GAYLORD — Rivalry week continued Wednesday night, with the Gaylord St. Mary girls basketball team defeating Johannesburg-Lewiston 57-47 at home.
Despite limited fans still in attendance, it felt like the gym was at full capacity. Fans and students from both schools cheered their team on, hoping to provide an emotional spark.
St. Mary made the game's first move, ending the first quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 17-8 lead.
The Cardinals started the second quarter strong, cutting into the Snowbirds' lead, but St. Mary scored a couple baskets late to take a 25-18 lead into halftime.
Both teams remained in the locker room deep into the halftime break, and the Snowbirds came out and extended their lead. St. Mary held a 39-27 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.
J-L stormed back, cutting the Snowbirds' lead down to single-digits after a couple of 3-pointers from freshman Jayden Marlatt, but the Snowbirds consistently drained free throws to ice the game.
Here are three takeaways from St. Mary's win over J-L:
1. The Snowbirds' press is tough to crack — After losing to Bellaire in the season opener, the Snowbirds (6-1) have since rattled off six straight victories, in large part due to their stifling full-court press.
St. Mary looks to force turnovers and score in transition. They have an array of quick guards pressuring opposing ball-handlers, with several capable scorers hoping to take advantage of turnovers.
The Snowbirds turn games into track meets, constantly making the game a full-court sprint. Kinzie Jeffers often leads the press, setting up the trap or running behind to swipe the ball away. Jeffers and Ava Schultz both had four steals Tuesday night, and they quickly turn those into points.
“It was ugly, but ugly usually benefits us," Snowbirds head coach Pat Schultz said. "We forced a lot of turnovers, but had more than they did, unfortunately. We just wanted to make sure the game didn’t get stuck in a half-court setting.
"They are just too big. We can’t play that team in half court. Everyone on their team looks for Tara Madej. Our objective was to keep the ball out of her hands. We said before the game if we can hold her to 10 points or less we can win the game.”
St. Mary has now defeated Pickford and J-L in their last two games. Schultz believes the press is a big reason why.
“I think for us it has kept us in a lot of games," Schultz said. "We are still gaining some overall team basketball I.Q. The press has been an equalizer and then some. We need to put our kids in motion, and J-L got tired and fouled.”
Not only does the Snowbirds' press force opposing teams into mistakes, it often leads to transition buckets the other way. Sophomore Macey Bebble ran the offense against J-L, utilizing her quickness to set up scoring opportunities.
“We want to keep our offense as simple as possible," Schultz said. "We talk about spacing the floor and creating double gaps. Macey needed those 3-pointers. To be a 10th grader with limited varsity experience, running the point, she has the quickness and ball-handling skills to succeed. I put her there because I believe in her.”
2. The Cardinals are still getting back up to speed — J-L had not played since defeating Bellaire at home two weeks ago. It looked like the Cardinals just needed a little bit of time to get back up to game speed.
The Cardinals were also without head coach Heather Huff Tuesday night, with Luke Townsend taking charge in her place.
“The layoff just really hurts," Townsend said. "It was a momentum buster. We aren’t in as good of shape any more. It’s hard. You can’t take two weeks off after being on momentum like that. They get out of their flow and they get out of shape.”
The Cardinals were hurt by foul trouble, with Tara Madej fouling out early in the fourth quarter, and Sydney Townsend playing most of the fourth with four fouls.
"We had a couple girls foul out and a couple in deep foul trouble. We went away from our bread and butter which is our post game, in-and-out game, and we just couldn’t get that working.”
Despite the long layoff, the Cardinals battled. They cut St. Mary's lead down to single digits a couple times, proving they have the fight to succeed.
“We played tenacious defense and we played as a team," Townsend said. "The girls worked hard and never gave up. We just couldn’t get in sync on offense.
"Everything just was a perfect storm the last couple days. But the girls gave everything they had for what they are dealing with right now, and I cannot be more proud of that effort."
