By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
WYOMING – When the month of March rolls around at Wyoming Tri-unity Christian High School, it’s traditionally been a time for the community to rally around the boys basketball team for a lengthy postseason run.
The boys team has been a perennial state powerhouse in Class D for the past 20 years, winning four MHSAA Finals (1996, 2002, 2006, 2011) and earning four runner-up finishes.
This season, however, the girls basketball program enjoyed similar success with its own jaunt through the Class D tournament.
The Defenders won their first MHSAA Regional title last week with a 58-46 win over Climax-Scotts, upping their winning streak to 13 games after an 8-4 start. Tri-unity’s historic campaign ended Tuesday night with a disappointing 71-30 loss to unbeaten Pittsford in a MHSAA Class D Quarterfinal.
"Our goal was to do this,” Tri-unity coach Bryan Sinner said. “This is my third year, and our goal coming in was to bring some respect to the girls’ side of the program and that’s what we’re doing. The boys are going on a run, and we’re on a run, and it’s been fantastic for the school, especially for these girls now.”
The Defenders finished with a 21-5 overall record, and the banner season was something they knew was possible at the start of the season.
“I knew we could go far as long as we worked together,” said senior guard Sarah Buffum, a four-year varsity player who averaged a team-high 17.5 points per game.
“We had the talent, but we just had to come together as a team. We knew we could do it, and winning Regionals was so special, especially since it was the first time in school history. It meant a lot.”
Tri-unity’s other senior, center Marissa Stevenson, said it was thrilling to become the first team to reach the Quarterfinals.
“It was exciting to be noticed and make history for our school,” she said. “I think we were all in a lot of shock when we won, but throughout the season we learned our team chemistry, and our defense really picked up in this tournament. I had so much confidence in our team.”
Said Sinner: “They felt pretty special after that win, and they worked extremely hard for it. It’s a true blessing that we were able to do that, and the support from our fans and community has been fantastic. It’s gone back and forth between the girls and the boys, and it’s really great for our small school.”
The Defenders received a wealth of encouragement from the boys during their journey.
“The boys were supporting us along the way, and that was exciting to see,” Stevenson said. “It was nice to have their support behind us, and we give them our support, too.”
Tri-unity’s squad consisted of only 10 players: six juniors and a pair of sophomores joined the lone seniors.
After enduring two one-point losses on buzzer-beaters early in the season, as well as double-digit losses to Fruitport Calvary Christian and Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, the Defenders began to find their groove.
They gained confidence with each victory and built momentum for the postseason.
“The middle of the season we started coming together and playing as a team,” Sinner said. “I could see some special things happening. There was this determination and this commitment to going out there and leaving it all on the floor. You could see it in their eyes.”
Junior guard Cierra Smith provided a spark for Tri-unity, as did 6-foot sophomore Elasia Craig, who averaged 12 rebounds a game and set a school record for blocked shots with 82.
A demanding schedule, which included games against Class A, B and C squads, also factored into the Defenders’ success.
“Playing those schools helped us prepare and get ready for these months,” Sinner said. “I don’t think we’ve done that in the past, but we’re trying to do that now. I would rather take my lumps during the season in order to prepare us for this time in the season.”
The future of the girls program remains bright with the graduation of only Buffum and Stevenson. An experienced core will be back and a group of younger players are waiting in the wings.
“I have five freshmen playing now, and seven eighth-graders and 13 seventh-graders who are coming to these games and seeing the excitement,” Sinner said. “Hopefully it keeps growing this way.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Sarah Buffum drives during Tuesday’s Quarterfinal loss to Pittsford. (Middle) Marissa Stevenson (42) works to get to the basket Tuesday. (Below) Elasia Craig provides plenty of hope for the future after setting a school record for blocked shots. (Photos by Chris Duzan.)
Another girls basketball season is underway, and the best from 2022-23 are wasting no time seeing how they match up this winter.
Every Monday through the MHSAA Finals in March we’ll look back at the previous week’s results that were most attention-grabbing across the state, highlight a few programs in every division on the rise and glance at some of the games coming up that pop off the page most. One week in, and we’ve already had our share of headline-grabbers with more immediately on the way – read on for details.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
2. Detroit Renaissance 53, Lansing Catholic 46 The Phoenix (2-0), a Division 1 semifinalist last season, earned the headliner for opening week by edging the reigning Division 2 champion Cougars (0-1).
2. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep 45, Maple City Glen Lake 38 The Irish (3-0) reached the Division 4 Quarterfinals last season, and highlighted the first week of this one with this win over the reigning champion Lakers (2-1).
