GPN's Braker Moving Full Speed Ahead on College Coaching Trail

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

August 11, 2023

Ariel Braker has never forgotten being a part of Grosse Pointe North’s Class A girls basketball championship team in 2008, but a couple of happenings in recent months have made her reflect even more on that title.

The first came in March, when Braker was hired as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball program at the University ofMade in Michigan is powered by Michigan Army National Guard. Minnesota. That brought a stark reminder of an oopsie when she was on a recruiting visit to Minnesota after the championship and while she was still in high school. having helped the Norse to the title as a sophomore.

“I left my (state championship) ring in the hotel here in Minnesota,” Braker said. “So I needed a new one.”

The second came in June, when Grosse Pointe North won the Division 2 girls soccer title.

Those Norse were coached by Olivia Dallaire, a teammate of Braker’s on the 2008 girls basketball title team.

“It was an interesting full circle moment of 'Wow, it really was that long ago,'” Braker said. “You have someone on your team now leading the school to a state championship in a different sport. It was pretty cool.”

A 6-foot-1 dynamo who could play every position on the court in 2008, Braker had 15 points, 16 rebounds, and four blocked shots in a 58-46 win over East Lansing in the championship game.

That followed a 23-point, 20-rebound performance in a Semifinal win over North Farmington.

Braker was more than just a standout basketball player for North, however.

She was also a member of the volleyball team and an all-state high jumper for the track & field team, and being a three-sport athlete made her high school experience even better.

“It let me take a break from basketball, use other muscles and take my mind off of it,” Braker said. “The ability to be with different people, make different friends, and do different things was very helpful.”

During her senior year in 2010, Braker finished third in the state's Miss Basketball Award voting.

Braker signed to play college basketball at Notre Dame, where she played for legendary head coach Muffet McGraw.

During her tenure with the Fighting Irish, Braker was a part of three teams that won Atlantic Coast Conference championships and advanced to the 2014 national championship game.

After college, Braker decided she wanted to give coaching a try and landed at Western Texas College, a community college in Snyder, Texas.

It was there that the coaching bug really hit her hard.

“Those kids needed a lot of instruction and teaching,” Braker said. “You have to be willing to be patient and teach the game in different ways so it touches everyone. It was a growing year for me, but I was like, ‘I can do this.’ That gave me confidence.”

From there, Braker has gone on to assistant jobs at Lehigh, Oakland, South Dakota and West Virginia before being hired on to first-year head coach Dawn Plitzuweit’s staff at Minnesota this past March.

Braker said that at all of her coaching stops so far, she’s tried to follow Michigan youth teams on the recruiting trail given her familiarity with the state.

She obviously hopes that familiarity will pay dividends in her new role at Minnesota if she needs to mine for talent in Michigan.

“There are some younger kids who are up-and-coming who could help,” she said. “I’m excited to get back home and be able to recruit them.”

When she does come back to recruit, it’ll likely join the lost championship ring in Minnesota and soccer success this spring as reminders of that magical ride to a basketball title with the Norse 15 years ago.

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PHOTOS (Top) At left, Braker plays in the 2008 Class A championship game, and at right Braker coaches at University of Minnesota. (Below) Braker drives to the basket; she scored 15 points in the 2008 championship game against East Lansing. (Photos courtesy of the Detroit News and University of Minnesota athletics.) 

Hemlock, Rockford Follow 3-Point Success to 1st Titles, Record Book Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 1, 2023

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:

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.