Westwood Sets Sights on Past Heights

December 20, 2018

By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half

ISHPEMING – The Westwood Patriots do not have a senior on their girls basketball roster and only two players stand as tall as 5-foot-9.

But don’t overlook this team.

Five juniors who played extensively a year ago provide the leadership and experience, while two sophomores and a promising freshman show excellent potential in the challenging Mid-Peninsula Conference. And they play for a team that is steeped in tradition and success, including a 2003 Class C championship.

Kurt Corcoran, a former Westwood cager, is in his seventh season as head coach. His assistant coach is Irv Dieterle, who is second in the Upper Peninsula among boys basketball coaches with 555 wins. Corcoran played for Dieterle in the 1990s.

“Irv is one of my very best friends in life now,” said Corcoran. “At times I was so angry and frustrated with him as a teenage boy. Now we can sit over a cup of coffee and laugh and laugh and laugh.

“I have the best assistant coach possibly in the nation. I feel very privileged to have him as a friend, assistant and mentor.”

Dieterle provides suggestions at halftime or when asked on the bench. “I would be crazy not to heed his advice,” said Corcoran, who is in charge of this team.

With the lack of size, the Patriots use solid defense and rely heavily on the shooting skills of junior Madi Koski, a three-year starter who was all-conference and All-U.P. as a freshman. In their most recent game, Dec. 18, Koski scored 21 points and hit two 3-point baskets to help subdue Gladstone 50-32.

“Madi is a stone-cold killer when it comes to scoring,” said Corcoran. “I’ll put her shot up against anybody (in high school).”

Her sister Jillian is a freshman with outstanding promise playing like most freshmen riding the roller coaster of success and mis-adventures. She did not score against Gladstone but had 17 points against archrival Ishpeming on Dec. 10.

“They are not the same player. Jillian will sacrifice her body, but Madi is a little more reserved diving into those (piles of) bodies,” said Corcoran. “(Jillian) is a real good ball handler, probably one of the best I’ve seen, but she needs to get stronger and catch up to the speed of the game.”

Jillian Koski has been a point guard since forever but is now at shooting guard, with her sister at the point. “(Jillian) is not on anybody’s radar yet (but) she is catching up with the speed of the game. That takes at least 10 games,” said Corcoran. “She lets the game come to her. Madi has to score. Madi facilitates the game. She wears many hats (scoring, passing, defending).”

He said the young sisters “really have just one goal in common, and that is to win.”

Corcoran is trying to restore Westwood to the level of long-ago years when the Patriots were always among the Upper Peninsula’s elite teams under veteran coach Tom Hammar (nearly 400 career wins) and with such standouts as Sarah Stream and Megan Manninen, who both played in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference for Michigan Tech and Lake Superior State, respectively. Jessica Racine also played at Tech, and Chelsea Wealton was another standout.

Two years ago, the Patriots beat unbeaten Norway and all-stater Jordan Kraemer, and last year they beat unbeaten neighbor Negaunee in the District opener. Negaunee and Westwood, two of the best teams in the peninsula this season, will collide in the tourney opener in March after two regular-season league matchups.

“With the guard play we have now and in the future, our goals are set high,” said Corcoran. “But we have to get past that first game to even get out of Districts. I’d be lying if I didn’t say we have our sights set on making a run downstate. They have paid their dues; they want a state championship. That is not a secret, but that is also Negaunee’s goal and West Iron’s goal. That is everyone’s goal.”

Reaching that height would be a big change from where the Patriots were a couple of years ago. The Pats were 5-15 when Madi Koski and fellow junior standout Tessa Leece were in eighth grade.

“As freshmen, they came to a struggling program that had been down in the dumps. They were given the keys to the Cadillac as young teenagers and they really were not ready,” said Corcoran.

But the two frosh made an immediate impact and Corcoran said “from that moment forward the program took a turn for the better. They got to 12 wins and beat 18-0 Norway. (Madi Koski and Leece) are the lead dogs and are really comfortable in their lead roles. They really stepped into a big hole in the program.”

He said his junior aces spend 365 days a year in the gym, and that hard work is catching on with their teammates, such as junior Karlie Patron and sophomore Ellie Miller.

