It’s that time of year: a look at the local girls districts

Bryce Derouin/Daily Mining Gazette Baraga’s Carsyn Osterman shoots over Jeffers’ Leah Pennala on Feb. 2 at Jeffers.

When Mick McCabe wrote for the Detroit Free Press, he would predict each basketball district winner throughout the state. So every year while I was still playing prep sports, I would await his yearly projection and see if he chose us.

Well, one year he didn’t.

We had a solid season (17-3) in 2009 and by most local accounts, were the favorites to win. But McCabe, instead, chose Carney-Nadeau to win our district.

As a group that took everything as a slight, we didn’t appreciate being overlooked and our coach even addressed McCabe’s selection and used it as a tool to inspire us (more like tick us off) before the district final.

Obviously, it didn’t weigh on our minds during the game. But after the trophy ceremony when we were awarded our district championship medals, I would be lying if I wasn’t feeling a sense of pride in proving someone from the Detroit Free Press wrong.

Therefore, as an athlete, I understand if you get mad at what I’m about to do.

It’s not uncommon for people to ask my thoughts on a player, team or matchup. Lately, many of the questions have had to do with the upcoming district tournaments, with the girls starting tonight. So what better way than to lay out all my thoughts than in a preview column with our local teams? At the end, I’ll pick who I think will win each district.

And if any of you prove me wrong, please feel more than welcome to give me grief, because I completely understand.

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CLASS B DISTRICT 64

The Houghton Gremlins’ toughest district test will be in their first game Wednesday at the Escanaba Eskymos. Houghton won the first matchup 65-62 on Feb. 2, which was Houghton’s second-closest win of the season.

Besides Escanaba having solid athletes to go along with a 6-foot-3 center in Jen Brandt in the middle, one of the biggest challenges for Houghton will be overcoming the 160-mile bus ride. I know Houghton head coach Julie Filpus won’t use it as an excuse — or allow her players to — but sitting in a bus for three-plus hours before playing a basketball game is a major hurdle to overcome. You’re out of your routine, your muscles get stagnant from sitting in one position for an extended period of time and your body gets thrown off. I would say this instance of homecourt advantage would make for a 10-point difference, meaning Houghton would essentially be starting the game down 10-0. And if travel didn’t play an impact on athletes or games, why is travel considered an essential part in dictating spreads? Or why do west coast NFL teams struggle playing at 1 p.m. on the east coast? Athletes are creatures of habit, and a three-hour bus ride can throw things all out of synch in a district tournament game, compared to the team who is hosting and playing in the comforts of home.

To the things that matter on the court, Escanaba is led by the lengthy Jen Brandt, who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds in the last matchup between the two teams. Houghton has experience with bigs after facing the 6-foot-3 center from Calumet, Hailey Wickstrom. However, Brandt’s game is more built on power and strength, whereas Wickstrom is a different athlete who has better lateral movement to go along with decent quickness for someone her size. Still, Houghton has numerous long people to throw at Brandt and if they limit her, Escanaba will have a difficult time scoring on the Gremlins’ athleticism on the perimeter.

PREDICTED WINNER: Houghton.

If the Gremlins get past Escanaba, they will likely host the Kingsford Flivvers (13-7) Friday for the district final. Kingsford plays the Menominee Maroons (10-9) tonight and would have a semifinal matchup with the Gladstone Braves (6-14) before they would play Houghton.

The Gremlins had 18 first-half turnovers against Kingsford in the regular season, and still managed to win 58-41 on Jan. 27.

It’s just hard to envision Houghton’s group of seniors having their careers ending on their home floor, where they have yet to lose this season.

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CLASS C DISTRICT 96

Locally, there might not be a girls district where one team is more favored than the Calumet Copper Kings (13-5).

Calumet opens tonight at the Ironwood Red Devils (13-6); the Red Devils are kind of a wild card since they never play anyone in our area so it’s hard to judge them. Looking at their schedule, they have wins over the smaller Class D schools like Wakefield-Marenisco and Bessemer (4-16). W-M (8-12) managed to beat the Jeffers Jets 47-42 on Feb. 9, so that counts for something.

I hate making analysis based off comparing scores on common opponents. It’s such an inexact science but in the U.P., sometimes that’s all you have to go on.

One thing I did hear about Ironwood is that they struggle with size, which really doesn’t bode well for them given Calumet’s combination of Wickstrom and Brooke Kariniemi down low.

In the other semifinal, the L’Anse Purple Hornets (8-12) and Hancock Bulldogs (10-9) are essentially playing in a coin-flip game. L’Anse won the first matchup on Feb. 9, 62-57, while Hancock persevered 53-50 in overtime in the rematch.

Sickness has been an issue lately for L’Anse, so the uncertainty of who is able to play could make a difference.

PREDICTED WINNER: Calumet.

In Calumet’s games against L’Anse and Hancock — who the Copper Kings swept in the regular season — they won by an average of 25.5 points in the four games.

Mathematics tells me to pick them.

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CLASS D DISTRICT 128

This is the fun one.

This makes for the second consecutive year that this district has the most uncertainty of any local district. And because of that, any of these teams could potentially win, thanks to a signature trait or the momentum they’re currently on.

For Baraga (17-2), it’s their stifling defense and their multiple shooters on the perimeter that complement the do-it-all Carsyn Osterman.

Nobody is scoring the basketball better than Jeffers’ (14-6) Julia Nordstom; she scored 34 in her team’s 61-58 overtime win against L’Anse on Feb. 23. Nordstrom also had 36 in a win over Lake Linden-Hubbell.

The Chassell Panthers (15-5) are the defending district champions with a reliable point guard in Milly Allen to match the inside presence of Sydney Danison.

The Lake Linden-Hubbell Lakes (4-16) are as athletic as any other team and have the advantage of hosting the district. That counts for a lot.

Quietly, the Dollar Bay Blue Bolts (8-12) are currently on a four-game winning streak.

The Ontonagon Gladiators (9-11) have the ability to create turnovers and cause havoc with their defensive pressure. They also have one of the most experienced coaches in U.P. Sports Hall of Famer, Dick Franti.

PREDICTED WINNER: Baraga.

Defensively, they’re surrendering an area-best 33.7 points per game. Only once — against the Houghton Gremlins to open the season on Nov. 29 — has a team scored more than 49 points against them (61-39 Houghton win).

Offensively, players have shown the ability to step up when defenses focus on Osterman — like Justice Kinnunen when she scored 21 in Baraga’s 47-42 win over Jeffers on Feb. 2.

But the Vikings are far from a lock.

The Jets beat them on Baraga’s own court when Nordstrom went off for 26 in a 49-46 win on Jan. 20.

Teams have managed to keep things close with the Vikings throughout the season. Dollar Bay narrowly lost 32-29 (Dec. 6); Ontonagon fell 40-32 (Dec. 9); LL-H came up short 50-42 (Jan. 3); and Chassell lost 42-33 on Jan. 9 before losing 44-42 on Jan. 30.

Baraga opens with LL-H tonight before a win would set them up against Dollar Bay.

On the other side of the bracket, Jeffers and Ontonagon will play for the right to meet Chassell.

And for the other Class D local team, the Ewen-Trout Creek Panthers (11-6), I predict the Forest Park Trojans to cruise to the 127 district title. E-TC has lost four straight since losing Maddy Cronkright, their starting point guard, to injury.

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