No. 1 Pewamo-Westphalia rolling again after rare regular-season loss to top-ranked Detroit Edison
WESTPHALIA — To be the best, you have to be willing to be beaten by the best — anything else isn’t going to make you better.
Forty-eight hours after his team knocked off No. 1 Saginaw Heritage, Midland Dow coach Kyle Theisen shot an email to Pewamo-Westphalia coach Steve Eklund, thanking the Pirates for giving them a wake-up call back in December.
“We got a really nice email from Dow’s coach on Monday, because we’d played them way back in December. He said they learned a lot about themselves. We came out and played excellent defensively that day, and were prepared for them, and again, he said ‘Our kids, that kind of opened their eyes about that playoff mentality.’ He thanked us. He said the success they’ve had is a lot to do with (the loss to us),” Eklund related after Wednesday’s win over Bath. “Coach (Kyle) Theisen up there does a great job. We get it. It’s all right to lose once in a while. Failure’s all about how you respond.”
If all goes well next month, Eklund maybe sending a similar note of thanks to Detroit Edison coach Monique Brown.
Over the last three seasons, Pewamo-Westphalia has lost just five of the 60 games its played.
Two of those were to conference rival Bath, Wednesday’s opponent.
The other three were losses to Detroit Edison, the team that ended the Pirates’ last two seasons in the final four, and the only team to beat them in 12 games so far this season.
Brown’s nationally-ranked Edison squad rolled into town a little more than two weeks ago, and handed the Pirates a 15-point loss, snapping P-W’s regular-season win streak at 35 games.
The Pirates (11-1, 8-0 Central Michigan Athletic Conference) have won three straight since then — including the 55-26 win over Bath on Wednesday to run their CMAC winning streak to 30 games — regaining their No. 1 spot in Division 3 in the State Champs! rankings, but there was value in that loss to Edison.
Challenges like that are exactly what Eklund was looking for in his four non-conference games.
“That’s the way we set it up. We want to make sure those four non-conference games were going to be tough. They were tough, but they were also fun. It was great opportunities for us to play schools like that. Edison nationally is being talked about. Country Day, everybody national knows about them. Coach (Frank) Orlando and the run he’s had there is amazing,” Eklund said.
“They make you prepare even better. You really gotta be intense preparing for them. They expose some things. That’s the big thing. They show you where you’re — maybe a weakness you didn’t know about. You thought maybe you were all right, but against Edison, we obviously learned a lot about ourselves. We got beat up on the offensive glass, but since then, we’ve really been addressing it. Not that we don’t every day — but it’s just been a focus, and the girls have really been doing a good job. Even tonight, against a smaller Bath team, we did a good job controlling (the defensive glass), and really hit the offensive boards ourselves.
“Against Country Day the other day, I saw a team defensive rebound as well as I’ve seen a team do it in a few years for us.”
The Pirates — who haven’t lost a league contest since dropping the second of two that season to the Bees on Jan. 26, 2017 — were never seriously challenged in Wednesday’s win.
Ellie Droste beat the first-quarter buzzer with a 3-pointer to give P-W a 15-4 lead on Bath. Droste had three first-half 3s, and finished with a game-high 15 points.
Hannah Spitzley pulled up for a short jumper to beat the halftime buzzer, making the lead 30-9 She finished with 10 points.
Just for good measure, the Pirates — in the process of holding for the last shot of the third — had their play blown up, but Rachel Huhn simply pulled up from 3-point range and hit a third buzzer-beater, making it a 43-15 lead headed to the fourth.
With 16 regular-season league games to play, and Laingsburg breathing down the Pirates’ necks, there’s still a long way to go.
And with 16 league contests, it also puts just that much more of a premium on CMAC teams getting the most out of their abbreviated non-conference slates.
Two years ago, the Pirates played Napoleon, Ithaca, Saginaw Nouvel, and the team from just down the road, Portland. Last year, it was New Lothrop, Detroit Renaissance, Muskegon Mona Shores and Portland.
This year, they ratcheted it up yet another notch.
They started with a New Lothrop squad that muddled through its first six games, going 2-4, but hasn’t lost since then, including a six-point road win over Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
Four days after the opener, P-W played Division 1 Dow, winning 45-25. The Chargers haven’t lost since, including the win over then-No. 1 Heritage last Friday.
P-W’s other two non-conference contests? Against the reigning Class B and Class C champs, taking on No. 1 ranked Edison on Jan. 21, then following that up with perennial powerhouse Detroit Country Day on Feb. 1.
And if those non-conference games should expose a weakness or two? The nice thing for coaches is that it’s on film now.
“It is. Film don’t lie. That’s one of the biggest things we have now that we didn’t have back when I played, is that you don’t have to tell them and maybe they don’t buy in, you can just show them and say ‘Look at this. Look at that.’” Eklund agreed. “I’m lucky that I’ve got a great group of girls that doesn’t take anything personally. They’ve got high goals. They’ve been there, and they’ve tasted the opportunity, and so they want to do everything that’s in their power to make sure they’re prepared for that run in March.”
To get where they want to go, they’ll need to make another deep run in the tournament.
This time, though, it won’t end with a loss to Edison, like it did in the Class C title game two seasons ago, and in the semis last year.
This season, Edison opted up to Division 2, and there was no program happier about it than P-W.
“Coach Brown had mentioned it, back last March, so I just sent her a nice little card in the mail, once a month. I even offered to let her come play us here,” Eklund joked. “No, but it was. Back in September, I think it was when they made the decision, yeah, we were a little bit excited, because that’s just the insurmountable force right there. I just don’t think anyone’s going to beat them in Division 2 or Division 3. So, yeah, we were a little bit excited. I think you just look at it that, yeah, there’s a big opportunity there — for somebody. … It opens it up. It’s going to be wide-open in a month or so.”