PAW PAW — New coach, new attitude and new results have sparked the Paw Paw girls basketball team to success it has not seen in years.
The new-look Red Wolves (7-2) will battle Otsego (10-1) on Friday, with the winner landing atop the Wolverine Conference.
That's been unvisited territory the last few seasons for Paw Paw, which finished with a 5-12 record last season and 6-15 two years ago.
“I thought they’d be better than the five games (they won) last year,” coach Ernie Ramirez said. “They’re exceeding my expectations right now.”
Two sophomores are instrumental in the turnaround.
At 6-foot-1, Katelyn Baney – who was honorable mention all-state last year – has already received a scholarship offer from Western Michigan University. She averages 13 points, 11.2 rebounds, three steals, 2.6 assists and 1.5 blocks per game.
Because of a broken arm, Addison Roy played just four games during last year’s COVID-shortened season. But the 5-11 sophomore has been putting up numbers on the court this year as well, averaging 11.7 points per game, 12.2 rebounds and 2.5 steals per contest.
Both have tallied five double-doubles, three times posting them together in the same game.
Baney honed her skills practicing with older players, including her sister, Allison, who was a senior when Baney was in third grade.
Ramirez said Baney may be young, but she is long in experience.
“With all the basketball she’s played, travel basketball, multiple games, if you add all those games, it’s probably like a senior’s worth of games,” he said.
“That’s unique. Sometimes all the games outside the school add up to another season.”
The coach said Roy has been a surprise.
“She works hard at her game,” he said. “She’s the one who says, ‘Hey Coach, can I stay 20 or 25 minutes after?’
“She’s going to be that girl who always improves because she works at her game. She is that quiet leader.”
Roy said the way she improves is by listening and watching.
“I try to really focus and be open to what everyone else has to say, take a little piece of advice from everyone because everyone has a little piece of advice to offer to help you become a better player,” she said.
“I also watch my teammates to see if I can do (what they’re doing) too, if it works for them.”
Seniors tasting success
Ramirez is especially happy that the three seniors on the team are experiencing a winning season.
“The girl that’s probably played the most varsity is Taylor Rickli,” he said. “She’s been there through thick and thin, the first girl they had to pull up (to varsity) when she got to high school.
“Jackie Villanueva has always been the ‘rah rah girl’ on the team. Sophia Griffin is also probably tired of having those losing seasons.”
The five juniors on the team are Hannah Conway, Leah Wilder, Sammi Jurgensen, Avery Vogel and Molly McNitt. Freshmen Grace Mitchell and AJ Rickli join them as well.
Baney said the key to this year’s team is “our team is stronger and has a greater knowledge of our sport of basketball.
“I think we click a little better and we all have the ultimate goal of wanting to win.”
Roy added that team chemistry has a lot to do with the Red Wolves’ success
“We all really do get along on and off the court, which helps a lot with playing as a team,” she said.
“I think we’re all sick of losing in any sport. Coming off a losing season makes you want to work harder.”
Baney said after her freshman year, she knows other teams are aware of her on the court: “I feel I do get targeted a lot and double-teamed, but it makes it even better that I’m seen that way through other people’s eyes.”
Ramirez said the sophomore is one of the team captains for a reason.
“You need one of those young people who can work with the middle school kids,” he said. “They see her as an example, not only on the court but off the court, too.
“I see some of the younger kids gravitate to her. She’s a little bit of a stats-stuffer, too.”
Ramirez said the young players are the future of the team, and that future looks bright.
The junior varsity is currently undefeated.
“The JV team pushes the varsity girls to keep playing the way they are because they want to get on varsity,” he said.
“That’s one of those good things where the program as a whole is getting better.”
Paw Paw a good fit
Ramirez, who is a research and development specialist at Zoetis in Kalamazoo, said he was helping a friend do some offseason coaching that included a few girls from Paw Paw.
They mentioned the varsity job might be open.
“I juggled it in my head because I was at Comstock,” he said. “Something pulled me over here.
“I already knew they had a core group of girls who were dedicated to the gym. That’s always a must for me.”
He said by June, he knew it was a good fit because “there were already girls lined up to do summer stuff with me, wanting to do a lot of scrimmaging and whatnot.”
Ramirez said the program’s success is a team effort, and not only from the players.
“I have a great coaching staff; it’s not just me,” he said. “Katie Steers is a new JV coach; my assistant coach Montana Martin is new and came with me from Comstock.
“They all played basketball at Trine University, so they’re a good woman example of teaching how to be a good high school and college athlete. I’m only as good as my coaching staff.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Paw Paw sophomores Addison Roy, left, and Katelyn Baney are leading a resurgent varsity this winter. (2) From top: Baney, Roy and coach Ernie Ramirez. (3) Roy gets in position for a rebound against Vicksburg. (4) Baney follows through on a free throw. (Action photos by Brent McNitt/1001 Words Photography. Head shots by Pam Shebest.)
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