3. Both teams are filled with talented players — Most of this game looked like a prized fight, with two champions battling it out for the title.
The Snowbirds, who made 24 out of 31 from the free-throw line, some of them in clutch situations toward the end of the game, was led by Jeffers' 19 points. Bailey Murrell added 14 points and 11 rebounds, Bebble scored 10 points, and Schultz scored eight points with five rebounds.
“Outside of Kinzie, we have some young kids who haven’t had a ton of court time, and I was glad to see them stay composed," Schultz said. "I think they are learning how to win. I hope it gets in their mind that they beat a good team today, following a big win against Pickford.
“Every game we have improved shooting. Every game we’re just getting a bit better. The girls are improving and I think they understand that the press and field-goal percentage are the keys to winning games.”
The Cardinals were led by Marlatt's 15 points. The freshman guard took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 points in the final eight minutes. Sydney Townsend added 12 points for the Cardinals, while Kennedy Johnson poured in 10 points and Madej scored six points.
Both teams were ripe with talent, which should set up a great rematch next month.
“It’s the best game of our year, and we were looking forward to it," Townsend said. "It just didn’t work out for us tonight. We get them again back at our place, so we’ll see what happens after that."
Three takeaways from Cardinals win over Bellaire
JOHANNESBURG — A changing of the tide may have taken place Thursday night in Johannesburg-Lewiston's gym.
The Cardinals' girls basketball team defeated Bellaire 36-32, providing them with an edge in the Ski Valley Conference battle.
Only one game against each team will count in the final conference standings this season, and J-L is already off to a 2-0 start.
Thursday night's game was thrilling and impactful, as the Cardinals beat a team they had recently struggled against.
Here are three takeaways from the Cardinals' victory over Bellaire:
1. The Cardinals have a formidable starting lineup — In an era dominated by "position-less basketball", the Cardinals have an ideal throwback starting lineup in a lot of ways, with a bit of a modern twist.
J-L features a starting lineup composed of Sydney Townsend, Morgan McVannel, Tara Madej, Kennedy Johnson and Jayden Marlatt. All five players can play multiple positions, but all seemingly have an ideal role.
Townsend is the point guard, dictating tempo and orchestrating the offense. Townsend can also score by getting to the basket and knocking down 3-pointers. But her main role is to get the ball up the court, even in the face of pressure. She certainly excelled Thursday, scoring eight points (six of which came in the fourth quarter) while organizing her team's offensive strategy.
Marlatt, a freshman, played more of an off-guard, or shooting guard role against Bellaire. She occupied the wing, and even drained a shot from beyond the arc. She looks like the ideal back-court compliment to Townsend.
Johnson and Madej are the teams forwards, commanding double teams in the paint. Although both spend a lot of time in the paint, they can also step outside and hit jump shots, providing the Cardinals with versatility.
Here's the modern twist. Historically, basketball teams have started with a lineup consisting of positions marked 1 through 5. One being the point guard all the way to five being the center. The Cardinals, like most teams at various levels, opt to start another ball-handler instead of a true center. McVannel provides another guard option for J-L, which usually gives the forwards more room to operate in the paint.
The Cardinals appear to have a well-disciplined lineup with all players understanding their roles and responsibilities, which could make for an exciting season.
2. The Cardinals are very formidable on defense — Offense is great. Everyone loves watching points fly on the scoreboard. But what really makes coaches happy is solid defense.
J-L shut Bellaire down for large stretches of Thursday night's game. The Cardinals allowed just two points in the first quarter, and held Bellaire star Jacey Somers to just 10 points, while getting her in early foul trouble.
Even when the Cardinals' defense started leaking a bit in the fourth quarter, they still made key stops down the stretch to earn the victory.
Marlatt looks like a key defensive stopper. She was often faced with the difficult task of guarding Somers, and passed every test. If she can consistently shut down opposing teams' best players, the Cardinals will be very difficult to beat.
