Marshall wins first state title, closes out South Christian, 51-42
East Lansing – The impact of a state championship game can be felt for the rest of a young athlete’s life.
For the winners, the feeling of accomplishment can last a lifetime.
So, too, can the lingering regrets for those who fell short in their one shot at glory.
Sal Konkle moved on with her life following Marshall’s 64-52 loss to Okemos in the 1981 Class B girls’ basketball championship game. She was a star senior on that team, posting an average of 18.8 points per game that still stands as the school record.
Konkle had success beyond high school, playing four sports at Alma College before going on to coach and become director of women’s athletics at Albion College. She earned her master’s degree from Western Michigan.
Still, that loss on the biggest stage in high school girls’ basketball stuck with her for 35 years.
A rare moment of redemption came on Saturday when she coached Marshall to a 51-42 victory over Grand Rapids South Christian in the state Class B championship game at the Breslin Center.
It was the 12th Marshall team to win a district championship in Konkle’s 16 seasons as head coach, but the first to get past the state quarterfinals. In fact, only the 1981 and 2016 teams got as far as the semifinals.
"I got numerous texts from former teammates saying we can do it," Konkle said. "One is in the stands. She called me this morning. She said to me, ‘Hey, I know you’re busy, and I’ll be there, but not a lot of people get do-overs in life, and you got a do-over. So, can you just make this happen?’ I got a text from coach (Tom) Duffey, who was my coach at the time. He said, ‘Second time’s a charm; you’ve got this.’"
Konkle was able to share the experience with her junior daughter, Jill, who led Marshall with 13 points.
"They’re kind of all my girls," coach Konkle said. "When you grow up in a small town, these kids are over at your house. Jill hangs out with them. They go to proms. They do everything together. That’s what makes it so special for us. These kids are close. This is something they’re going to remember the rest of their lives. I remember doing it with my best friends. It’s just very, very special."
Jill Konkle said her mother doesn’t discuss the 1981 loss very often, but the topic became relevant in recent weeks as the current group of players chased that elusive championship.
"Only because we got this far did we talk about it more," Jill Konkle said. "Other than that, not as much. She did bring it up with the team a bit. We talked about it the last couple of weeks quite a bit. I was always telling her, ‘I’m gonna get it. I’m gonna beat you,’ and I did."
Marshall won the state title with a group of girls who have known their high school coach since their early elementary school years.
"We all have this respect for her," said Emily Delmotte, the only senior on the team. "I’ve had it since I was little, watching her teams since I can remember. She’s always been a presence. It’s not like the kind of coach that as soon as you get into high school is the first time you meet her. In basketball, the first time I met her was in first or second grade. She makes herself present. She’s a part of the program, no matter what age you are."
The Redhawks took the lead with 2:01 left in the first quarter and never relinquished it. Marshall built a 12-point lead late in the first half before taking a 25-15 advantage into the break.
When Nicole Tucker scored on the fast break with 4:24 left in the third quarter, Marshall had its biggest lead of the night at 33-19.
South Christian battled back to within 37-32 on a basket by Mariel Bruxvoort with 6:44 left in the game.
The Redhawks scored the next five points at the line to go up 42-32. What could have been a pivotal moment for the Sailors came when Markayla Vander made a free throw and missed the second one, only to have Bruxvoort score off an offensive rebound and get fouled. With Bruxvoort made the free throw, South Christian had four points in a one-second span to get within 42-36 with 3:38 left.
The Sailors didn’t get a chance to build on that momentum, as Taryn Long made a 3-point play with 3:10 left to put Marshall up 45-36. South Christian couldn’t put together consecutive scores the rest of the game.
"It took us a little while to get into an offensive flow," South Christian coach Kim Legge said. "Actually, I’m not really sure we did get into an offensive flow. Marshall did a good job with their defense on us. Obviously, they had scouted well. We’ve been behind before and usually can make runs, but they did an excellent job of stopping that. The momentum never did swing to our favor."
Taryn Long finished with 10 points and Carlee Long had five assists for Marshall (26-1), which won 26 straight games after a season-opening 40-33 loss to Williamston.
Vander had 16 points and Jennifer DeBoer 13 for the Sailors (25-3), who had only four players score. Vander, DeBoer and Sydney DeYoung were the only holdovers from the 2014 South Christian team that went into the Class B title game with a 26-0 record before losing to Eaton Rapids.
"It’s definitely been a fun four years," DeBoer said. "I’ve enjoyed every second of the experience. I think the thing I’m going to miss the most are my teammates and all the memories we made. I’ll never get these experiences back, so I’m just really thankful for them."