Bellaire senior – Basketball
Bellaire’s 5-foot-8 forward added another memorable accomplishment to a high school career she expects to finish this spring with 11 varsity letters across three sports. Niepoth, a Class D all-state honorable mention a year ago, grabbed 27 rebounds to go with 24 points in a 54-21 win over Johannesburg-Lewiston on Friday to set a school record for rebounds and earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”
Niepoth is averaging 15 points, 14 rebounds (including six offensive), 3.8 steals and 2.2 assists per game, and her 27 rebounds made the MHSAA record book tying for 17th-most grabbed in one game. Niepoth is a four-year varsity basketball player, and this season’s team is 8-1 and ranked No. 2 in Class D by The Associated Press. Niepoth’s impact on both ends of the floor is obvious; she’s the best passer on the team to go with her scoring and rebounding, and she’s a “ball hawk” defensively able to guard every position while helping key the Eagles’ press. Niepoth also was a four-year varsity volleyball player and all-area selection as an outside hitter, and she’ll play her third year of varsity softball in the spring – she had to miss last season after injuring an ankle near the end of basketball season.
Her athletic successes go hand in hand with her classroom performance. Niepoth has a 3.945 grade-point average and is leaning toward studying psychology at Ferris State University after graduation. She has worked as a teacher aide in a special education class and would like to work with children in the future. She serves as a fine example to players coming up in Bellaire’s program, and she’ll be back on the court Friday against Pellston – before a matchup Wednesday against rival Gaylord St. Mary that likely will pit the first-place teams in the Ski Valley Conference.
Coach Brad Fischer said: “From day one she has made us a better team. Flat-out, she is a game changer, a tenacious player that never quits on a play. She can and often does dominate the game by her relentless effort rebounding and controlling the boards. The defensive pressure she puts on our opponents makes us go. … Her impact on the entire program may be immeasurable. For the past four seasons she has given her team, the program, and me as her coach the belief and confidence that no matter who we play we have the chance to win each contest. Not every program can say that, and I can without hesitation. Belief and confidence plays an important role in athletics, academics, and in life. With her that belief and confidence has made it throughout our entire program by her peers watching her and the constant positive examples we use of her for our younger players to emulate. That has made such a positive flow of influence from the high school level all the way down to our youth program. Lexi has been one of the main reasons for our recent success through her dominance, reliability and being a great teammate and role model on and off the court.”
Performance Point: “I don’t really think about it as I play. I just go for the ball. At halftime, my coaches kept telling me to rebound, and I could just tell; they were like, ‘You’re pretty close to the record.’ So I just kept rebounding and didn’t want to think about it a whole lot, so I didn’t freak out. When I was sitting on the bench, the JV coach that was sitting on the bench came to me and said, ‘You’re really close. Just keep playing, and keep rebounding.’ During the game, I don’t really think about how much I score or how much I rebound, so it’s rewarding – and it shocked me, to be honest.”
Own the boards: “My coach says sometimes in practice how I’m falling in love with just jumping for the ball instead of boxing out. But I feel like when they shoot it, I just assume it’s not going to go in, because obviously I like to rebound. But I also try to watch where the ball is going to bounce off the rim. I don’t really box out, to be honest. I just kinda run around the people – and then just jump as high as I can to try to get the ball.”
Finish strong: “We’re senior-based. I’ve been with Tally Goodwin all four years too, and I think her and I probably work the best just because we’ve had that experience. … Ever since freshman year, I never really thought senior year would come. I think it’s kinda cool: We were good freshman year. We were good sophomore year. We struggled junior year, and this year I feel like everything is clicking and the teamwork and team chemistry is probably one of the best I’ve had all my four years.”
Be the example: “I love the younger kids, and actually last year I was the coach and helped out with one of the youth programs. I just hope that I’m a good role model for them to become and do their best – (to teach them) the work ethic, or always trying your hardest even if you’re down by 15 or you’re up by 20, to try to still go after every ball, try to still make every lay-up, every shot. And also how you work with your teammates and how you work with the other teams, your sportsmanship and your attitude.”
On a mission to help kids: “I went to Belize on a mission trip with my youth group (over Christmas her freshman year), and it kind’ve all started there. You do things for them, say things to them. You teach them, and it sticks. It’s rewarding to see what you taught them and their growth.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
Previous 2017-18 honorees:
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City Central golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Bellaire's Lexi Niepoth (13) blocks a passing lane during a game this season. (Middle) Niepoth makes a move to the basket. (Photos courtesy of the Bellaire girls basketball program.)
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.