021-22, when she connected on 70 (in just 147 attempts) to make the single-season list. She graduated this spring 16th on the career list as well with 226 3-pointers in 512 attempts over 92 games and four seasons. She is continuing at Loyola (Ill.).
Byron Center’s Avery Zeinstra also finished her career among those top 3-point shooters. She also made the single-season list with 70 in 147 attempts as a freshman in 2018-19, and she capped her career in 2021-22 with 206 3-pointers (tied for 20th-most) in 502 attempts over four seasons and 80 career games. She is continuing at Grand Valley State.
Hannah Thompson was best known for her soccer scoring at Schoolcraft. But she’s made a second MHSAA record book for her 15 steals in a Jan. 28, 2022, basketball win over Galesburg-Augusta. She’s continuing her soccer career at Eastern Michigan.
Baraga’s run to the Division 4 Semifinals in 2022 received big boosts from Corina Jahfetson’s 3-point shooting and Reide Osterman’s defense. Jahfetson was added to the record book with 66 3-pointers over 25 games, including nine in a game against Carney Nadeau – when Baraga as a team made the record book with 14 3-pointers total. Osterman made the record book with 153 steals. Jahfetson graduated this spring, and Osterman is playing at Northern Michigan.
Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy’s Audrey Mileski had one of the busiest games at the free throw line in MHSAA history Dec. 14, 2021. She made 23 free throws – third-most in a single game – against Wyoming Kelloggsville. Mileski graduated this spring.
Sophia Bussell had set Monroe’s single-game 3-pointers record of eight as a freshman two seasons ago, and she bettered it last Dec. 13 by tying for the 10th-most in MHSAA history. She made 10-pointers including the game-winner of a 58-56 victory over Ypsilanti Lincoln. A little less than 10 months earlier, Adrian Lenawee Christian then-senior Kylie Summer also made 10, on 17 attempts, during a 57-34 win over Lansing Christian on Feb. 24, 2022.
Lydia Meredith enjoyed a memorable senior season for Portland St. Patrick in 2021-22, finishing her four-year varsity career with 453 steals over just 80 games. She also was added for drilling 17 free throws in 22 attempts against Fowler. She plays now at Saginaw Valley State.
Gabby Piepho got off to a fast start at Howell as a freshman last season, and at a record-setting pace at the free-throw line. She made 93 of 107 attempts over 25 games, for an .869 percentage that made the single-season list. That included a string of 47 straight free throws that ranks as the second-longest in MHSAA history. As a team, Howell tied for sixth all-time with 301 free throws over 25 games, on 439 attempts.
Kent City’s Lexie Bowers reached the single-season 3-pointers list for the second time last season, connecting on 72 of 233 tries over 26 games (after making 77 as a junior), and finished her four-season varsity career 16th on that 3-pointers list with 225 in 693 attempts over 99 games. She’s continuing her career at Northwood. Kent City as a team also reached the single-season 3-pointers made and attempted lists again, ranking fourth with 753 attempts and tying for eighth all-time by connecting on 202.
Posen then-junior Faith Cousins earned a par of record book entries during 2021-22 for assists. Her 16 in a District Final win on March 4, 2022, remain tied for fifth-most in one game, and she finished with 165 over 22 games for the season. She’s set to begin her softball career at Alma College.
Niles Brandywine went over 20 wins again this past season, finishing 21-3, and again the 3-pointer was a key tool in that pursuit. Brandywine made the record book with back-to-back games of 13 3-pointers to close the regular season, and finished with 175 3-pointers in 592 attempts over 23 games (with one won by forfeit).
Greenville’s Megan Leslie averaged more than two 3-pointers a game during her four-season varsity career, making the record list with 153 total over 76 games through graduation this spring. She’s continuing her career at Alma College.
Successful 3-point shooting played a major role in Saline finishing 21-4 with league and District titles last winter. The Hornets attempted 704 3-pointers – ninth-most all-time for one season – and connected on 191, which is 12th on that list. They made a season-high 14 against Ypsilanti Lincoln on Nov. 29 to make the single-game list.
Marcellus senior Brooklyn VanTilburg enjoyed a big finish to her high school career last winter, making the record book with 16 blocked shots in a game against Centreville and 135 blocks total for the season. She’ll continue at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.
Kennedy Gustafson made headlines last winter as a sophomore and earned a pair of record listings for her rebounding. She grabbed 26 in a March 3 District Final win over Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, and she finished with 376 rebounds over 25 games for the season.
PHOTO Hemlock's Regan Finkbeiner, left, follows through on a free throw attempt during last season's Division 3 Final, and Rockford's Grace Lyons launches the game-winning 3-pointer in Division 1.