3. Lake Linden-Hubbell 48, Baraga 45 The Lakes (2-0) went a combined 1-2 against Baraga (1-1) last season – with a District Final loss as the Vikings went on to finish Division 4 runners-up.
4. Howell 60, Farmington Hills Mercy 59 Gabby Piepho scored 34 points to lead Howell (2-0) past Mercy (0-1), a Division 1 Regional finalist last season.
5. Frankenmuth 53, Freeland 51 On a night when Frankenmuth honored late star Keri Frahm, a 2016 grad who died in a car crash in October, the Eagles (2-0) held on for what no doubt will be a key league win over the Falcons (1-1).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Bloomfield Hills Marian (2-0) A rough start last season turned into a 10-14 finish for Marian, but the Mustangs did win six of their last seven games and picked right back up with a 2-0 start last week. Marian opened with a 57-44 win over Imlay City, avenging a six-point loss from last winter, and then defeated Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest.
Milford (2-0) The Mavericks are off to a quick start under new coach Tim Olszewski, who came to Milford after a successful run at Howell. They edged Fowlerville 27-23 and then defeated Waterford Mott, after ending last season with a District Semifinal loss to Olszewski’s Highlanders.
Detroit Country Day (2-0) Past star Amber Deane’s first season as coach ended impressively with a 17-7 record and triple-overtime loss to Goodrich in a Regional Final, and she has Country Day off to a fast start. The Yellowjackets doubled up Birmingham Groves to open and defeated Tecumseh 66-52 at Ypsilanti Arbor Prep’s Ice Breaker Classic; Tecumseh finished 20-5 last season.
Shepherd (2-0) After building from seven wins two seasons ago to a 10-13 finish last winter, Shepherd may be on the verge of another advance. The BlueJays opened by edging Beal City 42-40 – Beal City won 14 games last season – and then defeated Gladwin 55-50 in double overtime.
Evart (2-0) The Wildcats’ matchups with Lake City last season had Highland Conference and statewide implications – Evart won the first, but Lake City won the next two to claim league and District titles. Evart has the early upper hand again, following up last week’s 20-point win over Reed City with a 42-41 victory over the Trojans.
Perry (2-0) The Ramblers have improved from zero to four to six wins over the last three seasons, respectively, and are well on their way to increasing that total again. Perry opened with a 38-37 win over Morrice (after losing to the Orioles last season) and 44-27 victory over Byron, and have another fresh start moving to the Central Michigan Athletic Conference this winter.
Colon (2-0) The Magi finished 21-5 last season, reaching the Division 4 Regional Finals before falling to Hackett (highlighted above). Colon began this one with a 52-33 win over Adrian Lenawee Christian, which made the Semifinals last winter, before defeating Battle Creek St. Philip big to finish the week.
Lutheran Westland (2-0) The Warriors are another team quickly pursuing an improvement over last season, when they finished 10-14. They opened with a 44-24 win over Ann Arbor Greenhills, then defeated Whitmore Lake 28-19 – Whitmore Lake downed Westland twice last season on the way to winning the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Red title.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Wednesday – Kingston (2-0) at Goodrich (2-0) – These two finished a combined 49-6 last winter, with Kingston reaching the Division 4 Quarterfinals and Goodrich playing in the Division 2 Semifinals.
Thursday – Salem (2-0) at West Bloomfield (0-0) – This is a rematch from last season’s Division 1 Semifinals, won by West Bloomfield, and headlines the Kensington Lakes Activities Association/Oakland Activities Association Challenge.
Friday – Rockford (2-0) at Muskegon (1-1) – The reigning Division 1 champion Rams travel to take on the Big Reds, who are looking to avenge last season’s 19-point loss after which they went 15-5 to finish the winter.
Saturday – Detroit Edison (0-0) vs. Detroit Country Day (2-0) at Belleville – This is arguably the most intriguing matchup from the Best of Michigan Holiday Classic and matches teams with high aspirations in Division 2.
Saturday – Midland Dow (1-1) vs. Salem (2-0) at Belleville – This Best of Michigan game matches a Dow program that’s regularly among Division 1 contenders with a Salem team that joined the elite last season.
MHSAA.com's weekly “Breslin Bound” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTOS (Top) Flint Powers Catholic and Davison face off in a season opener, won by the Chargers 73-41. (Middle) An Otsego player puts up a shot during her team's 44-35 loss to Portage Central. (Top photo by Terry Lyons; middle photo by Gary Shook.)