Newaygo Eyeing Another Playoff Run Led by Crew That's Been There

By Tom Kendra
Special for

December 2, 2021

NEWAYGO - Newaygo made a “Hoosiers”-like run to the Division 2 girls basketball championship game in April, but in its first game back Tuesday, the Lions found themselves trailing at halftime.

Time for seventh-year Newaygo coach Nate Thomasma to peel the paint off the locker room walls?


“We were in there about three minutes,” laughed Thomasma, who returns five of the eight players from last year’s magical team. “I just told them we need to do this, this and this and, if we do, then our shots will start falling.”

The Lions must have done those three things, as they outscored visiting Shelby 29-7 in the second half to turn a one-point halftime deficit into a comfortable 47-26 nonleague victory.

Over the final 16 minutes, the Lions looked like a team that could make another tournament run like last season’s, which didn’t end until a 52-32 Finals loss to Portland at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

Newaygo got the state’s attention in 2020 with a stunning upset of No. 5-ranked Grand Rapids Christian in the Regional Semifinals on a long-range, 3-pointer from then-sophomore Jaxi Long with six seconds remaining. That excitement was wiped away quickly, as the season ended abruptly the next day due to the COVID pandemic.

The “Little Lions” with their eight-player roster picked up right where they left off last postseason, knocking off perennial powers Grand Rapid West Catholic in Regionals and Detroit Country Day in the Semifinals at Van Andel Arena, before running out of gas in the championship game.

It was a ride to remember for the town of 2,471 residents, located about 30 miles northwest of Grand Rapids, which has just two state championships in school history – won by the back-to-back Class C girls basketball champions in 1985 and 1986.

Newaygo basketballThe Lions are back at it again with a 10-player roster, including five starters who were part of last year’s team – senior forwards Emmerson Goodin, Kayla Fisk and Lily Swinehart, senior guard Jaxi Long and junior guard Grace Painter.

“I really think we have a chance to go just as far,” said Long, whose older sister Jaylee was the star last year and is now getting increasing minutes on the varsity team as a freshman at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids. “We need to play great defense, rely on each other and trust our abilities.”

Jaxi Long showed the ability to heat up from long range, nailing five 3-pointers and scoring 16 of her game-high 24 points to key the second-half run and bring the excited student section in “The Jungle” to its feet. Long added six rebounds and three steals.

As good as Long was after halftime, it was the 5-foot-10 Goodin who kept Newaygo close in the first half, scoring 10 of her 15 points before the break. Goodin grabbed a game-high nine rebounds (putting her over the 500-career rebounds plateau), along with three blocked shots.

Long and Goodin are the captains and unquestioned leaders of this year’s team, which played elevated competition this summer after the Finals appearance, including a demanding week at Grand Valley State’s team camp.

“It felt like we had a target on our backs and that everyone was coming for us,” said Goodin, who was also one of the standouts on Newaygo’s volleyball team this fall, which won a District championship. “We learned how to fight back. It made us a lot better playing those bigger teams that we are not supposed to be able to beat.”

Goodin is the team’s top returning scorer (13 points per game) and rebounder (nine per game). Long averaged 11 points, five assists and four rebounds last year.

Fisk could be the “X factor” on this year’s Newaygo team, with her 5-10 height and long wingspan making her a disruptive force on defense, particularly on the point of the Lions’ halfcourt trap. Fisk finished Tuesday’s game with six points, six steals and four rebounds.

Thomasma, who received honorable mention Division 2 Coach of the Year recognition last season, knows he has a seasoned, veteran team this fall – with four of the team’s five starters being seniors – while all five players on the bench are underclassmen.

“He is positive, and his criticism is always constructive criticism,” said Goodin. “He gets after us, but he doesn’t just yell at us for no reason.”

Newaygo entered last year’s postseason unranked, before reeling off a series of upsets. The Lions finished 14-0 in the Central State Activities Association Gold and 21-2 overall, with both losses coming against Portland.

Newaygo celebrated its runner-up finish with a new banner for the gymnasium, which was unveiled before a football game Sept. 24. Since that time, Thomasma has tried not to look back.

“These girls are confident because of the success we’ve had the past two years,” said Thomasma, who is assisted by Dan Maki. “But this is a new season. We’re going to attack it and make our own legacy.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS Newaygo's Jaxi Long (13) directs her teammates during last season's Division 2 Semifinal win over Detroit Country Day. (Middle) Kayla Fisk brings the ball up court at the Breslin Center. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.) 

Teams of the Month: Hart Girls & Boys Basketball

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 23, 2023

Few communities in Michigan this winter celebrated as many sizable basketball achievements as small-town Hart.

The 2,000-resident Oceana County seat, about seven miles off the Lake Michigan shore and sitting about 20 miles south of Ludington and 30 north of Muskegon, celebrated accomplishments by both its girls and boys basketball teams that carried statewide significance – and made choosing either over the other’s impossible.

The Hart girls and boys basketball teams are the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Teams of the Month” for February, and this announcement is coming toward the end of March as both just kept winning and adding to their season-long lists of feats.

The Pirates girls made the first major headline when they defeated second-place Mason County Central 51-32 on Feb. 10 to clinch the outright West Michigan Conference Rivers championship. The Hart girls had also won the formerly one-division WMC in 2021-22, and this year’s run ran their league winning streak to 31 games.

Then the boys took their turn, clinching a share of the Rivers championship Feb. 17 with a 67-51 win over North Muskegon and then the title outright by defeating Mason County Central 63-45 on Feb. 23. This league title received some statewide buzz as it was the Hart boys’ first since 1963.

A week later, Hart’s boys finished a 22-0 regular season – becoming the only boys team, and joined by only three girls teams – to go 22-0 this first season that MHSAA member schools were allowed to play 22 games instead of the previous longtime maximum of 20.

The Hart boys then drew into one of the strongest Districts in the state in any division, with the Division 2 group at Big Rapids including four league champions. The Pirates opened with a win over the host Cardinals – winners of the Central State Activities Association – before ending their season at 23-1 with a loss to Big North Conference co-champ Cadillac in the District Final.

The Pirates girls, meanwhile, had clinched their Division 3 District with a third win over Mason County Central, and then won a Regional by edging two-time reigning Finals runner-up Kent City 37-34 – in the process also avenging Hart’s first loss of this season, from Dec. 20. The Regional title was the Hart girls' first since 1992.

Next up was 23-1 Buchanan – and Hart made its biggest statewide splash by handing the Bucks a 45-41 Quarterfinal defeat that sent the Pirates to the MHSAA Girls Basketball Semifinals for the first time.

Hart would end up falling to eventual champion Hemlock 57-26 at Breslin Center, finishing the season 24-4.

“I said it the other day: We’re kinda overlooked. Last year we had a really good team, probably one injury away from another run like this,” said Hart girls basketball coach Travis Rosema during the press conference after the Semifinal. “It started with people investing into the girls. Now that players like Aspen (Boutell) and Abbey (Hicks) have made this run, I saw so many young faces. … We left this morning, the elementary school was packed, and every kid had a sign. It’s a positive impact (and) it’s going to be a lot moving forward.”

The Pirates girls were keyed by Hicks, a junior, sophomore Addi Hovey and Boutell, one of three senior starters.

The boys were paced by senior Parker Hovey, who went over 1,000 points for his career and will continue at Hope College.

Past Teams of the Month, 2022-23

January: Taylor Trillium Academy bowling - Report
Byron Center hockey - Report
Martin football - Report
Gladwin volleyball - Report
Negaunee girls tennis - Report

(PHOTOS by Kara Raeth/CatchMark SportsNet.)