There is a long-standing cliche trotted out by coaches in locker rooms across the country and in just about all competitive sports.
“The only people that believe we can win are in this locker room.”
The phrase has taken a variety of forms over the years, but always comes back to the same theme: We are the only ones that believe we have a shot. While we can’t guarantee the message was relayed in pregame by first year head coach, Connor Hoke, the Zeeland East varsity girls basketball squad certainly embodied it.
The competitive drive of an athlete and their team allows a bit of irrationality to seep in on occasion, which doesn’t as easily inflict the casual or more objective spectator. However, that irrationality is what makes the games worth playing. Sports can and do often follow a predictable trajectory, but there are those shocking moments, Cinderellas and underdog stories that make us tune in again and again. Tuesday night’s showcase between the Zeeland East Chix and Holland Christian Maroons was such a contest and worth the price of admission.
The Chix welcomed Holland Christian after a short trip across town for a rematch of their matchup just a month earlier, when the Maroons steamrolled their way to a dominating 47-25 victory in Holland. The casual observer would be forgiven for suspecting a similar result would be the odds-on favorite outcome on Tuesday night.
However, the Chix have been gaining significant momentum lately with revenge wins in which the Chix turned the tables for a 12-point swing between games against Unity Christian and a whopping 20-point swing against their bitter rival, Zeeland West.
So it is understandable that East was brimming with confidence despite the odds being stacked in their opponents’ favor. It was apparent that the Chix believed Tuesday would not be a repeat of the prior matchup and were every bit as ready to stun the home crowd as they were to prove recent success has not been a fluke. If Holland Christian thought this game would look anything like their prior matchup, they were quickly dissuaded of the notion.
East opened on an absolute tear after the opening tipoff and jumped to a quick 9-0 lead before Holland Christian coach, Heather Swierenga, called a timeout to calm her team and get the Maroons back on track. The Chix weren’t done yet, though, and Junior forward Audrey Dreyer, a transfer this year from Kent City, dropped a three from the baseline corner to push the opening run to 12-0 and got “The Coop” chirping in the stands the rest of the night.
The Maroons managed to get on the board with a drive by junior guard Hannah Genzink, which jump-started a run of their own. Holland Christian closed out on an 8-0 spree that left the score 12-8 after the first quarter.
Holland Christian opened the second quarter with another driving bucket that extended their unanswered run and pulled them within just two points. That was as close as they would get on this particular blitz before another run by East, led by Dreyer hitting another three point shot, this time from the top of the key, and several blocked shots on the defensive end. The Chix also applied interior pressure on hard takes by juniors Natalie Jarzembowski & Joy VanDam and senior Kennedy Boone-Sauter as well as several threaded passes from junior guard Haley Diekevers. The run pushed things to 17-10 in favor of East.
Once again, Holland Christian proved they would not let the Chix run away with things and delivered a three point shot, followed by back to back steals by junior guard Sarah Snow, which gave the Maroons breakaway layups and tied things up with just under four minutes to play in the half.
The Maroons eventually took the lead at 21-18 with 1:46 left in the half when Hoke called timeout. The decision proved prescient, despite just being down three. A team that believes is a powerful thing and coach Hoke was unwilling to let momentum shift too far unanswered.
East wasted no time after the break and delivered a three point bomb off the finger tips of sophomore guard Maddie Schuur that tied things up at 21-all and ended the Maroons only lead of the night, which lasted just over 10-seconds. Dreyer delivered another block against the Maroon fast break a few plays later and the score held 21-21 at the half.
The second half proved East was still capable of stitching together big runs on the visiting Maroons, but while Holland Christian was able to make comeback attempts throughout the night, the considerable Chix leads continued to be too large a buffer to overcome.
The Chix stretched the score as far apart as 39-26 before their offense cooled and the Maroons were able to claw their way back, eventually bringing it to within three after a deep three point bucket by senior guard Hannah Luurtsema made the score 42-39 with 1:30 left in the game and forced Hoke to call timeout once again.
The Chix employed stall-ball the rest of the way after the break and forced the Maroons to foul. Boone-Sauter hit both ends of the one-and-one to push the score to 44-39. However, the five point margin was quickly cut back to three off a shot in the paint by Maroon senior center Taylor Stygstra. Fans had to be feeling anxious as Zeeland East’s Diekevers missed the front end of the one-and-one, but she was quickly redeemed after a huge offensive rebound by Jarzembowski was kicked the ball back to Diekevers for two points.
A shooting foul on the other end put Maroon senior center Faith Mulder at the line to split two free throws, which made the score 46-42 with just 24 seconds remaining in the contest. Diekevers missed the front end of another one-and-one, but Dreyer pulled down another Chix offensive rebound and kicked it to Boone-Sauter who was finally tracked down, fouled and went to the line for double bonus. If fans hoped they’d be able to breathe a sigh of relief, they’d have to wait another 16.4 seconds as both shots clanked off the iron and Holland Christian took possession down by only four.
While they certainly made fans stress at the end, the Chix were able to stifle the Maroon attack the remainder of the clock and held on for the stunning 46-42 upset. The victory marked a whopping 26-point turnaround from the teams’ first matchup one month prior and gave the Chix on the final home game of the season at The Coop.
Dreyer led the Chix with 12 points and may have also hit a triple-double (points, rebounds and blocks), though we have not yet been able to confirm. The Chix were also aided by 8 points from Jarzembowski and Boone-Sauter.
The Chix wrap up their regular season against Holland HS, who they comfortably beat last month 62-29. Holland Christian ends things at home against Hamilton HS after a previous meeting in which the Maroons secured a 50-27 victory. Both teams look prepared for district play early next month.