Leece’s sister Mallory is a freshman on the school’s junior varsity. With low numbers (eight varsity players, nine jayvees), the younger Leece stayed with the jayvees but could join the varsity for the postseason.

Corcoran said he is seeing many long-time Westwood fans returning to the gym as they hear about the program’s revival. “We’re turning heads a little bit and people are starting to notice,” he said, admitting that also generates pressure from parents, fans and administrators.

He pointed out the Westwood school district was born in 1974 through a consolidation that brought in students from Champion, National Mine and Michigamme. “Westwood is not a town,” he said of the area west of Ishpeming that covers about 700 square miles of woodlands and water and consists of multiple generational Westwood school families.

With just 17 girls in the basketball program, Corcoran was asked about the future of girls basketball, which in the U.P. has just seven freshmen teams.

He said youth travel programs have made a big impact in recent years – and goals can become misplaced on winning tournaments instead of how many players enjoy the sport enough to continue on into high school.

“They play little (weekend) tournaments and everybody has fun, they have pizza parties at their hotel. Then they get to the high school level and coaches hold you accountable," Corcoran said. "We practice seven days a week, there are no pizza parties, no trophies. They’re in ninth grade and they already have a seven-year career and they’re not having fun anymore.” 

“Basketball is a way of life up here and we take it seriously. With that comes a lot of hard work, too.”

Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012 and currently is in a second stint as the interim in that position. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at sportsdenesky@gmail.com with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.

PHOTOS: (Top) Westwood's Tessa Leece (2) drives to the basket while Ishpeming's Emma Poirier defends last week. (Middle) Poirier (2) is pressured by Westwood's Jillian Koski as she heads to the basket. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)

Breslin Bound: 2022-23 Girls Report Week 8

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

January 23, 2023

Of course, what matters most is ending the season with a win – and only four fortunate Michigan high school girls basketball teams do so every winter.

MI Student Aid

But as we cruise into the second half of this regular season, it’s notable to highlight the 18 teams that have played nearly two months without experiencing defeat.

We detail a few of those below, but the list in whole includes Farmington Hills Mercy, Detroit Renaissance, Temperance Bedford, North Farmington and Flint Carman-Ainsworth from Division 1; Escanaba, Grand Rapids West Catholic, Lake Fenton, Haslett, Vicksburg and Warren Fitzgerald in Division 2; Bronson and Detroit Osborn in Division 3, and Kingston, Morenci, Mackinaw City, Brethren and Norway in Division 4.

“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com.

Week in Review

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:

1. Haslett 55, DeWitt 52 The Division 2 Vikings (12-0) won this nonleague matchup of undefeated teams, sending Division 1 DeWitt to 10-1.

2. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 45, Grand Blanc 43 The Cavaliers (10-0) remained undefeated overall and also in the Saginaw Valley League in handing the Bobcats (8-4) their first SVL loss.

3. East Grand Rapids 49, Lowell 40 The Pioneers (10-2) bounced back from defeat to hand Lowell (10-2) its first loss of the season.

4. Morenci 48, Petersburg Summerfield 41 Morenci (12-0) maintained an edge both locally in the Tri-County Conference and statewide in Division 4 with Summerfield (12-2) also among the elite.

5. Utica Eisenhower 47, Grosse Pointe North 46 After losing to North by 14 a month ago, Eisenhower (9-3) evened the season series with this close win over the Norsemen (11-2).

Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest's Aliyah Ozias (2) drives to the basket against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood during a 62-32 victory.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:

DIVISION 1

Brighton (8-3) In finishing 17-8 and fourth last season in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West, Brighton lost twice to Howell, Northville and Brighton. In leading the conference this winter, Brighton has defeated all three plus second-place Salem by 20 points. The Bulldogs are on an eight-game winning streak after opening 0-3 with two of those losses to teams still undefeated.

West Bloomfield (11-2) The reigning Division 1 champion Lakers also have won eight straight, with their only losses to reigning Division 3 champion Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (by four) and Indiana power South Bend Washington. Meanwhile, West Bloomfield has wins over South Lyon East, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Clarkston and Rochester – which all have won at least eight games – plus Detroit Cass Tech and Illinois power Chicago Kenwood.