Having a high-octane offense might fill seats, but teams don't have to worry about that anyway due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Cardinals still seemingly have a solid offense, but a very formidable defense that could pay dividends come tournament time.
3. This team could maintain the Cardinals' great athletic run — The 2020-21 school year has thus far produced some magical athletic moments for J-L.
The volleyball team earned a conference and district title; the boys and girls cross-country teams qualified for the state meet, and the football team made it to the state semifinals after a tremendous run.
This girls basketball team features a lot of the same athletes who either made up the volleyball team or the cross-country teams. They are winners used to winning, and through two games this basketball season, have made a statement they expect to continue winning.
The Cardinals feature a very well-balanced and versatile team. They have solid depth and star power able to consistently get buckets when needed.
Although it's still very early in the season, with a lot of basketball left to be played, this Cardinals team does seem to have a special, winning quality around it. This J-L girls basketball team could definitely be one to watch for come tournament time.
Cardinals hold on late to defeat Bellaire
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News
JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team made a statement Thursday night.
With a win already under their belt this season, the Cardinals improved to 2-0 with a hard-fought 36-32 victory over Bellaire, the defending Ski Valley Conference champions.
Despite limited fans due to COVID-19, there was a certain energy sparking throughout the gym. The Cardinals fed off that energy by taking an early 5-0 lead in the first quarter.
While the early lead was important, perhaps even more important was the No. 2 that had just popped up on the scoreboard next to Bellaire sophomore Jacey Somers' name. Somers picked up her second foul early in the first quarter, and sat out the rest of the first half.
The Cardinals didn't fully take advantage of Somers' early foul trouble. Bellaire actually outscored J-L in the second quarter. But the Cardinals still maintained a 16-11 lead heading into the break.
Before the game, Cardinals senior point guard Sydney Townsend signed with Hope College to continue her promising basketball career. Back from last season's torn ACL, Townsend looked close to full health against Bellaire, controlling the tempo and orchestrating the offense.
Returning after halftime, the Cardinals quickly made a surge, jumping out to a 23-11 lead with five minutes left to play in the third quarter. J-L extended that lead out to 27-14 with two minutes left in the third; ultimately taking a 29-17 lead into the fourth quarter.
Momentum shifted in the fourth quarter. Bellaire, backs up against the wall, started the final quarter on an 8-0 run to cut the Cardinals' lead down to just four points (29-25) with just over four minutes left to play.
Needing a basket, Townsend drove through the paint and made a tough layup over a couple Bellaire defenders. She later made a long two-point jump shot with a hand right in her face. Townsend was also the player bringing the ball up the court in crunch time. She finished the game with eight points. Six of which came in the fourth quarter.
“It’s nice to have that balance," Cardinals head coach Heather Huff said of Townsend's presence. "Jayden and Morgan can also handle some of the pressure, but ultimately we were missing that veteran player (last season) with the knowledge of the game and ball-handling skills.”
Although the Cardinals struggled to make free throws in the closing stretch, they did enough to hang on for a 36-32 win. Not only did the Cardinals earn their second straight victory, they also usurped the defending champs. In a year when the final conference standings will be decided by one game apiece for each team, this win could prove monumental.
“I’m just for happy for this group of seniors," Huff said. "We’ve been getting beat pretty good by (Bellaire) for a while, so this was a long time coming.
"It meant a lot to them. They are super excited and they held it together when it got close. I’m super proud of everyone. It was a total team effort.”
Tara Madej led the Cardinals with 10 points, consistently giving the Eagles fits in the paint. Kennedy Johnson scored eight points, utilizing her athleticism to make an impact in a variety of ways. Freshman Jayden Marlatt added eight points, impressing on both ends of the court, as she was often matched up against Somers.
“We knew they would probably double team Tara," Huff said. "The biggest thing is we did a great job on the boards and we communicated well on defense.
“I felt like we had a whole lot of patience on offense, and we did a great job of adjusting when something wasn’t working. They spread it out and they did a nice job rotating to open spots. They played with a lot of poise.”
