Still #1: Heritage Lands 2nd Straight Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 23, 2019

GRAND RAPIDS – Not often is the reigning champion the hunter and not the hunted. But that’s how the Saginaw Heritage girls basketball approached this season. 

With the graduation of some key members from the 2018 Class A title team, the Hawks felt they were being overlooked.

On Saturday, they re-established themselves as the top team among the state’s largest schools, now classified as Division 1. 

Behind a stifling defense, Heritage earned a second straight MHSAA title by defeating top-ranked Southfield Arts & Technology 55-40 at Van Noord Arena on the campus of Calvin College.

“If anything, we kind of felt underestimated, like a lot of people didn’t think we were going to get right back,” Heritage senior Shine Strickland-Gills said. “We lost two players, and they scored a lot … and it didn’t look like we had much coming in through the tunnel after them, so they didn’t really think we were going to go back again. But we wanted to prove them all wrong, and our whole thing was to stick together. Our end goal, everybody’s end goal, was to play in the last game and win. We just knew what we had to do, and we made sure that got done.” 

It was the third MHSAA championship for the Hawks (25-2), and it seemed fitting it was this senior class that spearheaded these last two. Strickland-Gills and classmates Moira Joiner and Mallory McCartney have been playing together for more than a decade, and had predicted they could accomplish this before they got into high school. 

“They were eighth graders the last time we were in a Final Four, and they all cut school and came down to the Breslin Center and watched Heritage,” Hawks coach Vonnie DeLong said. “We lost that day, and they told me that day, ‘We’re getting back here and we’re winning it, Coach.’ They made good on their promise to me.” 

Heritage looked like a team that knew it was supposed to be playing in Saturday’s moment, taking control early and remaining calm and composed while clinically finishing it off.  

The Hawks were hitting 50 percent of their 3-pointers at one point in the third quarter, and finished the game with 19 assists on 20 made baskets. Joiner led the way with 17 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, nearly matching the triple double she had in Friday’s Semifinal against Wayne Memorial. Strickland-Gills added 16 points, eight rebounds, six assists and six blocks, while junior Keyonie Champion had 12 points. McCartney added seven points, five rebounds and five assists. 

“Having them be seniors, not just seniors, but having been in this game before – having been in these big games is huge,” DeLong said. “Today they just knew. I talked to them this morning and told them, ‘This is it, last time you’re ever going to play together – you're going to keep playing, but not together – and this is the last chance you got. I’m going to tell you right now, last game senior year, if you can go out a winner, that’s absolutely the way you want to go.’” 

While Heritage didn’t have much trouble settling in, the Hawks made it hard for the Warriors (24-2) to do so, especially on the offensive end. They played zone and closed down on everything in the paint, forcing Southfield A&T into its worst offensive performance of the season.  

It was only the second time all year the Warriors – who shot 16 of 47 (34 percent) from the field – were held below 50 points. The other time was a 45-43 loss to Heritage in the second game of the season. 

“They were in a zone, and the zone packed it in a little bit, and we were struggling to find some gaps to attack,” Southfield A&T coach Michele Marshall said. “We play inside-out, and it just appeared the gaps were not there. If they were, when we tried to attack, we were just a little bit hesitant.” 

Zone isn’t the typical defensive setup for Heritage, but DeLong said possible fatigue from the previous night’s Semifinal and the importance of keeping Strickland-Gills out of foul trouble pushed her to make the change. 

“I don’t think we’ve played a full game of zone all year this year,” DeLong said. “We played it a couple times last year, and it worked in the Final. We talked about it last night, watched some film today and did some walkthrough at a gym this morning. Most of them have played our zone enough, so they know what to do, but a couple of our kids are a little shaky. But we got them through, and it worked.” 

The Warriors shot 6 of 21 (28.6 percent) in the first half, and just 2 of 8 (25 percent) in the second quarter. They played more than six minutes of the second quarter without star forward Alexis Johnson, who was sidelined with three fouls. 

Heritage was able to take advantage during that span, stretching its lead to 11 points by halftime and never looking back. 

Soleil Barnes led Southfield A&T with 14 points, while Cheyenne McEvans had 13.  

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Heritage’s Mallory McCartney looks for open teammates Saturday during the Division 1 Final. (Middle) A&T’s Cheyenne McEvans directs her team’s offense.

Hemlock, Rockford Follow 3-Point Success to 1st Titles, Record Book Fame

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

September 1, 2023

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:

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.