East Grand Rapids making strides in girls basketball ranks
East Grand Rapids – It’s anybody’s guess which team will win the Class A title this season. Saginaw Heritage (9-0) is No. 1 in the latest rankings released by State Champs but one could easily write down the names of the teams ranked in the top 10, pull one out and that could be your winner.
One could add another name to this list, possibly more. East Grand Rapids (6-1) is in first place in the O-K Conference Gold Division at 4-0 and will try to go to 5-0 when the Pioneers host Middleville-Thornapple-Kellogg (1-7, 0-5) on Friday.
E. Grand Rapids, unranked, lost at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (7-1), ranked No. 3 in Class B, on Dec. 16, 47-38, and has won three straight since including a 43-29 victory over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central this past Tuesday.
The Pioneers lost to East Kentwood, 53-51, in a district semifinal last season and is in another competitive district this season. Grand Rapids Christian, also a member of the Gold Division, is the host school with East Kentwood and Caledonia as other entrants. E. Grand Rapids will host Caledonia in a district opener on Feb. 27.
Dominick Melton is in his fourth season as head coach and this team is his best.
“I’ve got six or seven returners who saw playing time,” he said. “Plus I have a talented sophomore in Olivia Brown. In her first game (on varsity) she scored 22 points against Rockford (a 56-43 victory).
“We’ve been a headache for teams defensively. I have four seniors in my eight-player rotation and my girls don’t care who scores. They just want to win.”
Melton’s best player just might be a junior. Ten schools have offered Mickayla Ivy (5-11) a scholarship, notably UTEP. She’s a three-year starter, the team’s top defender and has shown leadership qualities.
“She’s not a screamer,” Melton said. “She leads by example. On Friday (at Wyoming) she held (Claire) Hendrickson to three points. She’s always up to the challenge. I told her, (Hendrickson) committed to Michigan State. This is a measuring stick. Ivy is long. She’s versatile. I can put her in the back of the press or at the front. She’s quick and athletic, and she can guard every position.”
Ivy had 13 points and 12 rebounds against Wyoming.
In that game senior Ruby Angok (6-3) had 26 points and 20 rebounds for the Pioneers. Another Division I prospect, St. Bonaventure and Western Michigan are leading the recruiting trail.
Miss Basketball race heating up
Kierra Fletcher of Warren Cousino appears to have the inside track for the state’s highest profile individual female award. Fletcher led Cousino to the Class A title last season and the Patriots are 7-2 and ranked No. 5. Fletcher signed with Georgia Tech.
Other top players include Destiny Pitts of Detroit Country Day, Deja Church of Southfield A&T, Henrickson, Alisia Smith of Lansing Waverly and Jordan Walker of Muskegon Mona Shores.
Henrickson is quite possibly out of contention for the award due a persistent knee injury. Through an email, Wyoming coach Troy Mast indicated that Henrickson will undergo “arthroscopic surgery on her knee to repair her meniscus that never fully healed from last season’s knee injury”. Hendrickson was averaging 12.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists. It is uncertain at this time if she will return this season.
The sleeper in this group is Walker. A 5-7 guard, Walker signed with Western Michigan. Mona Shores is 7-2 and ranked No. 10 in Class A and Walker is the main reason for the success of coach Brad Kurth’s team.
“You see Destiny Pitts score 50 points and the others put up stats,” Kurth said. “Usually the one who wins the award is the one who scores the most points. Jordan is a winner. We don’t hide our Miss Basketball candidate on defense. What sets her apart is the numbers she gets on both ends.”
Walker is averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 steals. In a 59-52 victory over Grand Rapids Catholic Central, the Cougars’ lone loss this season, Walker had 33 points and 15 rebounds. In a 61-52 victory over Rockford Walker had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and held Rockford star Maddy Watters (signed with Central Michigan) to 19 points. In a 61-50 victory over Wayne Memorial Walker had 25 points and held Camree Clegg to 18. Clegg, a junior, committed to Clemson.
There is at least one factor that’s on Walker’s side. Kurth has laid out of challenging schedule for his team, one that included a game against Detroit King, a Class A finalist last season, as part of the Motor City Roundball Classic at Detroit Renaissance.
What voters (only current coaches who are members of the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan are eligible to vote) must overlook is the fact that Walker signed with a Mid-American Conference school. A few Big 10 schools were recruiting Walker when, in the spring of 2015, she suffered a serious knee injury. Walker wore a knee brace last season and it limited her mobility. Kurth said Walker is 100 percent now.
During this recruiting process it was Western that stayed true to Walker and she rewarded the efforts of the coaching staff there by signing in November.
What will certainly help each candidate is if their teams continue to win. Country Day is undefeated and ranked No. 2 in Class B. This fact can only help Pitts’ chances.
Watch Mona Shores. If the Sailors make a significant tournament run Walker’s chances would improve. Last season Mona Shores lost to Hudsonville, 45-44, in a region final. A quarterfinal appearance would greatly enhance Walker’s chances.