Category Archives: Sports

Rockford Girls Basketball: Second Time’s the Charm against West Bloomfield

“If you’re going through hell, keep going!”

This iconic phrase has oft been misattributed to the venerable British prime minister, Wintson Churchill. But while the phrase has far more obscured origins, it is reasonable to glean why it maintains such close ties with the wartime statesman.

In the throws of a savage war, Britain found itself on the ropes at home and abroad with little hope as bombs fell on London and empty stomachs as rations were diverted to the war effort. On the heels of the German blitz, Churchill delivered his iconic “Never Give Up” speech at Harrow School on October 29, 1941: Never give in, never give in, never never, never–in nothing, great or small, larger or petty–never give in…”

He became a cultural figure representing stoic steadfastness and British resilience in the face of devastating opposition and thus, some legends become large enough to generate cultural gravitational pull so great that things, never uttered by them, are attributed through reputation, alone.

Rockford girls basketball does not have the global cultural impact of Winston Churchill and a basketball game is not world war, but the spirit of resilience and perseverance in that quote carries itself across all avenues of life, far beyond matters of historical scale.

Exactly one year ago, the Rockford Rams met the West Bloomfield Lakers in the state semifinals at Michigan State’s Breslin Center on March 18, 2022. The Lakers went on to win that game 66-63 and eventually beat Hartland 51-42 to win the state title. That semifinal matchup a year earlier could not have been a more distant cry, however, from what would take place March 18, 2023.

Rockford senior, Kayla MacLaren, said getting back to Breslin has been the goal since they left last year:

“I think the whole team agreed it was our goal to make it back there this season after doing it my junior year. We even made our team motto ‘finish’ because it was our goal and our main focus to finish what the ‘21-‘22 team started.”

And if that goal wasn’t focused enough, she explains that the Rams had their eye on one particular matchup they had a chance at on the other side of the bracket after winning in the semifinals.

After quarterfinals, when we found out there was a potential for the championship game to be against West Bloomfield, that game was all we wanted. Obviously, we had to focus on beating a very good Renaissance team, but West Bloomfield was our number one goal. Once we got to the championship game we knew it was going to be a war with all of the skill Bloomfield has, but everyone on the team was willing to give it everything they had so we could finally finish what we started last year.

And the Rams had started red hot in the 2022 encounter and led 31-26 at halftime. A year later, neither team could seem to hit shots, but the Rams managed to hold a slim and somewhat sloppy 14-12 lead at the break with the Wypych sisters being responsible for all fourteen. Early on, it looked even more bleak and seemed as if the Rams had little hope of stopping the Lakers, as they opened up in a zone defense and fell behind after the first quarter 10-4; a six point differential that was the largest for either team on Saturday and seemed closer to 20 in terms of how things felt in the arena.

West Bloomfield whipped the ball around and found open looks that carved the zone and got the ball deep into the defense for several high percentage shots around the basket in the opening quarter. Rockford knew they had to adjust and the coaching staff came out of a timeout in man-to-man. That decision began to take immediate effect and the Rams began giving the Lakers fits with their disciplined defense that cut down on dribble penetration and stifled passing lanes with robust help side defense.

Rockford junior guard, Grace Lyons, remarked on that pivotal in-game adjustment:

“Our coaching staff works so incredibly hard for us all season long. They spend countless hours studying film, getting our scouting reports ready, breaking down the opponent’s plays, deciding our match ups, and none of this would have been possible without each and every one of them. So going into the game we had our game plan which was to start in zone and see how they react to it, but we knew eventually we would have to win the game by playing solid man-to-man. The zone just wasn’t working out for us just because they have too many talented players who can pass from all over the floor…”

Lyons also explained how experience from a year ago played a key role in facing the vaunted Laker attack.

“Our game plan on man defense was to not face guarding anyone, because last year when we did that it gave open driving lanes to their other players. So this year we decided everyone needs to be in help or in a gap when your player has the ball to stop dribble penetration, and just make it tough for them to go anywhere. We were able to make that adjustment on the fly because it’s what we’ve been doing all season. We play some zone, but we rely on and are known for our solid man-to-man.”

