#2 in the State, #1 In Our Hearts
Story by Ken De Laat
Photos by Alexis Mercer
Portland 52 Newaygo 32
One of the most compelling recent stories to hit our area came to an end Friday evening.
Not the ending the team and their fans might have wanted as the Lions came up short in the finals against a red hot Portland squad that made few mistakes and seemingly couldn’t miss a shot. They defended like demons and when the early shots by Newaygo couldn’t seem to find the nets they pulled ahead and pulled away. Down 17 points in the third the team rallied behind a pair of triples by Anna Brummel and buckets by Jaxi and Jaylee Long but the Raiders came back with some timely shots to keep the Lions at a distance and secure the win.
Close to 180 teams play in D2 and Newaygo was one of the last two standing. Not bad for a team generally ignored by the pollsters all season long. A team that methodically knocked out all who stood in their way of getting to this one.
And in the process they charmed and captivated a community with their never-say-die style and superb team play.
From Sparta to Fremont to Vicksburg (really, MHSAA?) and finally East Lansing this team had an entourage limited only by the restrictions of ticket sales. The Lion Loyal cheered them on, often praising the players by name because by the end of this magical season this team established a solid bond with not just themselves but with a community who adored them.
The young women who wore the black and white this season were absolute warriors and their work ethic and wizardry on the court left an impression on anyone who watched them play.
When Coach Thomasma and the three seniors took to the podium in a post game presser those 3 young women likely wished they could be anywhere else at that moment than in front of cameras and microphones.
And yet they sat there fighting back tears and ready to answer any queries tossed at them about the game. Jaylee Long was cornered after her time at the podium by a couple of media folks and she calmly and politely answered their questions when it took all she had to hide her obvious disappointment.
This team, these players, are indeed a class act.
As is their coach Nate Thomasma who has been instrumental in forging this talent into a championship team.
And above all we hope they remember what champions they have been. A loss at the state finals is nothing to be ashamed about because like we said 170 some D2 teams watched this game at home. Multiply that by 4 divisions and well over 600 teams in the state played and lost their last game before the Lions finished runner up.
These Lions put a lot of hardware in the trophy case this season with a conference title, a District title, and a Regional title.
Like I said, champions.
We caught up with Coach T. to ask about the team and in particular, his seniors who led this team to the three titles and a state final.
Anna Brummel- She's a type of player as the years go on, you just don't see as much. And what I mean with that is she came in as a junior and got very little minutes last year behind the Longs and Frisbee. NEVER COMPLAINED ONE TIME. She worked hard in practice everyday and worked hard all summer and it obviously paid off. I think she hit the biggest shot of the year (against WC) to tie it up. Seems like it's harder to get kids to do that in this day in age. She also would've easily started on 95% of the teams we played this year. We don't make the State Finals without her.
Lily Ruehmeier- She is a very caring person. Always the first person to pick someone up if they are down or if they made a mistake. Got Team Mom qualities. Organized our food order when we went to Culvers on the way home last night. Another TEAM FIRST kid. Played varsity as a freshman. Was our 3rd leading scorer. As she got older, she embraced the role of the "glue girl". Always in the right place at the right time. Does a lot of stuff that doesn't show up in the stat book. Coach Barrette says she has the best 8-12 ft jump shot that he has ever seen!
Jaylee Long- I thought your quote said it best*. If I am playing a pick up game and I get first pick, that is who I am picking. The girl is a warrior. From the black eye at Grant to the busted up nose vs. Country Day, she wasn't coming out. If I ever get the chance to coach someone that is as good as a leader as her again, I will be VERY fortunate. In the four years I coached her, she never once had a bad practice. NOT ONE. Unbelievable kid. She is going to continue making a name for herself at Cornerstone, I promise you that.
“The last couple of weeks went fast! It was a fun ride. I tried at times to sit and soak it in. It really just shows what people/groups can accomplish when they work hard and care about EACH OTHER more than they do themselves. This team was that way. We have good players but they don't have egos. I honestly felt more sad about the fact that I won't get a chance to be around this group again at practice or the bus than I was that we lost last night. Just a special group.
“We'll take some time off to recharge. Dan and I are looking forward to the challenge next year. We got some pieces coming back and it'll be exciting to mold the next group.”