Gielczyk: Cadillac Thriving in McLaurin’s 1st Season
Just two years ago the Cadillac girls basketball team won the program’s first regional championship, and by the slimmest of margins with a 59-58 conquest of Kalkaska in the Class B regional final in Kalkaska.
The Vikings had to put their victory celebration on hold for several minutes as the officials huddled to decide whether there should be more time put back on the clock after Kayla Cavanaugh hit a 3-pointer as time expired.
Eventually, the officials determined that then Kalkaska coach Dave Dalton had called time out before the clock went to all zeroes, and 0.8 seconds were put back on.
Cadillac managed to inbound the ball and run out the remaining time. And the celebration could finally begin for the Vikings. It had been a long time since Cadillac last won a district title.
Although it was a memorable moment, one the players and fans will cherish for the rest of their lives, the Vikings could not replicate that feat, losing in the districts and finishing 3-18.
Mary Kaye Johns’ coaching contract was not renewed by the school district following the end of the season, and Michael McLaurin was hired as the new coach last June for a fresh beginning.
In making the announcement of McLaurin’s hire back in June, athletic director Fred Bryant said that he would bring some stability and calmness to the program.
After talking with a number of the girls on the team, Bryant said he was further impressed with how McLaurin had created a sense of cohesiveness on the team, and that everyone felt comfortable around him.
McLaurin’s debut as the new Cadillac girls basketball coach has gone well so far, as the Vikings sit atop the Big North Conference standings with a 3-0 record and are 6-1 overall.
He has been in the Cadillac school system as an educator since 1993, and when he first moved there he coached some high school football and softball as an assistant.
He coached a lot of travel soccer, some youth basketball and baseball, as well as Pop Warner Football.
“Then this opportunity came along,” McLaurin said. “I have a daughter who’s a season but she does not play. The timing was right, and the situation was available.”
It helped that the Vikings had four seniors returning in Emily Baughan, Katy Bartman, Emmaline Rosenburg and Chloe Fessler. Fessler, a team captain, is currently out with an injury and may not return this year. Makenna Bryant played on the varsity as a sophomore last year.
The Vikings have two other juniors, Kodi Holly and Makayla Knight, and sophomores Olivia Meyer and Madi Drabik that are playing varsity right now.
When the team got together with its new coach in the summer there wasn’t much time to work on offense, so the Vikings spent the majority of time on the defensive end.
“Just making sure that we knew our defensive responsibilities, and how to play together as a team,” McLaurin said. “We tried to carry that focus on into the season.
“We’ve had one game where we didn’t do as well as in other games, but that was a nice learning experience for us.”
The Vikings like to play a solid, half-court man-to-man defense with a lot of ball pressure and knowing where the help comes from, knowing their responsibilities.
Limiting the opposition’s shots, and their offensive chances is the goal. So far, it’s worked out pretty well for the Vikings.
“We pretty much run a continuity offense against a man-to-man defense, and then we have some other things to put in against other zones,” McLaurin explained.
“But, a lot of teams we see are playing man-to-man and we try to stay in our continuity offense, and keep the ball moving until something becomes available.
“Take care of the ball on offense, and make sure we get shots each trip down, and just limit turnovers.”
In terms of playing time, the Vikings are a young team and the goal is to learn every time they step onto the court.
“The girls are doing a great job,” McLaurin said. “It’s been all of their hard work in practice, and their willingness to know more, want to be a better basketball players, and be a better teammate. I give all the credit to them, and what they’ve been doing.”
Although everybody has stepped up, it’s been the early offensive production of sophomores Molly Anderson, who currently leads the Vikings in scoring, and Macy Brown. Both are averaging in double figures.
Four sophomores were on the court Monday night as the Vikings overcame a 31-28 deficit at the end of the third quarter for a 40-36 non-conference win over Benzie Central.
While he’s definitely focused on the present, McLaurin’s job is to also be concerned about the future.
And the future looks bright for Cadillac girls basketball.
“The great thing right now that’s taken place is that the junior varsity is playing real hard,” McLaurin said. “We have four freshmen up on the JV and our freshman team is currently undefeated.
“I think we’re finding right now is that we’re mostly outworking teams at the younger levels. The kids are working hard, and I think that’s always kind of a good identifying factor as to how teams are going to be in the future is if teams are putting in the work.”
Cadillac has won two districts and a regional in recent years along with a Big North title in 2014.
But the Vikings lost to Kingsley, 76-22 in the first round of the districts last year and finished 3-18.
McLaurin aims to turn the program’s fortunes around and get it back on the right track.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org for story ideas.