By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
GRAND RAPIDS – Like kids in every community, future Jackson Northwest athletes grow up dreaming of winning championships.
But there’s something more to say about the opportunity earned by the Mounties with their 56-47 Class B Semifinal win Friday over Michigan Center.
A championship Saturday would be the first in program history. It would be the second in school history, in any sport – joining the Division 2 girls bowling title won in 2013.
“It would be good for our community, because everybody has brought so much support,” Northwest senior Sydney Shafer said. “And the fact that we’ve never done this makes it better because we’re making history.
“We’re hanging numbers – that was our thing, kind’ve – and it’s just surreal. Not many people get to experience what we’re going through right now.”
The Mounties already will hang a few “numbers” – maybe a few 18s on the banners in their gym for winning their first Regional and making their first girls basketball championship game this winter.
They’ll get a chance to add one more against Detroit Country Day in Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. Class B Final at Van Noord Arena.
Northwest (25-1) has put together a nice run in girls basketball with a combined 79-17 record and three District titles moving between Class B and Class A over the last four seasons.
The Mounties fell four points shy of claiming that first Regional title in Class A in 2016, losing to East Lansing by four points in the Regional Final.
“This has been our goal the last four years. This year, this team is special,” senior Ella Bontrager said. “We knew that from the beginning. We’ve taken one game at a time, worked hard on offensive and defensively, and this team play together more than any team too. We want it, every single game, and we don’t want to be done.”
Northwest came out Friday draining shots. Bontrager knocked down two 3-pointers during the game’s first two minutes, and sophomore sister Jozie Bontrager’s 3-pointer two minutes later made the score 13-4.
Jozie Bontrager connected on a pair of 2-pointers during the second quarter to keep Northwest’s lead at 31-22 by halftime.
But Michigan Center, a Class C runner-up twice last decade, had some shooting bottled up for the second half. Despite trailing by 17 during the first minute of the fourth quarter, the Cardinals cut that deficit to seven over the next two minutes in part on 3-pointers by senior Brianna Wolvin, sophomore Morgan Morris and senior Masyn Shannon.
The comeback wasn’t unexpected, as the two schools are 14 miles apart and a number of players know each other from the offseason circuit.
“Every game we’ve played, we seem to allow those runs,” Northwest coach Ryan Carroll said. “I know that’s not a strong trait, but we also then respond.
“These guys are fearless. It’s just another game for them, just another run. We knew Michigan Center was very capable of knocking down shots.”
In the end, Northwest knocked down a few more, especially at the line. The Mounties connected on 13 of 23 free-throw attempts, but Michigan Center was only 7 of 18.
Schafer finished with 21 points, along with 13 rebounds and six steals. Jozie Bontrager had 13 points and 12 rebounds and Ella Bontrager added 11 points. Senior Masyn Shannon had 14 points and seven rebounds to lead Michigan Center (23-3) and was the only senior to see the floor for her team.
The Cardinals finished a combined 43-7 over the last two seasons after going 6-15 in 2015-16. They’ve most recently been in Class C, but moved into Class B this school year.
“It was such a journey for us,” Shannon said. “We were excited every single game. Every game we won in this tournament, we bawled our eyes out because we were so happy. It’s something to be excited about, something to be nervous about – a lifetime experience and something me and the rest of the team will never forget.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Jackson Northwest players celebrate Friday’s Semifinal win over Michigan Center. (Middle) Michigan Center’s Morgan Morris works for position in the post with Jozie Bontrager guarding her.
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.