Western Wins Big as Emert Shows Way

January 16, 2019

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

WALLED LAKE – The past two holiday seasons, there has been more trash-talking than usual among Steve Emert and his family.

Two years ago, Emert was offered and accepted the girls basketball head coaching job at Walled Lake Western. But there was one intriguing family twist to that decision.

His granddaughter, Olivia Emert, was a varsity basketball player at rival Walled Lake Central.

For that reason, cue the trash talking around the thanksgiving and Christmas dinner tables, although it was obviously good-natured.

“Just a little trash talking back and forth,” Emert said with a laugh. “The trash talking takes place more with my sons. But that’s OK. It’s all in jest and fun.”

Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Olivia, Steve wouldn’t be coaching at Western – where as of Jan. 16, he had amassed a 31-2 record over the last 1½ seasons.

Now a senior at Central, Olivia wasn’t shy about lending her opinion when Steve told her he had been approached about the job at rival Western.

“I sat down with her and told her I had been approached to coach another team,” Steve Emert recalls. “But if you said, ‘Grandpa, I want you at my games,’ then I’m going to be at your games. I’m not going to coach. She said, ‘Grandpa, go do what your passion is. Go coach.’ So that’s what I did.”

As a result, Emert, his family and the entire Walled Lake community got to celebrate a significant milestone Dec. 20.

That night, Western beat Milford, 68-39, to give Emert his 400th career win.

“It’s a big accomplishment,” Emert said. “It’s nice to have, but as I tell a lot of people, it just means I’m getting old and I’ve been around a long time. But I’m proud of it and I’m proud of the fact I’ve had the opportunity to work with so many good student-athletes and parents.”

He started his coaching career in the Walled Lake school district in 1979, with the highlight of his time on the bench coming in 1995 when he helped lead Walled Lake Central to the Class A championship game. Central was defeated by Flint Northern, 59-40.

A few years later, Emert gave up coaching to take on an administration role in the Walled Lake district, which prohibited administrators from being coaches. He did, however, serve as coach of the Oakland Community College women’s team from 1999-2001.

>Emert retired as an administrator in 2009, but got back into coaching less than three years later when he was offered and accepted the varsity girls basketball coaching job at Oxford.

“When I retired, basically my wife said, ‘You’ve got to get out of the house. You’re driving me crazy,’” Emert said.

Emert quickly turned around the Oxford program, leading the Wildcats to an Oakland Activities Association White title in 2014-15 before resigning the following season after five years on the job.

The big motivation leaving Oxford was spending more time watching Olivia, who at the time was a part-time starter for Central.

Now a senior for the Vikings, Olivia gave her grandfather her blessing to take over at the rival school, and Western has become one of the top teams in the Detroit area with a 9-0 record. Western went 22-2 last season.

Led by senior guard Kailee Ford (20 ppg), junior forward Jenna Galecki (18 ppg) and senior forward Sarah Rachiele (16 ppg), the Warriors are thriving in the up-tempo system that Emert employs, which includes constant trapping on defense and running at every offensive opportunity.

Rachiele, who was a member of the varsity team before Emert arrived, said the difference in philosophy has been like night and day since he took over.

“Our two coaches were old-fashioned, pull-it-back out, and they were perfectly fine winning a game 24-23,” Rachiele said. “Although we were winning games, I don’t feel any girls on the team were enjoying it. It was an adjustment at first (to become fast-paced), but I think all of us knew that is what was best for us as a team and we adapted to it pretty quickly.”

There will be plenty more time for trash-talk between the Emerts, since Central and Western still have to play twice during the regular season in Lakes Valley Conference play and have drawn each other in the first round of District play March 4.

But no matter what happens, the community is certainly happy that Emert is continuing to add to his coaching legacy in Walled Lake – and on the state’s landscape as well.

“He is such a humble guy, and he really doesn’t want to own up to all the accomplishments he has,” Rachiele said. “We know now what an impact he’s had on high school basketball.”

PHOTOS: (Top) Walled Lake Western girls basketball coach Steve Emert huddles with his players during a break. (Middle) Emert and his team celebrate his 400th career victory Dec. 20. (Photos courtesy of the Walled Lake Western girls basketball program.

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

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com 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.