The Lady Trojans pose with their third consecutive regional tournament trophy after defeating Superior Central March 6.
KINGSFORD—After over three months and 24 games in the wading pool of U.P. high school basketball, Forest Park’s girls fearlessly step off the ledge this week and into the deep water.
It’s sink or swim against much better teams than the Lady Trojans have seen all season. If they can keep their heads above water for three more games, they will be holding a state championship trophy by the end of the week.
The Lady Trojans won their third straight regional title here March 6, holding off a second-half Superior Central rally to win 69-52. In the semifinals March 4, they crushed Dollar Bay 56-21.
It’s 448 miles from Crystal Falls to East Lansing. In olden times, travelers on a long journey had to worry about bandits, thieves and even wild beasts lying in wait.
The Lady Trojans’ list of perils starts right away, when they face a horde of Vikings at a quarterfinal game in Sault Ste. Marie March 11. These Vikings come from Posen, the only other unbeaten team remaining in Class D.
The winner moves on to the state semifinals at the Breslin Center in East Lansing on Thursday evening, March 13. The Class D state championship game tips off at 9 a.m. Central Time Saturday, March 15. The title game will be televised live on Fox Sports Detroit.
• Dollar Bay took on the Lady Trojans in the first regional semifinal, and the Bays were little more than an appetizer.
Forest Park missed its first few shots but still scored the game’s first 10 points (two triples by Lexi Gussert), led 15-2 after the first quarter and then scored the final 25 points of the first half for a 42-4 halftime lead.
In short, it was standard operating procedure. Maria Stankewicz’s layup 20 seconds into the second half started the running clock for the rest of the game.
“We came out with high intensity early,” coach Jeff Syrjanen said. “Our defensive intensity and quickness was just too much for them early in the game.
“Once we got in our rhythm, we were fine.”
Stankewicz was assigned to the Bays’ star player, Julia Daavettila, and held her scoreless. “That’s huge,” Syrjanen said.
Other FP guards, Kelsi Hendrickson and Abby Nylund, were also assigned to Daavettila in a rotation. By the second quarter, Syrjanen continued, she looked “almost exhausted.”
“It went real well.”
Mary Grandahl scored six off the bench in FP’s second quarter breakaway. “She came in, hit three buckets for us, played great defense, got a rebound or two.”
The Lady Trojans shot 43%, with eight 3-pointers, six by Gussert, who scored 25 points, with seven rebounds and six assists. Grandahl and Sierra Robarge had six each, and Kendra Campbell added five.
Robarge had five assists, and the Trojans combined for 13 steals (three each by Gussert, Robarge and Campbell).
Dollar Bay shot 19%. Megan Kangas led with 10 points, and Carli Daavettila had six.
Trojans 15 27 11 3 -- 56
Bays 2 2 10 7 -- 21
Superior Central won its district but was eliminated by Forest Park at regionals each of the last two years. Its seniors badly wanted a third chance. After edging Stephenson 61-59 in a semifinal game, they got their wish.
The Cougars kept pace with the Trojans nearly the entire first quarter. Gussert scored FP’s first 11 points (passes from Stankewicz and Robarge), but SC got a three and two from both Brooke Pasanen and Vanessa Freberg, and Teslyn Tyner’s basket put the Cougars in front 12-11.
FP ended the first quarter strong: two Kendra Campbell baskets and Gussert’s 3-pointer at the horn put the Trojans ahead 18-12.
The second quarter was right out of the Dollar Bay game. FP started with threes by Gussert and Robarge, then Robarge again and Gussert again and Abby Nylund for good measure. Five straight triples put FP ahead 33-13. Freberg’s three just interrupted the party, as the Lady Trojans ended the half with seven straight for a 40-16 lead.
All over? Hardly! Superior Central dug deep and fought back. FP seemed to back off its intensity early in the second half, and the Cougars pounced. Threes by Pasanen and Tyner cut the 24-point gap to 17.
Early in the fourth quarter, Tyner made another three. Then Gussert fouled Freberg while she was trying a trey, and Freberg made all three free throws—52-37. After Stankewicz converted an outlet pass, Pasanen was fouled and made two more at the stripe.
It may have been the first time all season that a big Lady Trojan lead has been cut back. You even heard a few murmurs in the stands, even though FP still had a five-possession lead (54-39) with six minutes left. Another Pasanen three cut it to 14. Later, Molly Swajanen’s hoop made got SC within 13 with 2:20 left.
But while the Cougars played bravely and made some big shots, they didn’t get any closer. SC seemed to tire after its third quarter rally. And as hard as it worked to cut the lead at one end, the Lady Trojans kept adding to it at the
the other. FP missed more free throws than usual but still made enough, and Gussert was still scoring.
Lexi converted two of three three-point plays (basket plus free throw) in the third quarter and found Campbell with passes for more baskets in the fourth.
Gussert scored in double figures twice in the first half: 14 points in the first quarter, 11 in the second. She was “held” to six in the third but came back with 12 in the fourth.
Add it all up: 43 points, along with 15 rebounds, nine assists, eight steals and five blocked shots. Campbell scored 10, and Robarge added eight (two triples).
Pasanen led Superior Central with 18 points, Freberg scored 15, and Tyner had 11. SC made seven triples: Pasanen made three, and Tyner and Freberg had two each.
Syrjanen said it was the first time this year when most of FP’s starters played most of the game. “I think we were mentally tired and started making mental mistakes.”
He said he knew Superior Central would make a run at the Lady Trojans in the second half. While his team didn’t relax, they did miss some easy shots. “If you make those, you add another 12 points to the score.”
But the Superior Central rally was good training for the Lady Trojans, the coach added, when you think about what lies ahead. “We needed to get that kind of a game.”
Cougars 12 4 15 21 -- 52
Trojans 18 22 9 20 -- 69
• This week … it’s into the deep end for the Lady Trojans. Forest Park’s first-ever state basketball championship is three wins away.