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 [email protected] 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.) 

Jahfetson Makes History from 3-Point Range in Taking Baraga to 2023 Finals

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 23, 2024

Baraga’s Corina Jahfetson graduated in 2023 as one of the most accomplished 3-point shooters in MHSAA history and coming off one of the most impressive single seasons from beyond the arc.

Her 103 3-pointers as a senior over 29 games were the second-most for one season and included eight in a Quarterfinal win over Mackinaw City – the second-most in an MHSAA Quarterfinal, Semifinal or Final.

She finished with 236 3-pointers over 96 games and four seasons, ranking 12th on that career list, and Baraga finished the season as Division 4 runner-up. She’s continuing her career at Northern Michigan.

See below for more recent additions to the MHSAA girls basketball record book, and click the heading to view the record book in full.

Girls Basketball

Alma junior Bailey Walkington earned her school’s first single-season individual record book entry for girls basketball in 2022-23. She made the steals list with 143 over 23 games.

Dalton DeBoer became the latest Midland Dow long-range shooting ace to make the records after she drained 70 of 206 3-point attempts over 24 games in 2022-23. DeBoer is a junior this school year.

Durand senior Jordyn Lawrence earned her school’s first girls basketball individual record book entry with 15 steals in her team’s 44-31 win over Flint Kearsley on Dec. 2, 2022. She’s continuing at Mid-Michigan College.

Leah French finished her Engadine career in 2023 with a series of game, season and career record book entries detailing her scoring and defensive skills. She earned single-game listings for 54 points and 19 free throws against St. Ignace on Feb. 6, 2023, and nine 3-pointers against Manistique that Jan. 9. She made the single-season list with 81 3-pointers, 177 free throws and 168 steals over 25 games as a senior. And she made the career lists with 171 3-pointers, 354 free throws and 405 steals over 85 games and four seasons. She’s continuing her career at Aquinas College.

Arieonna Ware earned Battle Creek Central's first girls basketball record book entry with 51 points in a Feb. 11, 2020, win over Portage Northern. She actually finished with a triple-double, adding 12 rebounds and 12 steals. Ware also was added for 47 points in a March 6, 2019, District game against Sturgis.

Mesick senior Kayla McCoy made the MHSAA record in 2022-23 as a junior, totaling 144 steals over 23 games. It was Mesick’s first individual entry in the girls basketball record book.

Coldwater’s Carlee Crabtree made a career-high 52 3-pointers during her senior season of 2019-20 on the way to making the MHSAA career list for long-distance shots with 163, in 469 attempts, over four seasons and 88 games total. She went on to play at Central Michigan and Hope College.

Battle Creek Pennfield’s Kaylee Glidden capped her three-year varsity career in 2023 among the most accurate free-throw shooters in MHSAA history – and also among top 3-point aces. She made 90.6 percent of her free-throw attempts as a senior, good for fifth-highest percentage all-time for one season, and her 84.4-percent success rate ranks fourth on the career list. She also made the single-season 3-pointers list with 67 that winter and the career list with 168. She continued at Kellogg Community College and has committed to Great Lakes Christian College.

Larissa Huffman made a pair of career lists upon completing her four-year varsity career in 2023 at Mackinaw City. She was added for 468 assists and 411 steals, both over 92 games, and she’s continuing her career at St. Norbert (Wis.). Additionally, Mackinaw City was added to the single-game field goals list as a team for making at least 39 in a game six times over the 2021-22 and 2022-23 seasons, with a high of 45.

Lansing Christian earned a listing on the team 3-pointers list when it sank 14 on 32 attempts against Webberville on Jan. 20, 2023. Seven players drained at least one of the long-distance shots.  

Grayling’s 66-49 win over Houghton Lake on Dec. 19 included one of the most impressive defensive performances of all-time as senior Makayla Watkins had 19 steals – tying for third-most in one game.

Brooklyn Columbia Central’s Zoandria Bamm grabbed 28 rebounds during a Feb. 14, 2023, game against Clinton to make the single-game list in that category and on the way to finishing her senior season with 380 rebounds over 25 games – tying for 13th most on that list. She’s playing at Jackson College.

Riley Abney became the first player to be listed for points scored in a quarter of a girls basketball game when she sank 21 of her 36 total during the fourth quarter of a 64-47 loss to Linden on Jan. 16. The Ortonville Brandon senior has committed to be a preferred walk-on at Oakland.

A pair of Paw Paw standouts earned single-game accomplishments within three days of each other in January. On Jan. 26 against Sturgis, junior AJ Rickli grabbed 31 rebounds, tied for seventh-most for one game. On Jan. 29 against Three Rivers, sophomore Stella Shaefer made the single-game assists list with 14.

Keira Maki joined the single-game points list on Feb. 22 when she scored 47 in Escanaba’s 64-49 win over Sault Ste. Marie. The senior will continue at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

PHOTO Baraga’s Corina Jahfetson (22) brings the ball upcourt during the 2023 Division 4 Final against Glen Lake at Breslin Center.