By Tom Spencer
Special for Second Half
A lot has changed since David Wheelock coached high school basketball four years ago at Suttons Bay.
Back then the team was called Suttons Bay. He had a freshman moved up from the junior varsity team named Paige Kohler. Northport High School was a local rival. Jim Champion took over as coach and all the school records were intact.
Today, Wheelock is back after a two-year hiatus. The team is now called NorthBay thanks to a co-op with nearby Northport. He has a senior named Paige Kohler in the school’s record book and she’s ready to lead her teammates in tonight’s Division 4 District Final against Lake Leelanau St. Mary.
“It was surreal to watch,” Wheelock exclaimed. “She took everything in stride and showed great leadership and teamwork throughout.
“I had a feeling she would have a great career,” he continued. “I don’t know if I ever envisioned this, but she has earned everything that she accomplished.”
Wheelock returned to the court where he played high school basketball this winter, inheriting back a player who has shown a knack for scoring in multiple sports – not just in basketball but also as a soccer standout during the spring.
Kohler set the single-game basketball scoring record with a 44-point performance Feb. 27 on Senior Night against Ellsworth. It broke the previous record of 43 set in 1993 by a relative, Suzanne Kohler.
“I was not expecting that at all,” Kohler said. “When the game started, I had no idea how it was going to go, but I told myself that I was going to play as hard as possible for my last-ever home game.
“As the game progressed, I continued to play with intensity,” she recalled. “Setting the record on Senior Night, but more specifically in my last home game, I know that I will remember this forever. Senior night is already such a special night for seniors, but adding this on top of it will make it even more of a special memory.”
Breaking her cousin’s record added an extra significance for the senior point guard.
“She's family, and I come from a very competitive family,” noted the younger Kohler. “If it were a stranger, it would have merely been a record. But by knowing the person, and the story behind that record, it made it special.”
Suzanne Kohler still holds the career and single-season scoring marks at Suttons Bay and is a member of the 1,000 point club. Paige Kohler joined her cousin in the club with a 15-point performance Jan. 8 against her opponent in tonight’s District Final. NorthBay won that contest 32-26.
“I was really excited, and it instantly felt like a dream come true,” Kohler said of topping the 1,000 mark. “After scoring the final points, I looked up into the stands, and seeing how happy everyone was, I couldn't help but feel honored to be a part of something so special. Their support means the world to me.”
Kohler’s family also was in the stands to see the single-game scoring record shattered. Her father, Alex, a former Suttons Bay football coach, and mother, Cindy, are among the role models and mentors she has looked up to over the years.
“Number one is my mom,” the record-holder said. “She was an amazing basketball player and essentially taught me everything I know about the game. I was the kid in the gym running drills 30 minutes after practice ended, because I make a mistake or two in a game.
“I also give credit to my dad, not because he knew basketball, but he taught me what a winning attitude was,” she continued. “Every time I played a game or came home after practice he would ask, ‘Did you win?’ Over the years I've had a number of coaches, none were necessarily constant, but credit can be given to both Coach Wheelock and Coach Champion.”
Kohler has collected postseason awards after all three of her previous varsity basketball seasons. She will likely collect more this year.
“She plays fast and hard,” Wheelock said. “She is relentless on both end of the floor and leads by example.
“She is usually the most athletic player on the floor and is always the hardest worker,” he continued. “That makes for a lethal combination.”
The Eagles all know the number “3” Kohler wears. They will be keying on her tonight as she put in 15 points in the first meeting.
When the postseason ends, Kohler will get back on the soccer field for NorthBay. Some argue she is just as much a threat to score in soccer.
“I think that it is safe to say that I play with the same mindset and intensity in soccer as I do in basketball,” Kohler said. “If there is something I can improve on, I will work on it until I get better. I'm not afraid of hard work, and I think that shows on the field and court.”
Her basketball and soccer coaches concur.
“Her athleticism and determination and will to win,” said her second-year NorthBay soccer coach Randy U’Ren, “help her to create many scoring opportunities for both herself and her teammates on the pitch.”
Kohler contributed an average of nearly 20 goals per season during her freshman, sophomore and junior soccer seasons, and also averaged nearly 10 assists. She set the single-season assists record last spring at 14.
“It just shows how much of an athlete she really is,” Wheelock points out. “Specializing in one sport is hard enough and takes a lot of work, so to do it in both at such a high level is astonishing. I honestly don’t know how she does it.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) NorthBay’s Paige Kohler works to get up a shot over Maple City Glen Lake’s Jessica Robbins (23) this season. (Middle) Kohler looks for an opening to the lane with Liliana Valkner defending. (Photos by Ron Kramer.)
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.