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
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.