By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
HILLSDALE – The Thielen siblings, with oldest daughter Lizzy and three younger brothers, are getting to do something few families in Michigan have had the opportunity to experience – playing high school basketball together on the same team.
When there weren’t enough girls out for the girls basketball team this winter at Will Carleton Academy in Hillsdale, basketball coach Jason Coward decided to add the girls who would have played for the Cougars to his team.
One of them was Thielen, who has moved back and forth between the junior varsity and varsity boys team – giving her the opportunity to play with all three brothers, sometimes on the same night.
“I would be so sad if I wasn’t able to play basketball this season,” Thielen said. “I really enjoy the opportunity to play with my brothers. Not a lot of girls get to say they did that. I’m thankful I can.”
Will Carleton Academy, with just 50 students, has one of the smallest enrollments of any school in the Michigan High School Athletic Association. They normally have enough players for JV and varsity girls and boys teams and participate annually in the MHSAA postseason.
This year, however, for a variety of reasons including the effects of COVID-19, Coward said only four or five girls were with the program when the season was launched in February.
“Frankly, some of the girls found other things to do,” he said. “It was a long wait to decide if there would even be a season. They grew tired of waiting. We didn’t know. They didn’t know. Some of the girls that we thought were going to play made other plans.”
Coward was familiar with some of the Cougars girls because he coached them in middle school.
“I knew they were good competitors who could play,” he said.
So, instead of putting the girls team on the shelf for the year, he did the next best thing – he put them on the boys team. Thielen, Sophia Crites and Clemmie Gadwood are all regular contributors at the varsity level. Gadwood has started most of the Cougars’ games this season while Thielen and Crites come off the bench and have also split time between the JV and varsity, something that is allowed this season with an MHSAA rule change that allows players to play in five quarters a night.
Coward said there was no hesitation in the girls being part of the team.
“I don’t treat them any differently,” he said. “They are just part of the team. They do everything I ask. They are great teammates and great to have on the team. They run the drills and have gotten so much better.”
Thielen said the transition from the girls game to the boys game wasn’t always easy. Opponents are often bigger, the game somewhat more physical and the boys use a bigger basketball. Still, in the end, it's all just basketball.
Will Carleton Academy is off to a 6-4 start. The Cougars had a four-game winning streak earlier this season, beating Jackson Homeschoolers, Battle Creek Calhoun Christian, Coldwater Pansophia Academy and Litchfield. They’ve beaten Litchfield and Pansophia Academy a second time as well.
In the second win over Litchfield, Gadwood, a sophomore, made four first-quarter 3-pointers and finished with 12 points.
Gadwood and Thielen have brothers on the team. Gabe Gadwood, a senior, averages around 20 points a game and is the team’s top scorer.
Thielen said it helps having brothers on the team.
“We are all one big family,” she said. “We go home at night and talk about our games or practices together.”
On Friday, the Cougars played Britton Deerfield. BD head coach Darren Shiels was impressed with the play of WCA.
“It should really help their girls program,” said Shiels, who has coached at Britton and Britton Deerfield for more than 15 seasons. “Playing against tougher competition always makes you better.”
Will Carleton will conclude its regular season March 19. Before then they have two games with Jackson Prep along with dates with North Adams-Jerome and Waldron. The Cougars are grouped in a Division 4 District at Pittsford that includes undefeated Hillsdale Academy.
The Cougars are not the only school in southeast Michigan to have girls play as part of the boys team. Vandercook Lake is not fielding a girls team this winter. Earlier this year, Shelby Moore knocked down a 3-pointer in a Jayhawks game against East Jackson. She did so on an assist from her brother.
Coward said the school had discussions during the preseason about becoming a co-op with another Hillsdale County school for girls basketball but decided it would be better to incorporate the girls into the Cougars boys team instead.
The girls coach, Lakyn Sattison, became an assistant coach for the boys team – and Coward said the girls and boys varsity teams could practice together next season. For another month they’ll continue to play together as one – thankful for the opportunity to take the floor every night, proudly wearing school colors.
“It’s definitely a different game,” Thielen said. “The game is pretty quick, but it’s a lot of fun. I’ve had to improve my skills. It’s helped me improve my skills. It’s just a different level of competition.
“Sure, I wanted to play with my classmates and other girls in my school, but I’m getting to play. And that’s all that matters.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Will Carleton Academy’s Clemmie Gadwood (12) positions for a possible 3-pointer this season. (Middle) WCA coach Jason Coward huddles with his team. (Photos by Joe Flaherty, Hillsdale Daily News.)
Foster Loyer’s four-season career at Clarkston from 2014-15 through 2017-18 certainly must be considered among the most accomplished in state history as he led the Wolves to back-to-back Class A championships in 2017 and 2018 and is listed in the record book 25 times.
Among Loyer’s most notable entries were 2,325 career points (12th most), 272 career 3-pointers (tied for ninth), records of 119 consecutive free throws and 634 career free throws, a .921 free-throw percentage as a junior (tied for fourth) and .900 career percentage (second), 589 career assists (sixth), 278 career steals (15th) and 102 games played (tied for sixth).
Loyer went on to play at Michigan State and then Davidson.
See below for more recent record book entries for boys basketball.
