ESCANABA — So far, so good for the Escanaba girls basketball team. The Eskymos are 13-0 after rolling to a 65-36 triumph at Bark River-Harris last Friday, with three more wins already than all of last season.
Coach Tracy Hudson said everything started in a cornfield in Carney during the summer.
“We lost to Ewen-Trout Creek, West Iron County and Bark River-Harris in summer tournaments,” he added. “We were taking a step back and a step forward. We kind of found ourselves in a small gym at Carney-Nadeau. We had to go through some growing pains, but played real well at Michigan Tech and Marquette. We came out of the summer feeling we could be all right.”
They’ve been outstanding.
Coming off a 10-10 finish last season, Escanaba has won nine of its games by double digits under Hudson, who took over the girls program this season after leading the varsity boys from 1997-2022.
The Eskymos improved to 5-0 in the Great Northern Conference with a 62-46 triumph over Menominee on Jan. 16 and have a two-game lead in the league standings with three GNC games to play.
“It feels great to be where we are,” said senior forward Mari Bink, who averages 15.1 points a game. “We were confident coming into the season, but you never know what can happen. We enjoy playing together, and we’re having fun. It’s crazy, but we get excited.”
Hudson is happy with all the success as well but knows the Eskymos will be tested in the days to come. They visit Calumet (10-2) tonight and Houghton (12-1) on Feb. 3.
“The teams in the Keweenaw are very good,” he said. “We’re going to have to bring our A game. Our team motto is ‘All In.’ Coach (Lisa) Maki and the girls came up with it. We have to bring it every day. I think we still have a lot of room for growth.”
Still, Escanaba will enter those games having handed the lone loss to another of the elite teams from the Keweenaw. Sophomore center Grayson LaMarche scored the game-winner on a layup in the final 12 seconds of a 50-49 win over Hancock (11-1) on Jan. 13.
“They definitely have some good teams in the Copper Country,” said senior point guard Carney Salo, who was forced out of that game after hitting her head on the floor late in the third quarter. “I had a rough couple days, but it felt good playing in the Menominee game (three days later).
“I didn’t have any hesitation. We were able to take away (Menominee’s) passing lanes. Defense is the one thing you can control.”
Escanaba is giving up just under 46 points per game against a schedule that’s included wins over four teams with at least 10 wins and eight teams .500 or better. Rival Marquette would be a ninth over .500 if not for a sweep by the Eskymos.
Salo, who didn’t play last season due to an ACL injury, is averaging 7.3 points, 3.5 assists and 2.4 steals per game.
“A personal highlight is just getting a chance to play after missing last year,” she said. “I think that makes me more motivated, although you always want to give it your all.”
Junior forward Keira Maki, a 49-percent field goal shooter, scored 24 points and LaMarche added 13 at BR-H.
“That has become a good rivalry,” said Maki. “They’re quick, and they put a lot of pressure on you. They don’t give up. They’re definitely well coached.”
Maki is averaging 17.8 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.9 blocked shots, four steals and 2.8 assists per game. She went down with an ankle injury during a 49-33 triumph at Alpena on Dec. 13 but returned in time to help the Eskymos post a 74-44 triumph at Gladstone two weeks later.
“Gladstone definitely has a good freshman (Lillie Johnson), but we put it all together and got the ball moving a lot,” said Maki. “They had a few other players we also had to stop. I felt I wasn’t as well prepared as I could have been if I hadn’t gotten injured at Alpena.”
The Eskymos opened this season with a 65-50 triumph at Marquette, then defeated Gaylord St. Mary (60-45) and the host Ramblers (50-42) in the McBain Invitational.
“We felt we needed to get a win at Marquette,” said Hudson. “Gaylord St. Mary and McBain were polar opposites and got on a little bit of a roll after that. The game with Sault Ste. Marie (a 62-57 victory) was a very big game here. That was similar to Hancock. We couldn’t relax for a moment.
“We’ve separated from the rest of the GNC teams a little and found a way to win the close games. We’re excited about where we’re at. It’s like whipped cream right now, but we’ve told the girls to keep the eye of the tiger and keep improving.”
Junior guard Saylor Henderson has provided timely shooting from outside, hitting 37 percent of her shots from 3-point range and 44 percent inside the arc. She’s averaging 7.2 points.
“The 3-point shot is a big part of our game, and Saylor is a green-light shooter for us,” said Hudson. “Because we play uptempo, we get good looks in transition. We’re also a good free throw shooting team (averaging 67 percent).”
Hudson said he also appreciates the help from the assistant coaches.
“Coach Maki has done a real good job,” he added. “She understands the girls, and our younger coaches (C.J. Barron and Darren Landis) absorb everything like a sponge.”
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTOS (Top) Escanaba's Keira Maki (12) leads a break against Menominee during a Jan. 16 victory. (Middle) Eskymos coach Tracy Hudson talks things over with his team during last Friday's win over Bark River-Harris. (Photos courtesy of RRNSports.com.)
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.