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Caledonia has just enough to hold off Grand Rapids Christian, 45-43, in the OK White

By: Steve Vedder, January 22, 2016, 10:45 pm


Caledonia – Grand Rapids Christian girls basketball coach Tom Buteyn admits he doesn’t see how all the pieces fit together yet, but one thing is clear.


The Eagles plan on being a major nuisance in the second half of the OK White Division season.


Despite Friday’s tough 45-43 loss to Caledonia in which they nearly rallied from a 15-point deficit, the defending division champion Eagles continue to mesh an ever-changing roster. Through 10 games, the Eagles, for a number of reasons, have only had their entire team together once.


"They’re still learning what their teammates will do," Buteyn said. "It’s hard to simulate in practice, but the speed of the game is different. We’re still learning to trust each other."


It may be hard to imagine how a team now 0-3 in the White (4-6 overall) isn’t facing an uphill struggle in defending its league title, but the Eagles may be the team no one wants to play in the last two months. Christian greeted three new players to its lineup on Tuesday and appears to have shaken off the effects of three games in which only seven players dressed. The Eagles nearly overcame the loss of their leading rebounder (illness) and a dreadful night of shooting free throws of upsetting the streaking Scots (10-1).


The pieces of the puzzle are slowly falling into place, said Buteyn, whose team trailed 31-16 with 3:40 left in the first half only to cut the margin to 41-40, with 2:12 left.


"The offense struggled, but we’re still figuring out what pieces go where and how to put them together," Buteyn said.


The roster has been in transition since the beginning of the season when just two starters returned from a 17-5 season. For starters, three transfers played for the first time on Tuesday, a 63-41 win over Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, the only time the team has been intact all year.


Newcomers Mariah McCully (Grand River Prep), Leah Singleton (Ellington Academy) and Edecia Beck (Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills) combined for 30 points against the Scots, which extended their winning streak to eight games.


The transfers boosted a team which had only seven players for three games after several players missed time after the Christmas break as part of trips tied to school’s academic Winterim program. Just when the roster seemed set, the Eagles played without a key starter against Caledonia in senior forward and leading rebounder, Arnetta Abbey (illness).


McCully, a senior guard, finished with 16 points and Singleton, a junior forward, had eight. The Eagles shot themselves in the foot by missing 13 of their 19 free throw attempts.


Buteyn said he’s thrilled with the players’ reaction to dealing with an ever-changing roster and shifting roles and responsibilities. It would be easy, for example, for rifts to develop among players – particularly in dealing with transfers – who fail to grasp new roles, but there has been no sign of that, Buteyn saId.


"It’s a concern; it would be silly not to acknowledge that," he said. "But the way the three new kids have blended in is phenomenal. I told the kids tonight there is no doubt we can be a good team,but we’ve got to prove it. This was the first opportunity and it didn’t happen."


Caledonia coach Mike Glass expects Christian to, at the least, have an eventual say in who wins the division. The Scots are 3-0 in the White.


"I told (Buteyn) I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes," Glass said. "He could either be coach of the year if they play together and be scary good. Or they could go south."


The Scots got 20 points from sophomore guard Samantha Gehrls, an all-state softball player who won 21 games and hit 15 homers for a Caledonia club which lost in last year’s state final.


With so many new faces on the Christian roster, Glass said the challenge in beating the Eagles was quickly countering tactics the Scots hadn’t seen before. Caledonia’s only loss came against Byron Center and included letting a six-point lead away by missing two one-and-ones in the last 20 seconds.


"We had to take what they were doing as a group," Glass said of Christian. "I was very happy with the win. We haven’t played our best yet, but we’re winning by two, four, six points and that will help us develop down the road."