CRYSTAL FALLS—Good-bye. Good luck. Good riddance.
While all Forest Park’s opponents sincerely wish Lexi Gussert a happy, successful future, they are also smiling at the thought that they will never have to face the Lady Trojans’ all-state star again.
“That’s exactly what the coach said last night,” Coach Jeff Syrjanen said the morning after the Lady Trojans completed their first-ever perfect 20-0 season with a 79-30 win at Carney-Nadeau Feb. 19. “He said, ‘I’ve just loved watching you play, but I’m not going to miss you!’”
One night earlier, Lexi played her final game at home, leading her team past Florence 72-22.
The Lady Trojans’ 20-0 season is the first perfect season in their proud history. (Also remarkable: They were able to play all 20 games during a severe winter. Only two games were postponed, and both were made up.)
FP’s post-season journey begins this week at the Class D District 127 tournament at Wakefield-Marenisco High School. The Trojans drew a first round bye and will face Watersmeet Feb. 26. The championship game is Feb. 28.
Against Florence, it was senior recognition night, with all the seniors getting gifts and red balloons with black polka dots.
The seniors (except for Lexi) started the game, but the regular starters entered the game midway through the first quarter. Once they did, things started getting out of hand, and Florence’s early 5-1 lead became a memory.
Though getting a late start, Lexi hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter and three more in the second. The Lady Trojans put on a show for the home fans, running off 35 consecutive points, taking the score from 10-7 to 45-7. FP led 48-9 at halftime.
Abby Nylund led the second quarter breakaway with seven points, including a three. Lexi scored 13 in that quarter, as the Lady Trojans overwhelmed Florence 28-2. “The kids came out and really played a nice all-around game,” their coach said. “Everybody did.”
As usual, Syrjanen shuffled his starters and reserves most of the night, but the seniors went back to work in the fourth quarter—so the coach could take them off one or two at a time to hear one final ovation from the Trojan fans.
After the final horn and handshakes, the seniors gathered in the middle of the floor, got down on their knees and kissed center court together.
FP finished with 10 triples, eight by Lexi (on 10 attempts!). Nylund had nine, Jessica Bawyn and Sierra Robarge scored seven, and Kendra Campbell had six.
Lexi’s night: 28 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals.
Bobcats 7 2 7 6 -- 22
Trojans 20 28 11 13 -- 72
For the season-ender at Carney, the Lady Trojans had some very interested spectators: the Stephenson and Superior Central teams, who both hope to go up against FP at the regional tournament in Kingsford.
So the Lady Trojans gave them something different to look at: No full-court press. Campbell led the offense with seven points in the first quarter, and Lexi scored five.
Robarge took the lead role in the second quarter, connecting for five points, including a 3-pointer. Lexi made a pair of triples, and the Trojans led 33-10 at halftime.
“I don’t think we really felt pretty great about ourselves at halftime,” Syrjanen said. “We’re so used to having such a good start.”
The Lady Trojans picked up the pace in the second half and hit 10 triples for the game: Gussert hit five of them, Robarge knocked in three and Campbell and Rachel Roose each had one. Overall, FP shot 45% from the floor, including 40% on threes.
To its credit, Carney had no major problems with the Lady Trojans’ press. “But we’re not looking for steals on our press,” Syrjanen noted. “We’re looking to wear teams down.”
Forest Park’s starters stayed in the game longer than usual to build their endurance. “We’re thinking tournaments now.”
Ten different Trojans scored: Gussert had 31, Campbell struck for 14 and Robarge added 13. Maria Stankewicz had three assists and three steals. Bawyn, Sam Nylund and Adel Isaacson helped build up a 36-19 rebounding edge.
Lexi’s stat line in her final regular season high school game? She had 31 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists and seven steals. “She almost had a quadruple double,” Syrjanen pointed out.
No wonder Carney’s coach isn’t sad to see her head off to Michigan State.
Trojans 16 17 24 22 -- 79
Wolves 5 5 13 7 -- 30
• The district tourney schedule has the Lady Trojans facing Watersmeet at 7 p.m. on Feb. 26. The winner faces Bessemer, Wakefield or Ewen-Trout Creek in the title game at 6 p.m. Feb. 28.
The winner advances to the Class D regional at Kingsford starting March 4. The Wakefield tourney winner faces the Chassell winner at 5 p.m. Central Time. The Carney and Rapid River district winners play in the second semifinal.
“It’s tournament time,” Syrjanen said. “You’ve got to be ready for anything and everything. Now our record is 0-0.”