Both Marlatt and Johnson helped space the floor for Townsend and Madej. Marlatt hit a 3-pointer in the first half, and Johnson consistently found ways to put up shots around the rim. Their ability to keep Bellaire's defense honest seemingly helped free up some space for other players.
J-L is still without sophomore Jocelyn Tobias, who is nursing an ankle injury. She was at the game in a walking boot Thursday night.
Despite foul trouble and stifling defense by the Cardinals, Somers still led the Eagles with 10 points. Emersyn Koepke added seven points.
The Cardinals will now take their undefeated record on the road Monday to Central Lake.
Cardinals basketball star Sydney Townsend signs with Hope College
JOHANNESBURG — It's been a whirlwind couple of years for Cardinals star Sydney Townsend.
Capping a roller-coaster stretch, Townsend signed with Hope College — which is located in Holland, Mich. and competes in Division III collegiate athletics — Thursday in front of friends and family.
Townsend started the 2019-20 basketball season in great form, consistently scoring points and dishing out assists while leading a young Cardinals squad near the top of the Ski Valley Conference standings.
Unfortunately for Townsend and the Cardinals, her season ended early with a torn ACL. Townsend said Thursday before her signing that she feared her basketball career had ended.
Yet, out of the ashes sparked new life to Townsend's promising basketball future, and a chance to play at the next level.
“I was just looking forward to getting on the court again, and overall my goal was to play college basketball," Townsend said. "I’m really thankful I accomplished that goal and I got to where I am now.
“Hope is one of the best schools, and they have a great team. I know I’m going to have to work really hard to play and prove myself on the court. I’m really looking forward to taking that next step in my game and realizing I have to be working twice as hard and have to be super quick on defense. Everything is a whole new level and I’m looking forward to finding that in myself.”
While Townsend was recovering from her knee injury, the rest of the world was forced back in their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. High school, college and professional sports were cancelled due to the rapid spread of the virus.
Townsend utilized that time as an opportunity to reach out to schools; stay in touch with some colleges she was interested in.
“All throughout high school, I looked at colleges through my travel (basketball) program, but I heard about Hope and I’ve been to some Division 3 basketball games, and I heard a lot about the school," Townsend said. "Through quarantine I got a hold of admissions and took a visit there; fell in love with it and knew it was the place I wanted to be.
“I was looking at Calvin and Hillsdale as well, but Hope stuck with me and in the back of my head I knew this is where I wanted to go.”
Basketball has been a big part of Townsend's life for a long time. Her family helped introduce her to the game, but it has since become one of her main passions.
“I have always been super passionate about basketball," Townsend said. "My family played it, and I love the feeling of shooting, getting a steal; pretty much everything about it makes my heart beat. Even playing through hard practices and sprints, I’m still really happy and looking forward to it. Basketball is what I want to do all the time.
“As a kid growing up, I was manager for the girls varsity team, and I grew up watching the legacy; J-L has always had good teams. My aunt has always coached them, so my family has been a part of it. It’s great to be a part of the team I always watched growing up.”
Now that her knee is again healthy, Townsend and the Cardinals look like a team poised for big things this season. Townsend runs the point, but forwards Tara Madej and Kennedy Johnson are also formidable offensive threats. Freshman Jayden Marlatt should also make a profound impact.
“Our team this year is pretty good," Townsend said. "We didn’t lose anyone from last year, so we are coming back pretty strong. We definitely have the goal of winning the conference this season and making it pretty far in the tournament. Individually, my knee has been feeling pretty good, but I’m still working on getting that quick first step back and upping my offensive game a bit this year.”
Townsend will try to help J-L on one last long postseason run before turning her focus to the new opportunity awaiting her at Hope.
Cardinals cruise to victory
The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team kicked off their season in style Tuesday with a 65-24 victory over Forest Area.
Cardinals senior Tara Madej scored a game-high 27 points, dominating in the paint. Kennedy Johnson and Jayden Marlatt added 13 points apiece, and Sydney Townsend scored four points with seven assists and four steals.
