Gielczyk: Benzie Central Has the Pieces in Place for Historic Year

Benzie Central’s girls basketball team possesses something the Huskies have lacked in recent years.

Size, and speed.

It’s something you can’t coach. You either have it, or you don’t. This year, the Huskies have it, with as many as three girls boasting that combination for veteran head coach Sarah Ross. With it comes expectations of contending for Northwest Conference and district championships.

Ross would not have it any other way.

The Huskies tipped off the 2017-18 campaign with a statement 68-33 win over defending Class B district champion Cadillac on Nov. 28, and followed that up by dispatching inter-county rival Frankfort (65-38 Dec. 6) and Mesick (59-3) for a 2-0 start in the conference, and 3-0 overall.

Frankfort may be down this season, after losing its two leading scorers from last year and only two returning starters, but beating the Panthers left the Huskies with a good feeling after losing to the Panthers last February and spoiling a possible two-game sweep.

“We’re making our statement, but we really need to,” Ross said. “If we’re going to play Class B basketball, we have to be physical and competitive, no matter who the competition is.

“Having these three games first, doing well, building their confidence and then just developing chemistry is important. It gives me lot of opportunities to check out chemistry with different groups on the floor. Who does what well, and what we need to work on.”

Ross thinks this could be the tallest and most talented front courts the Huskies have had since she’s been on the bench.

At the top of the list inside is center Maile Church, who was the Huskies’ leading rebounder and shot blocker a year ago. Church has led the Huskies in blocks the last two years, and ranks among the school’s top five all-time in that category.  She averages 10 rebounds a game. Other experienced hands coming back include last year’s leading scorer and second leading rebounder, Aleiya Ross, who was an All-Conference Second Team pick. Ross moved from a guard position to a power forward and has excelled in the paint. She embraced her new role and has great ball handling and outside shooting to accompany her solid inside presence.

 

The biggest impact player in the rotation is junior Abby Bretzke. Her size, speed and strength make her difficult to stop away from the basket and she has a vertical game around the basket securing rebounds and putting the ball back on the offensive boards.

Lauren Ross, no relation to Aleiya, rounds out the returning starters. She has been moved from a shooting guard to a point guard and plays outstanding defense.

“They set such a good example for our underclassmen,” coach Ross says of her team leaders, “just with their love of basketball, and their passion for competing all the time. They do that with each other. These kids are not afraid to knock each other down in the gym. They help each other up, and they get right back after it again.”

With their speed and strength, the Huskies are pushing the ball this season. The focus in the first three games has been playing full court, and doing everything they can to create havoc in the back court.

It shortens their game up because they can play transition. On the half-court, the Huskies are really looking to get the ball inside because of their size. Based on the team, Ross changed up the game plan a little bit.

Defensively, the Huskies are “in your face,” according to coach Ross.

“Anywhere the ball is, they’re right there,” said Ross. “They’re good at staying low, moving their feet and they’re good at using their body to create position on defense. Not a lot of reaching, or slapping fouls.

“They do just a tremendous job forcing turnovers. You don’t have to steal the ball to get it. If you can force the team to turn it over, you’re doing just as good a job. That’s really been our focus, and they love to do it. This isn’t a team you don’t have to say ‘Get up on the ball.’ They’re already there.”

In many ways, it’s a coach’s dream. Or a gift. Players who want to be in the gym, and work hard every day all of the time.

Benzie Central has a rich tradition in girls basketball, having made a run to the MHSAA state semifinals in the 1980’s.

Although the Huskies had good teams after that, they have fallen just short of returning to the Final Four.

Last year, the Huskies ended up third in the conference after splitting a pair of games with each of the top two teams, and then reached a high water mark by defeating a solid Ludington team in the first round of the district to finish with a 14-8 record.

The Huskies had a productive summer, competing against quality teams like Marquette, Ishpeming, Midland Dow and Gladstone. It was an off-season filled with really competitive, and really physical basketball.

Ross feels the conference is going to be very competitive again this year, with Glen Lake and Kingsley returning a boat load of veteran players.

The Huskies are determined to win the conference this year, but expect a tough battle to make it to the top of the heap.

Whatever the case, the Huskies want to make a long postseason run. They’re hungry for it. It’s long overdue.

Greg Gielczyk is an award-winning sports columnist and sportwriter who worked a total 36 years — interrupted for an 18-month period from 1997-99 — at the Manistee News Advocate as sports editor until 2006 and is now retired. He currently is a freelance sportswriter for the Ludington Daily News. Gielczyk can be reached at ggielczyk@jackpine.net for story ideas. 

Categories: Girls Basketball