Photos by Alexis Mercer
Story by Ken De Laat
A pair of Lions earned their places on the Associated Press All State Team announced this week.
The accolades for Newaygo’s Jaylee Long continue to highlight her senior season with her selection to the Associated Press All State 2nd team.
Long, a four year Varsity player, was the consummate leader on the floor for the team that mowed through highly ranked and highly regarded squads to reach the finals at Breslin.
A trip, mind you, not made by a Newaygo team for a mere 35 years.
“I'm honored to have the recognition,” she said. “It came through a lot of hard work and I'm blessed to be in this position,”
The senior will be taking her hoop talents to Cornerstone University next year when she suits up for the Golden Eagles
In addition to her ball handling brilliance Jaylee displays an impressive amount of courage when she takes to the court. A demon on defense, the frustration she delivers to opponents and her relentless style of play has led to a number of elbows (hopefully inadvertent) sent in her direction and often finding a landing spot. She’s been knocked to the floor given a shiner or three and frequently can be found in the middle of a scrum on the court.
If it hurt or if it gave her pause, no one could tell because she simply picked herself up and went back to the business at hand.
At the post game press conference after the loss to Portland she and her teammates muddled through the inevitable questions posed by the media. Then she was twice stopped on her way back to commiserate with her teammates to answer more questions, to add a bit more to the story of the loss.
And struggling through frozen tears she patiently answered all queries, all the while dealing with the disappointment that comes when a magical run falls one game short.
A class act.
Coach Thomasma:“Very proud of Jaylee. She has an unbelievable work ethic and she was rewarded. She’d be the first to tell you this is a team award as these rewards are. She plays the game the right way. Great teammate and leader. As I said earlier, I’m still picking her first in a pickup game!! “
The second Lion (nee Bronco) named all state was Coach Nate Thomasma who led his team to the State Championship game while collecting hardware from District, Regional and Conference titles along the way. He received honorable mention for Associated Press Coach of the Year.
While Jaylee Long was the leader on the floor, Coach Thomasma was the indisputable leader on the bench. Yes, the Lions definitely put a lot of talent on the floor this season but it fell to Thomasma to forge them into a team.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Lions this season was the manner in which they operated. Despite many of them having lengthy basketball histories with each other the team truly came to fruition this year. You could see it develop toward the end of last season when they stopped losing the close ones and learned how to regroup and finish games.
Then came this season and a team that refused to lose and took down a few Goliaths along the way.
Thomasma guided this team like a symphony conductor. I could occasionally hear someone in the crowd questioning a move or a time out or a substitution, but Coach T. knew his team. If the decision didn’t produce the desired effect it was more than likely still the right decision for his team.
And as he has all season Coach Thomasma defers to others when asked about the honors.
“Definitely a team award,” he stated. “Dan (Maki) was very helpful throughout the whole year and Jason (Long) in the postseason and prior years as a JV and youth coach. This recognition is shared with them and the girls.
“Any coach that is honest knows you need the horses to be super successful, we had them this year.”
We asked fellow all-stater Jaylee Long about her longtime basketball mentor:
”I've had Coach Thomasma for four years and he's one of the best coaches I have ever had. He jokes and has fun with us, but is also able to get our intensity and competitiveness up during practice. Coach T. pushes us to reach our highest potential. I know that in any situation Coach Thomasma will have my back and I will have his. I know that he not only cares about me as an athlete but also as a person.”
Yep. Another class act.