EAST LANSING – Brad Wilson had preached to his Rockford girls basketball team the importance of focusing on the next play. Not worrying about what had just happened, but moving forward and making the next play to help your team.
Apparently, he did a good job of drilling it home.
After hitting the biggest shot in program history and giving the Rams a final-minute lead in the MHSAA Division 1 Final against West Bloomfield, junior guard Grace Lyons’ mind immediately went to heeding her coaches instructions.
“It was amazing, but I knew we had to get back on defense and finish it out,” Lyons said.
Lyons and her Rockford teammates did finish it out, making her go-ahead 3-pointer with 40 seconds remaining the deciding bucket in a 40-36 win over West Bloomfield at the Breslin Center to capture the first Finals title in program history.
“Greatness is about the journey – it’s about the effort that gets put in each and every day,” Wilson said. “In my opinion, these girls were great before we even played this game. They were great before there was a single play in this game. But we had an opportunity to be the greatest in our school history today. Our mantra was, ‘Next play.’ (West Bloomfield) had a couple of runs where some teams would have folded, but our girls didn’t flinch. They steadied the storm, and when girls had opportunities to make plays, they did.”
The win avenged a Semifinal loss from a year ago, when the Lakers ended Rockford’s first trip to the Final Four.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Rockford senior guard Alyssa Wypych said. “I went light-headed. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening.’ It’s something I’ve worked my whole life for. It’s been a dream forever. To finally get it done is just amazing.”
Getting it done took surviving a tight, physical game with the reigning Division 1 champion. Both offenses struggled to get anything going against the other’s stellar defense, and the teams headed into the fourth quarter with West Bloomfield leading 23-22.
Neither team led by more than three points during the fourth quarter until Lyons hit a pair of free throws to ice the game with one-tenth of a second left on the clock.
“They are a really tough team,” Wypych said. “Especially since we had experience playing a majority of their players last year, we knew we were going to have another good game.”
West Bloomfield led 36-35 with under 2 minutes to play, but Lyons came up with a steal with 1:12 remaining to start her game-ending heroics.
Not long after, she found herself open near the top of the 3-point line and didn’t hesitate to let a shot fly, giving Rockford a 38-36 lead with 40 seconds to play. It was her first basket of the day.
“I wasn’t going to stop shooting just because I missed a few,” Lyons said. “I knew I was a good shooter, and at least one of them had to go in. When Anna drove in and just kicked me the ball, there wasn’t anyone around me so I just let it fly and it went in.”
Wilson said it’s a shot that will probably be talked about forever in Rockford.
“It’s a sports town,” he said. “High education, high standards. Our community loves our teams. Anywhere you go, you can’t get away from it. I’d expect the rest of my lifetime – I’m a Rockford Ram forever, raising my family here and I’m a teacher at the school – so I’m assuming we’re going to have conversations about this for the rest of my life. There’s nothing more I’d rather talk about. So, pretty awesome.”
West Bloomfield (26-3) had two chances to tie the game, but turned the ball over on its first, and missed a pair of free throws with 2.8 seconds remaining on its second.
The Rams (28-1) still had to avoid a turnover against West Bloomfield’s incredibly effective press, but they managed, with Lyons inbounding the ball and getting a return pass before being fouled.
While Lyons was the hero down the stretch, Rockford was in the game thanks in large part to the efforts of sophomore Anna Wypych. She finished the game with 20 points and eight rebounds.
“She puts in more time than most people on the planet,” Wilson said. “She’s a gym rat. We do so much as a program, and (when) we’re not doing stuff, she’s doing stuff on her own. When she came here, there were some things she had to learn. Over the course of these last two years, just her evolution in her game, whether it be offense, whether it be defense, whether it’s attacking the basket, knocking down 3s and really just being a big player in big moments, it’s astonishing. I couldn’t be more proud of this one here.”
While West Bloomfield’s pressure defense was giving Rockford trouble, the Rams’ defense was doing the same to the Lakers. West Bloomfield was just 14 of 42 from the field, and star twins Summer and Indya Davis were held to 12 points, with Indya scoring eight.
Junior Kendall Hendrix led West Bloomfield with 12 points and seven rebounds, while senior Sydney Hendrix had 10 points.
“They came here for a reason, and they came here to beat us, because they had nothing to lose and we had everything to lose,” Kendall Hendrix said. “So, next year, we have nothing to lose. I think next year gives us more motivation.”
Another rematch isn’t far-fetched, as both teams bring back the majority of their rosters.
When asked if they expected it, Rockford’s players didn’t hesitate to answer in the affirmative.
“That’s the plan,” Wilson said.
PHOTOS (Top) Rockford’s Grace Lyons (11) shoots the go-ahead 3-pointer with 40 seconds to play Saturday in the Division 1 Final. (Middle) The Rams’ Anna Wypych (2) drives to the basket with West Bloomfield’s Sydney Hendrix (5) defending. (Below) Kayla MacLaren (14) is presented the championship trophy while her teammates celebrate.
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.