Four Onaway standouts were added for single-season and/or career records. Jager Mix, who graduated in 2022, was added for 92 steals last season and 225 over his four-season career. Kevin Pearson, a 2021 grad, was added for 81 steals as a senior and 247 over his career. Joe Sigsby, a 2016 grad, was added for 127 steals, and Jadin Mix was added for 124 in 2021-22. Their totals rank ninth and tied for 10th, respectively, on that all-time list. Jager Mix also was added for 967 career rebounds, and Onaway as a team was added for tying the record for most points in a quarter with 49 during the first quarter of a win over Fife Lake Forest Area on Feb. 3, 2022. Jager Mix is playing at Alpena Community College, and Jadin Mix is a senior this school year.
Uchenna Amene was added for 11 steals in a March 7, 2022, game against West Bloomfield Frankel Jewish Academy and for 97 steals total over 25 games. He was a sophomore at Southfield Christian that season and now is a senior at Detroit Catholic Central.
Owen Franklin graduated from Oscoda in 2021 as the school’s all-time leading scorer, and nearly 44 percent of those 1,477 points came on 3-pointers. Franklin made the state career 3-pointers list with 216 over four seasons. He’s playing baseball at Northwood.
Traverse City Christian sophomore Reece Broderick became one of the state’s most accomplished long-distance shooters in just his second year of high school this past winter, drilling 104 3-pointers – good for third-most for one season all-time – over 23 games. He connected on 42 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc.
A pair of Rudyard four-year varsity standouts entered the record book after their graduations in 2022. Tate Besteman made the career rebounds list with 762 over 89 games, and EJ Suggitt made the career 3-pointers list with 215 over the same 89 contests. Besteman played this past season for Mid Michigan College, and Suggitt is playing baseball at Spring Arbor.
Success from 3-point range played a significant role in Mesick finishing 21-1 in 2021-22, as the team made 195 of its 578 attempts – with game highs of 15 twice in wins over Baldwin and Pentwater.
Then-senior Tristan McFolley earned the first listing under single-game rebounds since 2013 with 30 in Detroit Cesar Chavez Academy’s game with Hope of Detroit Academy on Dec. 8, 2022.
Tawas found its groove from long range Jan. 10 against Oscoda, drilling 22 3-pointers in an 86-31 win. The total tied for fifth-most in one game.
Although Norway felt just short, 40-37, in its District loss to Crystal Falls Forest Park on March 8, Alex Ortman kept the Knights close scoring 20 of his team-high 25 points in the fourth quarter to make the single-quarter scoring list. He’s now a senior.
Kobe Clark has listings in two MHSAA record books, with three for boys basketball joining those he earned for football during his Schoolcraft career. He was added in hoops for 531 career assists and 290 career steals over 94 games from 2016-17 through 2019-20, and also for 82 steals as a senior. Tyler DeGroote also was added to the record book, for scoring 20 points during the first quarter against Delton Kellogg during Schoolcraft’s Jan. 11, 2022, victory. Clark began at Saginaw Valley State for football and now plays basketball and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, and DeGroote is continuing at Rockhurst (Mo.).
Past Detroit Cooley star Larry Fogle has added a seventh record book listing a half-century later. Fogle grabbed 33 rebounds on Jan. 18, 1972, during a win over Detroit Mackenzie. He went on to play at Louisiana and Canisius, and then briefly with the New York Knicks.
Trevon Gunter scored 42 points in Kalamazoo Central’s 84-56 win over Richland Gull Lake on Jan. 17, 2020, including 31 during the third quarter – second-most and just one shy of the record for points during one period. A senior that season, Gunter plays currently at Grand Valley State.
Mark Wittbrodt held the record for consecutive free throws at 70 until 2008, and that entry in the record book has been joined by several others from the Bay City Western star. He was added for his 192 3-pointers, 436 free throws, .842 free-throw percentage and 266 career steals over three seasons from 1991-93, as well as for six single-season accomplishments. He went on to play at Michigan Tech.
Ellsworth’s Jacob Jenuwine tied for 12th on the single-game 3-pointers list when he connected on 11 as part of scoring 39 points total in his team’s Feb. 14 win over Alanson. Jenuwine graduated this spring.
Bellevue senior Dawson Wing capped his three-season varsity career last winter with three entries in the record. He was added for 12 blocked shots in a 2021-22 game against Colon, 107 for the season last winter and 203 blocks over his career. Teammate Caleb Betz, a senior this fall, was added for 12 steals in a game against Athens.
Logan Mansfield capped his Morenci career in a big way last winter. The senior drilled 90 3-pointers over 24 games to earn his school’s first individual record book entry in boys hoops since the 1987-88 season, when John Craig had 132 blocked shots that would have been the second-most recorded at that time. They currently rank 13th.
New Haven earned a pair of record book entries during its March 10 win over Memphis. The Rockets bested their previous single-quarter school record with 41 points during the opening period, and they also made the statewide single-game 3-pointers list with 16.
Whitehall’s Camden Thompson, a junior this fall, earned his first record book entry last winter – and the first for his school in boys basketball. He grabbed 303 rebounds over 21 games.
Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep junior Zeekeal Jackson earned his school's first boys basketball record book entry this past season as well. He made the single-season steals list with 106, over 22 games, and just missed the single-game list with a high of 10.
Jonesville’s Brady Wright was among his team’s leading scorers during his three varsity seasons ending this past winter, but he also was a major contributor defensively. He made the records with a season-high 101 steals over 25 games as a senior, and made the career list with 232 steals over 61 games.
Sophomore Christopher McLavish Jr. made a memorable impact last season with a pair of record book entries. He made the single-quarter points list with 20 in a Feb. 21 game against Flint Powers Catholic, but even more memorable were his 97 3-pointers over 25 games for the season – tying him for 11th all-time on that list.
PHOTO Foster Loyer directs Clarkston's offense during its 2018 Class A Semifinal.