“Mostly I was impressed with our defense, but our offense looked pretty good, too," Cardinals head coach Heather Huff said. "We gelled really well, mixing it up between the inside and outside. I thought our defense looked pretty good as well.
“They didn’t have a great way of stopping Tara. We looked good on both sides of the ball.”
Cardinals fans also got to see Marlatt play her first basketball game after a terrific volleyball season. The freshman didn't disappoint, getting off to a quick start.
"Jayden plays with poise," Huff said. "She doesn’t get rattled, and she goes strong to the basket. She’s a physical player with great instincts. I challenged her. She had two fouls going into halftime, and I challenged her to not pick up any more, and she ended with the two fouls.”
J-L girls basketball preview:
JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals’ girls basketball team has the whole band back together this season.
After having no seniors on last year’s roster, Johannesburg-Lewiston girls hoops will enjoy some continuity this winter, as they look to contend for a Ski Valley Conference title.
The Cardinals have three seniors on the roster this time around. Point guard Sydney Townsend returns from a torn ACL suffered during last year’s basketball season. She enjoyed some late-season success in cross country and should be ready for a big role.
“I think Sydney is a key leader; she steps (right back) into that leadership role,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “She brings shooting and defense, and also leads both vocally and by example. Everyone sees her running around playing with her heart on defense and feeds off that. It will be great to have her back filling that role.”
J-L also returns Tara Madej — last year’s Herald Times Player of the Year — who, last season, developed into one of Northern Michigan’s better all-around post players. Morgan McVannel rounds out J-L’s seniors. She should be a steady back-court presence who can help Townsend get the ball up the court.
“Tara is the leader of the post players,” Huff said. “(Tara and the other post players) are learning to play together and be a force together. They can be unstoppable. Tara does a good job directing the post players. She stepped into a leadership role last year, which will benefit us this season. Morgan has become more vocal as well. Her biggest talent is defense.”
Junior Kennedy Johnson also returns for the Cardinals. Johnson provides energy and versatility as a player who can contribute anywhere offensively and guard multiple positions on defense.
The Cardinals get another glimpse into the future with five sophomores on the roster, all of whom are expected to contribute. Gloria House, Cadence Wertman, Jocelyn Tobias, Sophie Townsend and Adelaida Gascho all earned valuable experience as freshmen and should take another leap this winter.
Although the Cardinals’ girls basketball team will mostly look the same as last season, they do introduce a new face. Freshman sensation Jayden Marlatt, who was named Herald Times Player of the Year for volleyball this fall, returns to the court for basketball. Marlatt is athletic and provides J-L with another perimeter threat on offense.
“Jayden will be a key in handling the ball this year,” Huff said. “She’s very confident and strong. She doesn’t get intimidated. She also played with confidence in volleyball, relying on her instincts and skills.
“Having multiple players who can handle the ball takes the pressure off one person to do it all the time. We can give different looks.”
With everyone back and healthy to start the season, the Cardinals are among the favorites to claim a Ski Valley title this winter. The conference season will be more condensed with teams only playing each other once counting toward the final standings.
“I’m really excited to see how the players all gel together,” Huff said of her team. “We’re going to have a lot of quickness, and our defense will be the key to our offense. This is one of the overall most talented teams we’ve had in a long time.”
Bellaire, the defending champs, and Gaylord St. Mary could be among the Cardinals’ main competition for a conference title this season, but Huff thinks multiple teams will present a challenge.
“I think it’s going to be key for our veteran players to play with the experience they have, leading the younger players through challenges,” Huff said. “Onaway had a good team, too, last year. Our conference will be tough this year. There will be some good competition and good games. I just hope our will, drive and talent will be enough to get us a conference championship. I think we have that potential, and the marks will be on our backs.”
Like all high school basketball teams throughout the state, J-L will have to work on conditioning, skills and chemistry before games start flying fast and furious once cleared to begin.
