2018-03-01 / Sports

Bushen: Saddle up for wild ride this month

By Jay Bushen
Sports Editor

Let’s be honest: Leelanau County isn’t exactly Michigan’s mecca of high school hoops here in 2018. In fact, the peninsula is on the verge of a 30-year state championship drought.

But basketball is a source of pride in these parts — and deservedly so.

Yours truly learned a lot last week while writing a Looking Back story about the rise of girls sports in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I had known about the five state basketball championships in a six-year span and noticed names like Julie Polakowski in the state record book but, before last week, never realized just how much of a statewide powerhouse the peninsula once was. Thankfully the likes of Laura Wiesen, Don Miller, Laurie Glass, current county coaches and yellowing editions of the Enterprise took me to school just in time for district tournaments.

Ball was life in Leelanau for more than a minute, I learned. In fact, six years after Title IX was passed in 1972 and one year after Miller guided the Glen Lake boys to a 1977 state championship, girls teams from the county played in five straight Class D title games, winning four and losing one (by one point). Under the tutelage of Leelanau County coaching legends Ted Swierad of Glen Lake and Larry Glass of Leland, the peninsula was packed with prolific scorers. Polakowski (now Swanson), for example, captured the state’s first-ever Miss Basketball award in 1981 before moving on to Michigan State. Her 2,109 career points still rank first among girls in Leelanau County history and third overall; only Northport’s Sander Scott (2,358) and Glen Lake’s Rick Baillergeon of Glen Lake (2,144) have scored more.

Star coaches, Big Ten recruits and what locals referred to as the “state championship” district girls game between Glen Lake and Leland made tournament time memorable in those days, even if the girls didn’t play in March. From my standpoint, that era — plus the days of Scott, Liz (Shimek) Moeggenberg and Dwaun Anderson — must have been a blast to cover.

But 2018 isn’t bad, either.

In fact, the fundamentally strong programs here are packed with a surprising amount of talent, and multiple teams are primed for a deep playoff push. I have a feeling we could be in for another wild ride this March.

The ride started Monday in Traverse City as the Glen Lake girls began their district title defense with a 52-47 win over St. Francis. My ride-or-die preseason pick had me nervous, trailing 23-12 early, but Jen LaCross and Allie Bonzelet saved the day. My takeaway? Never discount senior leadership in March. The Glads and their student section were all over Glen Lake early, and those two girls didn’t bat an eye. Instead, they went full mama bear with their team in danger and took over.

Postseason drama likely followed after press time last night as the Lakers looked to move past Manton in the district final. In Frankfort, meanwhile, the Class D “pick ‘em district” featured Frankfort-Leland and St. Mary-North Bay matchups in the semifinal round. The winner will be crowned tomorrow.

It’ll be interesting to see which girls channel their inner Julie Polakowski — and which boys rise to the occasion next week in district tournaments hosted by Glen Lake and Suttons Bay.

To be honest, I don’t see any 1988 Northport teams from Leelanau in the District 117 ranks. Class D No. 6 Frankfort, which is expected to share the Northwest Conference championship with Buckley and Glen Lake, is the favorite here — but don’t cross out Leland and Northport just yet. Garett Miller and the Comets played the shorthanded Panthers close in a 73-60 road loss Friday and are finding new ways to score while Northport, which proved it could compete with reigning district champ Suttons Bay in a 57-50 loss on Friday, will play the winner.

Suttons Bay, meanwhile, will look to recapture the magic from 2017 when the Norsemen stunned Frankfort 59-57 in the district final and made a surprise appearance in the regional final. Could the Norsemen shock the world again? Maybe. Suttons Bay may not have the senior leadership it had last year but it does have three really good ones in Thomas Hursey, Garrett Keith and Garrett Shananaquet. With sophomore Lucas Mikesell growing up fast, the Norsemen could be a tough out.

They’ll look to prove it in the quarterfinals Monday against visiting Lake Leelanau St. Mary, which is playing much-improved basketball down the stretch. The winner will play Traverse City Christian, which dropped a 63-50 decision at St. Mary last week.

The most anticipated matchup in the District 91 tournament next week will take place in Maple City, where the Class C No. 7 Lakers will host Class C No. 9 Manton in a rematch of last year’s regional semifinal matchup. I can tell you the Lakers have a lot of respect for the Rangers after losing 48-36 last year but, man, Glen Lake is not a team I’d want to play right now.

Xander Okerlund, Cade Peterson, Reece Hazelton and their teammates beat Class C No. 8 McBain by 13 on Tuesday and Frankfort by six last Wednesday. Long, athletic, tenacious and — with a healthy Nick Apsey — better defensively than I gave them credit for earlier this season.

Three county teams — both Glen Lake teams and the Suttons Bay boys — collected district trophies last year and, who knows, it could happen again. Truth be told, I could see either Glen Lake team in the state semis this year.

Win or lose, I expect to see all nine peninsula teams play with pride this month. We’ve got a history of that here.

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