A year in the making, the Lions and Falcons finally get their Final tonight.
By Ken De Laat
Earlier this year reached the 1000 point mark...as a junior.
Recruited by and committed to Michigan State as a sophomore.
All Stater last season.
Ok she’s good.
And she will likely score a lot, defend like a demon, rebound, intimidate with her lightning quickness and basically rule the court when she’s out there because you always need to know where she is.
But she’s one player.
Don’t get me wrong the Falcons run deep. Polega the freshman plays like a Varsity vet and Vallone has a consistent ability to step up when needed. Like Montague, West is undefeated but, unlike the Wildcats, the Falcons have experienced few close games in amassing those wins.
Then you have the Lions who enter this game as serious underdogs.
Most, particularly those in the GR area media, felt the Christian/West game would determine the eventual Regional champ.
But of course that was the thought process last year.
Newaygo plays with heart as well as an incalculable degree of collaborative creativity. The players know each other well. They know when someone needs help, they know when someone needs the ball.
And they are absolutely fearless on the court.
One thing you notice if you’ve watched this team over the past couple of years is how they approach the game. They are a blue collar, grind it out and go full bore from tip to buzzer kind of team that just wears down opponents with their relentless drive.
And they back down from no one.
Jaylee and Jaxi Long, Goodin and Fisk, Brummel and Ruehmeier, and the super subs Swinehart and Painter.
They are the Elite Eight who have forged what is perhaps the most successful season since those tenacious teams in the mid 80’s who own those banners that grace the Newaygo gymnasium wall.
Teams that, incidentally, also featured sisters who could play a little ball.
And Coach Thomasma has been the ideal mentor for this squad.
Coach T. knows this team well because he built them into the force they are today by putting together the pieces of the puzzle.
A good bench coach, Thomasma knows when a player needs to come out if only to regroup or grab a momentary rest and is quick to call timeout when he sees a need for adjustments on the floor.
And this team listens to him.
There’s a misconception that it is easy to coach talent but over the years I’ve witnessed highly skilled teams struggle to find success. In few other sports is the elusive concept of team chemistry as important as it is in basketball and while coaches can’t make it happen they are key components when it comes to enhancing, nurturing and helping it thrive.
Ok, so the smart money will be on the Falcons. They have the swagger coming in, they are deep in talent and feature a bench that would start on most other teams in the tough conference they compete in.
Oh and they have Kimball.
And yet Newaygo, unrecognized by the rankings, swept through the rugged CSAA Gold and but for a narrow loss in Portland to a Raider team who has romped their way to their own Regional final the Lions would also be undefeated.
I looked over now and then at these young women as they took in the West Catholic win. They paid attention, watched with some level of interest, but none looked to be in awe.
It was just another team.
A really good team, mind you, but in the end just another team to face on the court where the Lions do their talking.
As I said before, this is a team with heart.
Yes, West has a juggernaut of a team with a more than likely repeat all stater at the helm and visions of a trip to the Breslin.
But Newaygo will compete and barring early foul trouble there is no reason they shouldn’t have a good shot here.
And with consummate floor leader Jaylee Long suiting up as she has these past four years?
I might be a bit of a homer here but...
I like their chances.