DIVISION 2

Dearborn Divine Child (11-2) The Falcons opened the calendar year with a solid 63-62 win over Redford Westfield Prep, then had a brief bobble with losses to Warren Regina and Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard – but are right back in contention in the Detroit Catholic League Central with their first meeting with league leader Farmington Hills Mercy on Tuesday. Divine Child is coming off defeating eight-win Grosse Ile, and also has a nice victory over Salem and handed Dansville its only loss this winter.

Houghton (10-1) The Gremlins are coming off a 51-46 win over another Upper Peninsula contender in Calumet, and have won six straight since their lone defeat to West Iron County. Last season’s 18-4 finish included a split with the Copper Kings, a sweep by Hancock and a playoff loss to Negaunee. Houghton also has a win over Negaunee this season and sees Hancock for the first time Feb. 9. Six of 10 wins are against teams .500 or better, with a 14-point victory over 10-win Baraga another major highlight.  

DIVISION 3

Elk Rapids (9-2) There may have been no better way to come back from a Jan. 13 loss to Traverse City St. Francis than Elk Rapids’ 51-42 win over Harbor Springs four days later, and those three teams all top the Lake Michigan Conference with one league loss apiece. Elk Rapids’ only other defeat was to Division 4 contender Maple City Glen Lake. The Elks won the LMC last season before losing to St. Francis in their District, and get the next chance to break that streak against the Gladiators on Feb. 9.

Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (6-4) The Gators always load their regular-season schedule in preparation for the postseason, and it paid off with another Division 3 title last winter. This season’s losses were to Division 2 Westfield Prep, Lake Fenton and Chelsea (two of those in overtime), and to Illinois power Chicago Butler. As noted above, Arbor Prep has defeated West Bloomfield, among four teams with double-digit wins – Tecumseh, Father Gabriel Richard and Madison Heights Bishop Foley are the others.

DIVISION 4

Gaylord St. Mary (9-2) The Snowbirds have won nine straight since opening with losses to still-undefeated Escanaba and New Lothrop. All nine of those wins have come by double digits as St. Mary has vaulted back to the top of the Ski Valley Conference after sharing the title in 2021 and winning it outright last season. Expectations should remain high again after last season’s playoff run ended in the Quarterfinals against eventual champion Fowler.

Pittsford (10-2) The Wildcats also have won nine straight, all by double digits as well, as they seek to build off last year’s 18-4 finish. The losses came early to Hudson and Sand Creek, who both have won at least eight games, and Pittsford also has avenged last season’s defeat to Athens – another eight-game winner so far this winter. Pittsford more recently defeated Hillsdale Academy, a nine-game winner, in a key Southern Central Athletic Association matchup.

Can’t-Miss Contests

Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up: 

Tuesday – Dearborn Divine Child (11-2) at Farmington Hills Mercy (12-0) – As noted above, this matches two of the top three in the Catholic League Central and after these two split last season’s two meetings.

Tuesday – Byron Center (10-3) at East Grand Rapids (10-2) – EGR has a Saturday matchup with undefeated Detroit Renaissance, but first up is a key Ottawa-Kent Conference White meeting with league leader Byron Center.

Friday – Escanaba (13-0) at Calumet (9-2) – Two of the best in the Upper Peninsula face off, and they’ll actually see each other a second time Feb. 10 when both could be on their ways to league titles.

Friday – Bay City Western (11-1) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (10-0) – These are two of three still undefeated in the Saginaw Valley League, with the only loss between them Western’s to Big North Conference contender Traverse City Central.

Friday – Temperance Bedford (12-0) at Saline (11-1) – A Saline loss last week to Grass Lake kept this from being a matchup of undefeated squads, but these two top the Southeastern Conference Red and are among the highly-regarded statewide in Division 1.

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) Dansville sets up to defend during last week's 38-28 win over Bath. (Middle) Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest's Aliyah Ozias (2) drives to the basket against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood during a 62-32 victory. (Top photo by Click by Christine McCallister. Middle photo by Chris Mudd; click for more from National Photo Scout Action Photos.)