GRAND RAPIDS – Good things come to those who wait.
That has been the case for the Grand Rapids West Catholic girls basketball team.
The Falcons have had to endure two years of disappointment and heartache, but all of that has been washed away with this year’s tournament run.
“It’s really exciting for our team, just because of all the hard work we’ve put in and it's finally showing with this run,” said Falcons senior guard and Michigan State recruit Abbey Kimball, whose team rolled into the Division 2 Semifinals on Tuesday with a convincing 82-27 win over previously-unbeaten Edwardsburg in the Quarterfinals.
“Obviously the past two years haven’t been the best, but we’re just happy we are here and we're just trying to enjoy the moment.”
This moment has eluded West Catholic most recently.
In 2020, the Falcons won their first District title in 25 years and earned a berth in the Regional Finals before the remainder of tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus.
Last season, West Catholic won another District title, but lost to Newaygo, 55-48, in the Regional Final without the services of Kimball and junior standout and Toledo commit Cadence Dykstra.
“You can't predict things like COVID or injuries or whatever circumstance that might come up,” Falcons coach Jill VanderEnde said. “You have to take it day by day, and you have to be resilient and you have to adapt.
“This year has been about being adaptable and yet continuing to persevere. That's what separates the team from years past, even though we’ve had some great teams the past few years.”
The Falcons will play Friday in their first Semifinal since 1995, against Detroit Country Day at the Breslin Center.
West Catholic lost to the Yellowjackets, 44-32, in the 1995 Class B Final.
“They’re a great team that is well-coached and very athletic and skilled,” VanderEnde said. “We will have to come up with a savvy gameplan to disrupt the things they do well.”
The Falcons improved to 24-1 as a suffocating defense helped them to their Quarterfinal win.
West Catholic led 26-5 after the first quarter en route to the lopsided victory.
“Our defense has set the tone all season long, and going into the tournament that’s what we were hoping to hang our hat on,” VanderEnde said.
The Falcons’ only loss occurred earlier in the season against Rockford, which advanced to the Division 1 Semifinals.
West Catholic went undefeated in conference play, led by Kimball and a supporting cast of young talent.
All five of its starters, including Kimball, Dykstra, freshman Elisha Dykstra, sophomore Emma Tuttle and junior Ellie Bies, made the all-conference team, while freshman Anna Ignatoski and sophomore Reese Polega earned all-conference honorable mention.
“It’s always satisfying when you can look at your players and know that they put in the hard work and that they've done everything you have asked and more to try and accomplish a goal that the entire team was seeking,” VanderEnde said. “Just to see those kids’ faces and smiles in the locker room (after Tuesday’s win) and the pure excitement and enjoyment of being able to accomplish something that we set out for so many months ago to do was really rewarding.
“That's what coaching is all about. Getting everyone on the same page and going in the same direction and not leaving anyone behind.”
Kimball, a four-year starter, finished runner-up to Detroit Edison’s Ruby Whitehorn in the Michigan Miss Basketball Award voting.
She is the lone senior, and has embraced her role as a veteran leader.
“In other years, there have been other seniors on the team who I’ve looked up to and they’ve really paved a path for me,” Kimball said. “Just to see how to lead a team, and so I’ve taken that role by getting girls in the gym with me and leading by example. They’ve helped me in that way, and it’s been really cool.”
VanderEnde has seen that growth throughout the season.
“Her skill level is off the charts, but there is a lot of responsibility with being the lone senior,” she said. “She has learned how to embrace her teammates and work with the younger kids. In the past she didn’t have to share that load. She could just be herself and be the leading scorer, but with all the seniors gone she has helped hold the other kids accountable in helping achieve the goals for the program. She’s really matured in that area.”
Kimball will now get the rare opportunity to play on her future collegiate court.
“I’m excited, and it will be the first time playing on that court so that will be fun,” Kimball said. “Every game we’ve been super focused because we want to get to the end goal, which is a state championship.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS (Top) West Catholic’s Abbey Kimball (1), Emma Tuttle (15) and Ellie Bies (11) help up a teammate this season. (Middle) Kimball makes her move to the basket. (Photos courtesy of the West Catholic athletic department.)
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.