Gielczyk: Experienced Bobcats Off to 10-0 Start
Houghton Lake’s girls basketball team had its routine disrupted Tuesday when school was called off because of the frigid temperatures, and that could have been part of the reason for the Bobcats’ choppy play against Ogemaw Heights that night.
But, they still managed to grind out a 55-42 non-conference win on the road to remain undefeated for the season with a 10-0 record.
“It was just a battle,” Bobcats’ coach Greg Kauffman said. “We didn’t have school because the wind chill was just too bad, and you could tell. We were not sharp.”
Fortunately, the Bobcats have the experience to survive the kind of rough patches like they ran into Tuesday night.
Houghton Lake has seven seniors back from last year’s 15-8 team that won the program’s first district title in 10 years, and five or six have been on varsity since they were sophomores. They’ve played a lot of basketball, and just found a way to win Tuesday.
“You could just tell from the start we were just a little lethargic, a little bit slow,” Kauffman said. “The ball wasn’t moving offensively like it has been. We didn’t make as many shots.
“It was a rough night when you put it all together, but you get the win, you get to 10-0 and you move on.”
Some think this could be the team’s best start in program history, but that hasn’t been confirmed.
This is the most experienced team Kauffman has had since he arrived in Houghton Lake, and he acknowledged that it makes a huge difference.
Kauffman is not surprised at the team’s hot start, but had no idea the Bobcats would be as good as they have been so far, winning in such dominating fashion.
Despite the fact the Bobcats have not been seriously challenged, Kauffman warns that they can’t afford to get complacent.
Halfway through the season Houghton Lake still has plenty of things to work on.
The Bobcats know they need to polish up a few things, and get back to how they were playing early in the season after struggling a bit lately.
“We’ve got to get back to being consistent,” said Kauffman. “The first seven games of the season it was the same team every night. I mean, it was just start to finish four good quarters of basketball.
“Two out of the last three games we’ve been a little more like a yo-yo.”
Kauffman said the Bobcats do a little bit of everything offensively. Teams are giving the Bobcats a lot of different looks. They’re not sneaking up on anybody this year.
But they haven’t seen a lot of full-court pressure yet.
“The zone defenses have slow us down a little bit,” Kauffman said. “For us it’s just being patient, understanding a good shot rather than the first shot. Those kinds of things.
“When we get in trouble, that’s it right there. We don’t move the ball, it kind of sticks on one side of the floor. We’ll pass the ball and take that shot, or make one more pass and take that shot. We’ve seen this before in the past at times.
“Then, we’ll settle in and we’ll move the ball. We’ll make five passes, and then we’ll get a really good shot. It’s not one thing that we do offensively. We have a few different sets that we run, just based on is the high-low available, can we overload one side, do we spread the floor and try to put a couple shooters out there.”
Kauffman says the Bobcats have a lot of versatility, adding that he pretty much rotates nine girls every night. There’s a lot of size, depth and speed on the squad.
Everything is there for the Bobcats to make a really good run in the tournament.
Right now the Bobcats are led by sophomore Macy Bisballe who is averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a game, while senior Alexis Souder is averaging 11 points and 4.5 steals a game.
Souder has led the Jack Pine Conference in steals the last two years.
Going into Tuesday night’s game sophomore Jade Kauffman, the coach’s daughter, was the third leading scorer for the Bobcats with nine points a game, and senior Lainey Meigs was averaging eight points.
The Bobcats went four straight games in which they had a different leading scorer with somewhere between 18 and 22 points. They don’t depend on one or two people.
Defensively the Bobcats try to play mostly man-to-man with pressure and push the tempo because they are athletic.
“For some reason two of the last three games our help side defense hasn’t been very good,” Kauffman said. “We’ve been getting beat off the dribble too much.
“Those are things that we have to work on. But, at the same time it’s nice to work on those when you’re winning by 14 or 15 points than if you were losing. Just some little things we have to get back to basics on and just refocus a little bit.
“I’m hoping now that the season is half over we can hit the re-set button and get back to paying attention to the details and clean up a few little things.”
Houghton Lake was knocked out in the regional semifinals by Glen Lake, which made it to the MHSAA semifinals.
Everyone felt this could be a special season for the Bobcats back in the summer, and the Bobcats put in the work to make it happen.
“We worked on our half-court man-to-man defense all summer,” added Kauffman. “I had a feeling coming into the season that if we tried to play zone, which we’ve done in the past, that teams would try to slow the game down and shorten the game up.
“So, I felt that if we were going to play to our strengths we were going to have to play more man, we’d have to press more to try to get the game up and down the floor a little bit where we could take advantage of our depth and our athletes.
“In the summer they kids did a great job. They really came along. In the first seven games our half-court defense was phenomenal. I think we were giving up like 26 or 27 points a game.
“But, like I said two out of these last three games we had just way too many breakdowns. Communication hasn’t been very good. But, before the season started I told the team we had a chance to do something special if we stayed focused and we worked together.”
Houghton Lake last won a regional in 1990, when the Bobcats made it to the state semifinals.
This group could be the next.
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 email@example.com for story ideas.