One of the compelling moments of this season’s Girls Basketball Finals at Michigan State’s Breslin Center came just after the final buzzer of the Division 1 championship game.
As his players rushed each other to celebrate midcourt, West Bloomfield coach Darrin McAllister first leaned forward, hands just above his knees, before moving down into a crouch, head dipped to his chest, obviously breaking down a bit in joy at what his Lakers had just completed.
McCallister had played college football and helped Wayne State’s women’s basketball program to multiple NCAA Sweet 16 appearances as an assistant coach. But what the Lakers did last month – finish reeling off 25 straight wins with their first MHSAA Finals girls basketball championship – made his “Mount Rushmore,” if not much more.
“This is probably at the top,” he said this week, after a month of the experience settling in. “Because I knew the sacrifices that these players made, I knew the sacrifices that the coaches and the parents made, and then for (our players) to speak it into existence that they want to win a state championship, it’s great.”
It was not as easy as the Lakers – the MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for March – frequently made it appear.
Yes, West Bloomfield’s players said on their first day of practice Nov. 12 that they planned on winning the Division 1 championship. And that seemed like a logical goal for a team that eventually will send at least four players to Division I college programs and had won a league title and finished 10-3 during the COVID-interrupted 2020-21 season.
But the Lakers also entered the preseason having graduated five players from that team and with a young but talented lineup needing to learn how to be cohesive and efficient in their roles. Add in that McAllister got a late start, taking over the program after all of the summer training and majority of preseason prep were done.
West Bloomfield lost its season opener 59-46 to Dexter (which would go on to finish 19-3). But a week later, the Lakers started to show what they could do in coming back from a 19-point deficit to defeat Illinois power Bolingbrook 48-47.
Just before the midpoint of the regular season, McAllister could see things taking shape.
“We had talented players, but they were young. So we kinda started it all over and identified our identity,” he said. “Every had to establish their roles and buy into their roles, so it wasn’t easy. I think for me, it makes me more appreciative and makes me enjoy this experience more than anything else.”
Along the way, West Bloomfield repeated as Oakland Activities Association Red champion. Two weeks before the start of the playoffs, the Lakers also accomplished what for a few seasons had seemed unthinkable to most – hand Detroit Edison a 65-62 loss, the Pioneers’ first to an in-state opponent since 2017-18 and after Edison had defeated West Bloomfield by nine and 28 points the season before.
Perhaps the least surprised were the Lakers, who had started believing they could defeat Edison after the Bolingbrook win. They also believed they could compete with every other team as well – and they would continue impressing with a championship run that included wins over Bloomfield Hills Marian (15-7), Farmington Hills Mercy (18-5), Grosse Pointe North (18-6), Troy (13-12), Rockford (23-3) in the Semifinal and Hartland (25-2) in the championship game.
The pair of wins at Breslin showed what West Bloomfield has transformed into this winter. In defeating the Rams 66-63, the Lakers received double-digit scoring from four players – led by sophomore twins Indya Davis with 24 points and Summer Davis with 16 and six assists – with junior Sydney Hendrix posting a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds and guard Myonna Hooper setting the high-energy tone along with scoring 14 points. At the same time, senior center Zaneiya Batiste didn’t score and shot only twice – but grabbed nine rebounds, nearly the difference in the Lakers’ rebounding edge.
West Bloomfield defeated Hartland 51-42 with Indya Davis and Hendrix both posting double doubles, Summer Davis again dishing six assists, Hooper again energetically chipping in and Batiste again helping out big on the boards. In both games, sophomores Destiny Washington and Kendall Hendrix came off the bench to provide valuable minutes.
“March was the month everything came together,” McAllister said. “At the end of the (championship) game, I shed tears because it was emotional seeing it come together.”
West Bloomfield felt like it was just trying to catch up much of the season due to McAllister’s taking over late. But now, with five of this season’s top seven players coming back next year, it also feels like the Lakers are just getting started.
“Now I’m excited and looking forward to our offseason,” McCallister said. “I can’t wait to get the players in June and start getting workouts in and going to team camps, because I know that’s only going to make us better for the upcoming season.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2021-22
February: Cadillac girls skiing - Read
January: Hartland hockey - Read
December: Midland Dow girls basketball - Read
November: Reese girls volleyball - Read
October: Birmingham Groves boys tennis - Read
Macey Fegan ♦ Standish-Sterling
Senior ♦ Basketball
Fegan entered this second week of her senior season as the Standish-Sterling girls basketball scoring record holder – there was conversation last week of whether the former record was 1,599 or 1,609 points, but she surpassed both with 26 points in a season-opening win over Mio and 17 more in a 46-32 victory over Alcona to reach 1,620, taking over the top of the Panthers’ scoring list that had been occupied by Kelly Walker since 1999.
The 5-foot-11 guard averaged 29.9 ppg last season in leading Standish-Sterling to a 17-6 record, and her goal since the start of high school has been 2,000 points – within reach if she averages 19 over the next 20 games. The two-time Division 2 all-state first-team selection also is a two-time all-state outfielder in softball and played volleyball her first three years of high school before switching to swimming this fall. She has signed to continue her basketball and academic careers at University of Toledo.
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Dec. 2: Treyton Siegert, Gladwin football - Report
Nov. 24: Lily Witte, Dexter diving - Report
Nov. 17: Navea Gauthier, Shelby volleyball - Report
Nov. 10: Derek Huisman, Holland Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3: Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay cross country - Report
Oct. 27: Justin Wickey, Colon football - Report
Oct. 20: Owen DeMuth, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood tennis - Report
Oct. 13: Mia Melendez, Ann Arbor Greenhills golf - Report
Oct. 6: Shawn Foster, Grand Ledge football - Report
Sept. 30: Hannah Smith, Temperance Bedford swimming - Report
Sept. 22: Helen Sachs, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Sept. 15: Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8: Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1: Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25: Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report
(Photos courtesy of the Standish-Sterling girls basketball program.)