For the second straight year, Forest Park’s girls basketball team has won the Class D regional championship. This week, they travel to the state quarterfinals in Escanaba March 12 … and maybe to the state finals in East Lansing after that. Front row from right: Adel Isaacson, Maria Stankewicz, Gina Graff, Sierra Robarge, Kelsi Hendrickson, Ronnie Jaeger, Melina Doering, Susie Toivonen. Back row: Coach Jeff Syrjanen, team manager Hannah Cross, Samantha Nylund, Jessica Bawyn, Kendra Campbell, Lexi Gussert, Rachel Roose, Mary Grandahl, Kaitlyn Bradley and Assistant Coach Jackie Giuliani. Full details in sports.
KINGSFORD—The Lady Trojans’ tourney journey continued at top speed last week, as Forest Park’s girls team made short work of the field at the Class D regional tournament here, defeating Lake Linden-Hubbell 65-25 on March 5 and North Central 73-38 on March 7.
Next stop: The Class D quarterfinal game at Escanaba March 12 where they will face unbeaten St. Ignace. The winner continues on to the Breslin Center on the Michigan State campus for the state semifinals and finals late this week.
Forest Park takes a 23-1 overall record into its battle with the 24-0 Saints.
Vs. Lake Linden: While the semifinal crowd was still settling down after North Central’s 53-48 upset win over previously unbeaten Superior Central, the Lady Trojans ended Lake Linden’s night early.
With Gussert scoring 17 points, Forest Park rocked out to a 22-8 first quarter lead. Lexi added another 15 as FP calmed the Lakes 26-2 in the second frame. Coach Syrjanen started rotating in his reserves and JV callups before halftime.
“We came out and pressed them, got off to a real quick start,” the coach said. “In just a matter of minutes, we were up quite a bit.”
Forest Park led 48-10 at halftime. The margin hit 40 just seconds into the third quarter, starting the running clock for the rest of the night. Gussert exited with 39 points.
Numbers: FP team: 26-61 (43%) FG, 6-14 (43%) 3’s, 7-11 (64%) FT. Lake Linden team: 10-43 (23%) FG, 1-4 (25%) 3’s, 4-6 (67%) FT.
FP stats: Lexi Gussert, 39 pts, 5x3, 13 rebs, 3 blocks, 5 assists; Adel Isaacson, 6 pts; Kendra Campbell, 5 pts, 3 rebs, 2 asts; Samantha Nylund, 5 pts, 5 rebs. Lakes stats: Erin Gast, 5 pts.
Lakes 8 2 9 6 -- 25
Trojans 22 26 11 6 -- 65
Vs. North Central: Not too long ago, North Central was the doormat of the Skyline Conference. Things have changed!
Today, the Jets are among the Skyline’s elite. They nearly defeated the Lady Trojans in mid January, beat Bark River to win their district and eliminated previously unbeaten Superior Central at the regional semis.
Syrjanen had expected to face the Cougars, so he had to scramble between games. But the semifinal game had been taped, and the coach noticed that the Jets did well against Superior Central’s man press but not so well against the zone.
Lexi breaks out: For one quarter, the Jets stayed close. Kendra Campbell hit an early three-pointer, but Gussert struggled early, and the Jets tied it 7-7. But then Lexi hit a three followed by an old-fashioned three-point play. Two late baskets got the Jets within two, 13-11, after eight minutes.
Not to worry. Gussert bombed in a three to start the second quarter … and then another. She ended the quarter with another triple and got backing from Samantha Nylund (5 of 6 free throws) and Adel Isaacson (two fast-break buckets). Forest Park led 33-20 after a 20-9 quarter.
“We challenged them to hit their shots,” the coach said. “We were really moving very well on defense. Every time a person got the ball, it was contested by one of our defenders.” The Jets only shot 21% for the game to the Trojans’ 38%.
Fresh legs: Every four minutes or so, Syrjanen replaced Sierra Robarge and Maria Stankewicz with Kelsi Hendrickson and Isaacson (and then back again), keeping fresh legs on the floor. “They couldn’t change their players as easily as we change ours.
“You could see them wearing down. Our press wasn’t out there to steal the ball—it was out there to wear them down, and I think it worked very well.”
Gussert scored 17 points in the first half and nearly matched that with 16 more in the third, as the Trojans went into cruise control, building a 56-27 lead.
She hit her eighth three of the night early in the fourth quarter and finally sat down with 36 points. Stankewicz hit back-to-back threes in the second half, and German exchange student Melina Doering also got one. For the night, FP hit 12 treys.
“We weren’t going to slow down because it’s a regional championship. We’re not taking prisoners—we’re out to win it.”
Numbers: FP team: 25-66 (38%) FG, 12-30 (40%) 3’s, 11-16 69%) FT, 16 fouls, 33 rebounds. Jets team: 13-63 (21%), 4-22 (18%) 3’s, 8-16 (50%) FT, 28 rebounds, 13 fouls.
FP stats: Gussert, 36 pts, 8x3, 7 rebs, 4 asts, 4 blks; Nylund, 7 pts, 6 rebs; Stankewicz, 6 pts, 2x3, 3 rebs; Campbell, 5 pts, 4 rebs. NC stats: Morgan Wells, 8 pts; Darcy Rochon, 7 pts, 5 rebs; Dana Rochon, 7 pts, 2x3; Audra Granquist, 6 pts; Baylee Wells, 5 pts.
Jets 11 9 7 11 -- 38
Trojans 13 20 23 17 -- 73
Coming up: The quarterfinal game against unbeaten St. Ignace at Escanaba tips off at 7 Eastern Time (6 Central) on March 12. The winner advances to the Breslin Center in East Lansing for the first state semifinal game at 6 p.m. ET (5 CT) on March 14. The Class D state title game is 10 a.m. ET (9 CT) on March 16 and is carried on Fox Sports Detroit.
Last year, the Saints were in Class C and defeated West Iron (by seven) and Houghton (by one in OT) at regionals, eventually losing to eventual state champ Morley Stanwood in the semifinals. Forest Park also reached the state Class D semifinals.
The Saints are led by Kelly Wright, who, like Gussert, is being scouted by Division 1 scouts. “They’re quick, they run full-court pressure, and they’ll run a lot of people like we do.
It could come down to Gussert and Wright largely neutralizing each other. “Can we match up with their other players?”