Catfight in Vicksburg as Lions & Wildcats battle for a trip to the Van
By Ken De Laat
Photos by Alexis Mercer
179 teams in D2.
After District play the 32 teams who hauled home the hardware moved on to the 8 Regionals. Then like the 147 teams before them, 24 of those 32 squads played (and lost) their last game.
Now just 8 remain standing.
And for the first time since the 1980’s when those Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Famers captured the hearts of the town and ignited an epic post title celebration the Newaygo Lions are among the octet of teams just 2 wins away from the dream of a trip to the Breslin.
And their opponent for this most recent Battle of Vicksburg will be the Wayland Wildcats, the OK Gold champ who, unlike the last two Lion opponents, have actually lost a couple of games.
By a total of 7 points.
The Wildcats have 6’3” center Stephanie Aimsworth who has dominated the paint collecting rebounds and a lot of points off those boards. During their Regional final she got into some early foul trouble but Reese Coughlin came off the bench to clean up a lot of glass in her absence. Despite spending more time than usual watching from the sidelines the starting center tallied 16 points.
And while Aimsworth and/or Coughlin will prove a tough challenge for Goodin, Ruehmeier and Fisk it is the point guard for Wayland that makes the Wildcat engine run..
Parrish Hudson can dish it out with the best of them and when she is hot she can fill it up dropping 27 points on Edwardsville in the final courtesy of 5 triples. Maddi Terry on the wing will rip it from distance as well.
Fortunately when it comes to facing down teams with a marked height advantage this is certainly not the Lions first rodeo.
Positioning, perseverance and a willingness to mix it up inside is the mantra of the Lion when it comes to the battle for boards. As we’ve said before, Goodin is having an exceptional season providing her team a much needed presence in the paint and some tough points while usually playing among the trees.
Ruehmeier has that knack of being in the right place at the right time. She seems to anticipate where she is needed on the court and gets herself there. While her point total may not often reach double figures she can be counted on to hit the clutch shot when needed like her drought relieving basket against West in the Regional final.
Fisk has truly taken flight this postseason. She has been incredible on defense hounding opponents into mistakes and slapping away shots with authority. She is a fascinating watch on the court with her intimidating style of play and acrobatic moves.
Brummel is a sharpshooter who continues to come through with big shots for the Lions. The triple she nailed in the West game to provide a much needed scoring spark wasn’t the first of her heroics from beyond the arc and is not likely to be her last.
It is not hard to calculate the value of Painter and Swinehart. There are many talented and solid teams out there who fall off considerably once you get past the 5th or 6th player.
Not the Lions.
Both of these players can come in and spell a starter without the team missing a beat. They both hit the floor as if they’ve been playing since tip-off (when there was tip-off) and provide needed minutes, tough defense and both can score when needed.
Game on the line? Nobody better to take the shot than Jaxi Long who has got to have ice running through those talented veins. She draws fouls and seldom misses at the charity stripe, hits from the wing, fires some of the prettiest passes around and can pilfer the ball from opponents before they know it's gone.
And of course there is Jaylee Long. The Lion leader on the court whose relentless style of play inspires her team. When not hitting from outside, stealing a pass, slashing through the lane with a drive or deftly dishing some dimes, she can be found in the center of a scrum fighting for a rebound.
Putting it in terms of a pickup game you can line up whoever you will, she’s still my first choice.
A team of destiny? Already is.
The 80’s teams had Coach Thomas
The 2021 version has Coach Thomasma
The 80’s had sisters in their starting lineup (Thomas) and their Dad was the coach.
The 2021 version has sisters in their starting lineup (Long) and their Dad is an assistant coach
Will they beat Wayland and move on to play in the Semis at Van Andel?
Well, the ‘Cats have some considerable talent, played a tough schedule and pulled out some come from behind close ones against quality teams.
A lot like the Lions.
If they can neutralize Aimsworth as much as possible and do what they can to keep Hudson from raining down threes while staying out of foul trouble, minimizing turnovers and hitting free throws….
After, mind you, a bus ride that makes that annual trip to Remus seem like a cruise down the block.
Ok. It’s a lot.
But these young women have a lot.
Including possession of an unshakeably resolute belief in themselves and their teammates.
So I certainly wouldn’t bet against them.
Never have, never will.
And now that the (right by the Van Andel Arena) GR Brewing Co. has reopened with their Short Rib and Brie Street Tacos (get the dank fries as a go with) there’s only one thing left to say...