2014-15 girls basketball preview: Scouting the Lakes 8 Conference

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — With the majority of their starters returning, the Spring Lake and Ludington girls basketball teams have the advantage for the 2014-15 season in the Lakes 8 Conference race.

Reiko Johnson of Spring Lake drives to the basket in the first quarter against Howard City Tri-County. (MLive file photo)

Reiko Johnson of Spring Lake drives to the basket in the first quarter against Howard City Tri-County. (MLive file photo)

The two teams split their regular-season meetings by swapping home wins on their way to a shared Lakes 8 title with Tri County – a team that since has changed conferences along with Grant during the offseason.

“It’s always your goal to be a conference champ,” said Ludington coach Thad Shank. “Spring Lake is a game that is high on your list. They have the biggest force in the conference in the post.”

While Spring Lake has two marquee players on its squad, Ludington has one of the deepest teams with one go-to player that can take over a game. Either way, the teams have already seen success and are hoping to build on that feat this season.

Orchard View is not far behind and cannot be overlooked by the Lakers and Orioles, since they have the best player in the conference. Both Orchard View and Fruitport lost a lot of players to graduation, but still have some good returning players.

Fremont lost a couple key seniors last year and continues to rebuild. This year Muskegon Catholic Central joins the Lakes 8 and will add a little bit of the unknown to the league standings and where the Crusaders might fit in. With only six teams in the Lakes 8 this year, every conference game will have a little more at stake.


Predicted order of finish:

Ludington

Spring Lake

Muskegon Orchard View

Fruitport

Fremont

Muskegon Catholic Central


(1) LUDINGTON ORIOLES

Coach: Thad Shank (3rd season)

Last season: 14-7 overall; 9-3 Lakes 8, tied for 1st place.

Key players: Kalli Wahr (Sr., G), Kristen Reidenbach (Jr., G), Claire Flewelling (Jr., G), Randy Thomas (Sr., C)

Outlook: Ludington finished in a three-way tie for first place, and none were more surprised than their head coach. This season the Orioles will still be very young with only two seniors. Unlike others, nine out of those 10 underclassmen have all played varsity basketball as freshmen and sophomores. As for their strength on offense, high percentage shooting from behind the arc will be an important part in repeating as conference champions. “We’ve got girls who can make the perimeter shot,” Shank said. “We lack size and a lot of strength, so we’re going to have to spread people out and make shots a little bit.”

(2) SPRING LAKE LAKERS

Coach: Rich Hyde (4th season)

Last season: 13-8 overall; 9-3 Lakes 8, tied for 1st place.

Key players: Kelsee Zuidema (Sr., F), Reiko Johnson (So., PG), Emily VanWingen (Sr., G), Remington French (Jr., F)

Outlook: With eight returning players, Spring Lake’s experience from last year should keep them in the running for another championship run. The key to success will be if the Lakers’ defense will improve enough to go with their athleticism to keep them at the top of the league standings. “We were very young and inexperienced at the varsity level last year, which was kind of a rebuilding year,” Hyde said. “We snuck up and played the underdog role. We’re working hard to not give up that taste of success.”

(3) ORCHARD VIEW CARDINALS

Coach: Rodney Walker (6th season)

Last season: 16-10 overall; 6-6 Lakes 8, finished 3rd place.

Key players: Jayshonna Blackshire (Sr., PG), A’marie Brown (Jr., SF), Cha’nise Dixson (Jr., SG)

Outlook: With arguably the best point guard in the conference, Orchard View will rely on Blackshire throughout the season – the Cardinals’ only returning senior who averaged 19 points and five assists per game. Walker had plenty to say about his four-year starter, from her new offseason workouts to her scoring ability. “We expect her to be a coach on the floor with our younger players and the returning juniors,” Walker said. “Her ability to get to the basket and create shots for her teammates will be extremely important if we are going to be a successful team this year.” The Cardinals’ main weakness will be taking care of the ball, Walker said. With so many young players, the six-year coach said they will work toward limiting team turnovers and opposing team’s shots at the basket.

(4) FRUITPORT TROJANS

Coach: Bob German (5th season)

Last season: 13-8 overall; 7-5 in Lakes 8, finished in a tie for 3rd place in conference.

Key players: Iyana Brown (So., G/F), Delaney Bennett (Jr., F), Eliza Johnson (Jr., C), Alyssa Beihl (Jr., G)

Outlook: This long and athletic Fruitport team will have growing pains early in the season, but fans can expect good things as the season progresses. One of the main knocks going against the Trojans this season will be inexperience, as Fruitport found success last season through the play of their seniors. “We’re going to be better as the year goes on,” German said. “We just need to see how these juniors mesh. We have three sophomores on varsity, so we’ll be young, that’s for sure.”

(5) FREMONT PACKERS

Coach: John Krim (2nd season)

Last season: 4-16 overall; 2-10 Lakes 8, 6th place.

Key players: Lexie Bradley (Sr., F), Morgan Blain (Sr., C), Emma Abendroth (Sr., G)

Outlook: With three seniors coming back with an additional junior, Krim said Fremont’s goal for the season will be to improve on what they accomplished last year. After winning only two conference games, the Packers will be looking to get past the inexperience that plagued them last year. “Our strength will be our inside game with Lexi and Morgan,” Krim said. “I think you’ll see a hardworking team and we’re going to battle teams and be in on a lot of games.”

(6) MUSKEGON CATHOLIC CENTRAL CRUSADERS

Coach: Erich Adams (5th season)

Last season: 13-9 overall; 6-4 River Valley, 2nd place.

Key players: Coach Adams declined to give names, stating, “They are all going to be key.”

Outlook: Muskegon Catholic Central will be young, returning three players who are seniors. The main storyline for the Crusaders will be their change in conferences from River Valley to Lakes 8. What MCC will have to adjust to against the new teams will be the size advantage, Adams said. “We have some good post play, which is something different from the past,” Adams said. “This new conference will be challenging, although our last conference was challenging, too.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Dec. 2, 2014)

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