“I think they are going to be ready,” Huff said, regarding her team. “It’s a short season, and I think that will be an inspiration to give everything they have. A key will be keeping people healthy, and we have all the potential in the world this year if that happens."
Basketball preview: Predicting the Ski Valley girls season
GAYLORD — The upcoming girls basketball season remains in the balance due to the recent COVID-19 surge, but the Ski Valley Conference should provide plenty of intrigue if allowed to play.
Bellaire dominated the Ski Valley last season, finishing a perfect 16-0 in league play. The Eagles went 23-1 overall and return six players from last season’s roster.
Gaylord St. Mary battled Bellaire, finishing second overall last season, but just couldn’t quite pick up a victory against the Eagles. The Snowbirds also return a number of key players from last year’s squad.
Johannesburg-Lewiston had a very young squad last season; no seniors at all on the roster. The Cardinals also battled some back-court injury woes, but still gained valuable experience which should pay off this winter.
Here is a prediction of what to expect from the 2020-21 Ski Valley girls basketball season:
Every year, entering a new season, there are a shortlist of teams expected to contend for prominence. A plethora of factors make up these predictions — returning players, incoming freshmen, other teams losing key players and overall program success.
With that being said, here are a couple of teams seemingly at the forefront of the upcoming title race:
Bellaire — Although the Eagles lost a quartet of seniors from last year’s squad, they return one of the best players in Northern Michigan. Sophomore Jacey Somers displayed athleticism and poise as a freshman last season, showcasing her ability to score in the paint or from outside.
The Eagles also return Emersyn Koepke, Noel Mann, Delaney Goodwin and Katie Decker, which should be a solid nucleus to again challenge for a conference title. If Somers takes another leap, this team could make a long postseason run.
Johannesburg-Lewiston — The Cardinals return everyone from last year’s roster; that’s always a nice place to start. Senior point guard Sydney Townsend will again lead the offense. She missed most of last season with a torn ACL, but returned to competition midway through the cross country season. Her quickness, passing and shooting could make her a breakout star in the conference this season.
Fellow senior Morgan McVannel and Tara Madej provide scoring and leadership. Madej became one of the best post players in the conference last winter. Junior Kennedy Johnson plays with energy and athleticism. She could be a key piece from the small forward position.
The Cardinals will call on sophomores Gloria House, Adelaida Gascho, Cadence Wertman and Jocelyn Tobias to provide quality minutes while they continue to gain experience. All four made positive contributions last winter and look poised for a big jump this season.
Gaylord St. Mary — Like the Cardinals, St. Mary has the added bonus of returning most of its team from last winter. The Snowbirds did lose star shooting guard Megan Grusczynski, but have plenty of talented players ready to step up.
Senior Kinzie Jeffers looks poised to contend for player of the year and all-state honors. Quick off the dribble, Jeffers excelled at getting in the paint last season, where she would either finish with a layup or kick it out to a shooter. Jeffers also showed an improvement from beyond the arc. Expect Jeffers to give opposing teams headaches all season.
Sophomore forward Ava Schultz learned on the job as a freshman last winter. She used her height and athleticism to snatch rebounds and score near the basket. Schultz also displayed a solid mid-range jumper, which could be an even bigger asset this season with Grusczynski no longer on the team.
Junior Bailey Murrell adds athleticism and elite defense, while Eliza Handley and Macey Bebble add scoring and defense. If the Snowbirds can find another outside shooter, they may be lifting a conference trophy at the end of the season.
Mancelona — The Ironmen went 10-6 in conference play, but just 1-4 out of it. If Mancelona can build on last year’s Ski Valley success, it might be able to push for a title.
Onaway — After tying Mancelona for third in the conference last winter at 10-6, Onaway has the depth and athleticism to remain in title contention.
Projected Ski Valley finish:
3. Gaylord St. Mary
6. Central Lake
7. Inland Lakes
9. Forest Area
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