Finding a way to win: Baraga uses fan support to their advantage

The Baraga Vikings girls basketball team has advanced to the Division 4 Region 25 title game after running past the Munising Mustangs for a 57-42 win on Monday. With their victory over the Mustangs in the books, the Vikings are preparing for a taller Stephenson squad on Wednesday.

“What we’ve been doing in practice lately is working on boxing out (and) working on our rebounding,” said Vikings coach Tom Goodreau. “We definitely have been working on our defense (to) stop from getting into foul trouble.”

Making it this far into the season is an honor, but it also can be mentally and physically demanding for the players who have been on the court since early December.

“Physically, we’re okay,” said Goodreau. “It’s the mental part of the game. The further (we) get into the playoffs, the more mentally challenging it is.

“Sometimes the girls are just (feeling like) this is so long. They are excited to still be playing, but when they have to get up and go to practice and then take another bus ride, it’s a routine that they’re not used to. Normally, this time of year they’re done and are moving on to other things.”

“The mental aspect is probably bigger at this time,” said Goodreau. “There’s a lot of wear and tear on the body through the process of the season. When we look at that, (it’s) definitely a factor too. I think, right now, it’s more mental than physical.”

With great success can often come a sense of urgency. Goodreau wants his team to just focus on the game in front of them, and also remember to have fun.

“I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on them,” he said. “I’ve been telling the girls all along that no one expects them to be here. They’ve already surpassed what most people’s predictions were for our season. They have (gone) far above that.”

Goodreau has stressed to his girls to remember, as an old cliche goes, basketball is a game, and a game is supposed to be fun.

“When I look at it as a whole, I just want them to go out there and play their game; go out there and have fun and do what they do,” said Goodreau. “It would be fantastic if we could advance beyond this, but I just want them to know that (they can) do their dead-level best and that’s what it all comes down to.

“I think if we do that, we’ll be okay. (I’m) just trying to reiterate every single day (that) there’s no pressure on (them) whatsoever.”

Recent tournament games have prepared the Vikings for a tall Stephenson team.

“They are tall like Chassell and they rebound really well,” Goodreau said. “I think we have an advantage in quickness, but the key for us is that we definitely need to rebound.”

Goodreau feels that much of what the Vikings have accomplished this season can be traced back to the way the team has played over the past few seasons, before he took the program over.

“Having the success that we’re having this year is really a combination of what I’ve seen develop among the girls basketball program over the last few years having coached with Keith Willis,” Goodreau said. “We stress hard work because if you want to get anywhere in life, you have to put the time and effort in. That’s one of the bigger things that we’ve stressed all along and that’s what these girls have done.

“They’ve put that time and effort in and believe in themselves and their teammates. That’s a pretty good recipe for success.”

Surpassing teams that have been much taller during their playoff run has helped the Vikings prepare for Wednesday’s matchup.

“All of these teams have been much taller then us,” said Goodreau. “We’ve used our quickness to our advantage. Height would be a blessing to have, but when you’ve got a quick team, that’s your go-to move and we’ve had success with that this year and hopefully we will (Wednesday) night.

“When Munising started making their runs, our girls stepped it up and answered their runs. That’s something that they are learning pretty quickly and that should help us moving forward.”

It takes a village to help a team find success. Goodreau and his team are thankful for the support that they have received.

“The community support throughout these past few weeks has been fantastic,” he said. “The fans of Baraga have just come out of the woodwork and I understand that with success that will happen, but they’ve banded together to help us out and cheer us on. They were a big part of our win the other night (so) I just hope that they continue to show up.

“I’ve had great support from my athletic director, the administration and the teaching staff at Baraga. They’ve all bent over backwards to help us out as much as possible, just to make things more seamless, just to make the girls’ path on this journey a little bit easier and that’s really what it takes.”

Goodreau continued his praise of the community support his team has received.

“I’m really just glad to be a part of this community (in) the fact that they can band together behind something like this and help us out as much as possible,” he said.