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Youthful Grass Lake already living up to massive potential, ranked No. 9 in D3

By: Matthew B. Mowery, February 13, 2019, 2:55 pm

GRASS LAKE — With every coach and athletic director in the state pulling their hair out, trying to negotiate practices and makeup games around the recurring snow emergencies, at least Grass Lake coach Andrea Cabana isn’t going to have to worry about Senior Night being postponed or canceled.

The Warriors have zero seniors this season.

“No, and I’m OK with that. I do like having seniors; they bring a different dynamic. But not having seniors is a completely different dynamic,” laughed the third-year head coach. “I had a handful of seniors my first year, and a handful of seniors last year, so this is my first year without seniors.”

With zero seniors and just four juniors to go with four sophomores and two freshmen, the Warriors are extremely youthful.

Two of the four sophomores  and both freshmen started in Tuesday night’s game against Vandercook Lake, with another sophomore starter at home with the flu.

That just makes it all the more impressive that the Warriors — No. 9 in Division 3 in the most recent State Champs! rankings — are 13-1 after the 69-10 win over the overmatched Jayhawks, with a resume win over then-No. 1 Michigan Center.

They might seem to be too young to do what they’re doing, but they’re also too young to know that they shouldn’t.

And too talented to care.

“I wouldn’t say it’s scary. I would say it’s exciting. There’s always, with the young ones — they have different areas they need to work on. I think the young ones on my team, they’re very fundamental. It’s more the mental part of the game that we work on with them, quite a bit,” Andrea Cabana said. “I think the sky is the limit with them. We’ll see how they develop and evolve over the years, but obviously we have big hopes and dreams, as we move forward.”

It’s not like Grass Lake’s success is entirely out of the blue: The Warriors won 18 games in each of Cabana’s first two years on the bench, and claimed Class C district titles each season.

And it’s not like Cabana had no experience or knowledge of the players she was bringing up, even if it is a near-complete overhaul of the roster from last season.

She’s coached at the lower levels in Grass Lake for years, and is also the coach in the highly successful Michigan Premier AAU program, which has several of the Warriors on its roster. Her Blue team, which includes her daughter, sophomore Abrie Cabana, and freshman Lexus Bargesser, won six tournaments all over the Midwest last spring and summer, despite playing up one age group. Two more starters, sophomores Lauren Pongracz and Amber Boomer, play for the Michigan Premier White team.

So, this isn’t a surprise.

“I wouldn’t say they’ve surprised us — I know what they’re capable of. I’ve had most of these girls — obviously I have the girls in the AAU world, but even the others, I’ve had when they were very, very young,” Cabana said. “I’ve been coaching here at Grass Lake for a long time, so these are the girls that I’ve had forever. Nothing has surprised me, per se. I’m very, very pleased with where we are. I think there are lots of things we need to work on, lots of holes we need to fill, still, to be truly successful.”

There’s no question the talent is there.

Just 15, Abrie Cabana committed to Grand Valley — over offers from Detroit Mercy, Hillsdale and Davenport — before the start of her sophomore season. And Bargesser already holds offers from Grand Valley and Hillsdale, as well, despite just 14 games on the high school level.

“Lexi has really started to settle in. She’s a solid player. I’ve always known that she was a solid player, but she’s really started to settle in, and play the way I know she’s capable of playing. And it goes right into — I have a complete team of young girls, and they all play really well together. They’re good friends on and off the court, and that helps,” Andrea Cabana said. “It’s very much a balanced team. We do have some leaders that obviously stand out, personality-wise, and statistically, but they really balance each other out. One player’s strength is another’s weakness.”

Bargesser and Cabana — who account for roughly 35 points per game — dominated Tuesday night, with Cabana knocking in 25 points, and Bargesser flirting with a triple double, posting 20 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

The Warriors led Vandercook Lake (1-12, 1-7 Cascades) 21-0 right out of the chute, 26-2 after one quarter, and 41-5 at the half, pushing the game over the running-clock limit early in the second half.

“We talk a lot about playing at our level. And we play at our level, both defensively and offensively, regardless of who we’re playing,” Andrea Cabana said. “We respect every team in this area — they all have a lot of strengths; some are definitely in rebuilding years, but they hall have strengths, and if you don’t come prepared, you can get beat by anybody.”

While games like Tuesday’s don’t prove a whole lot about how good the Warriors might become,  it did extend their win streak to 10 games. Included in that was a 42-39 win on Feb. 1 over Michigan Center, a semifinalist in Class B last year that was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in D3 at the time.

“I was happy with that. That got us back in the conversation of being a contender at the end of the season,” Andrea Cabana said. “That was one big thing that you saw the first round with Michigan Center was they are obviously very talented — I wouldn’t say they’re any deeper, but they’re extremely experienced. They went all the way to the semifinals last year, so that experience has just made them a team that will fight through anything, and you see that with the wins that they had — the overtime wins, and the wins they had at the beginning of the regular season.

“We don’t quite have that. The game with them gave us a taste of that, because that game, we controlled the whole time. We did tie at one point, but they never led the whole game. There were some highs and lows, but we controlled the flow the whole time, and I thought that was a really big step for them, for them being so young.”

It said as much about the Warriors’ growth as the 27-point road loss to the Cardinals back in early December.

“We were actually up on Center in the first game — it was almost identical — up by nine, right out of the gates. Then Center went on a run, and we kind of went on a lull, and the young ones — we didn’t handle that very well. Instead of fighting back and understanding it’s a game of runs … And that did surprise me. Especially the girls that I had all summer long, they understand that. But this is obviously very different. There’s different types of pressures in the high school gym than there are in the exposure world,” Andrea Cabana said. “The gyms are packed, the fans are loud, there’s a band — it’s just a total different thing. They beat us bad the first time around, and they shouldn’t have. It should be neck-and-neck. And that’s what it was here.”

Now tied atop the conference standings with one loss each, Michigan Center has four remaining league games, while Grass Lake has five.

If both hold serve, it would be a second league title — the Warriors finished tied for second last year — in Cabana’s three seasons on the bench, after two shared titles (1993 and 2012) in the previous 30 seasons.

“There’s potential,” the coach said. “The potential is there, but it’s just who shows up, obviously.”