While the scoring may have been polar opposite to last year’s bout, the competitive balance between the two teams was once again on full display. The Rams, once again, tussled back and forth with constant lead changes that never saw the game get out of reach for either team. It seemed as though the game would come down to whoever had the ball last and whether or not either team could see a couple shots go through the net and get hot at just the right time.

West Bloomfield began to take control and figure out some alleys for attack against the Rockford man defense and eventually pulled ahead. The Lakers would extend the lead to 3. Rams answer. 2. Rams answer. 3. Rams answer. Each time West Bloomfield looked to have the upper hand, the Rams would find a way to attack the rim for a bucket, free throws or kick to the outside. One big three came off the fingertips of senior Alyssa Wypych, that dropped a bucket that kept things within a score down the stretch. Sophomore sister, Anna Wypych, relentlessly attacked the rim and put down shots in critical minutes. Freshman Sienna Wolfe got to the line and hit shots with poise often unseen at any age on this sort of stage. MacLaren and a host of other Rams broke the Laker press and secured the ball under immense pressure to keep Rockford in striking distance. Despite all that, the Lakers maintained the advantage towards a 36-33 lead with just 2:10 left.

Wolfe took advantage of an opportunity to get to the rim and draw the foul with 1:45 left in the game and knocked down both shots to pull the Rams back within one and the score set at 36-35.

Lyons expressed how the Rams never stopped believing down the stretch:

“We all just knew we were not giving up no matter what. We’ve worked way too hard all season to just fold because some things weren’t going our way. We made an adjustment as a team. If your shot is not falling, just drive and get to the line. Work your way back in it that way. I know I at least told Sienna (Wolfe) ‘Keep being aggressive they are going to fall eventually, keep taking it to them.'”

While Lyons may have had an uncharacteristically quiet afternoon on offense, she made quite a statement when the moment mattered most:

“For me personally, I know I’m not going to stop shooting just because I had missed a few. I know I’m a good shooter and I know my coaches and teammates have confidence in me. So, when Alyssa drove in, kicked it to Anna, and Anna swung it to me, nobody was around me, so I knew I was going to let it fly.”

The shot fell through the cylinder like Ram fans have seen so many times before and Rockford took a slim but commanding lead.

West Bloomfield had one more chance to tie at the line, but a missed front end forced an attempted intentional miss, which failed to hit the rim and turned the ball over. Rockford inbounded and got the ball to Lyons who was fouled and sank two free throws to seal the deal with .1 seconds remaining. The final score ended 40-36 with the Rams as Division 1 state champions.

Banners hang in gyms all over Michigan citing conference titles, district championships and beyond, but while those numbers signify the completion of great accomplishments, they are earned long before and the same is true for Lyons.

“It’s just an amazing feeling, I’ve been working for this my whole life, putting in so much time in the gym with my dad, and it finally paid off. It’s funny because my dad would always make up these scenarios when we were practicing free throws, ‘ok, you’re down one in the state finals, no time left, if you make both you win.’ And to some extent that really happened. It is just an unexplainable feeling of just pure joy and I don’t think my dad has stopped smiling.

Anna Wypych echoed much of the same, “I literally don’t have words to describe how amazing this feels. We’ve been working so hard all year and it paid off.” Alyssa Wypych could not have been more excited, “It’s an indescribable feeling…I went lightheaded. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh…this is happening and it’s something that I’ve worked my whole life for. It’s been a dream since forever.”

The Rams held West Bloomfield junior and Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year, Indya Davis, to just 8 points. Indya’s sister Summer was held to only 4 made free throws and 0-11 shooting from the field.

Rockford coach, Brad Wilson, had this to say following the incredible championship finish:

“They gave us everything they had and we have a ton of respect for them. They made a couple of runs today where some teams would have folded. Our girls didn’t flinch, they steadied the storm, and when our girls had opportunities to make plays, they did.”

Lyons returns next year with a host of Rams, but losing some key pieces to Rockford’s success over the last few years:

It was just so great to be able to accomplish this with this group of seniors. They are incredible girls and we all had the same goal in mind all year long. We got it done. We hope to be back at the Breslin next year and we will set just as high of expectations for next season!”

For her part, MacLaren has a lot to be proud of in her career at Rockford:

“As a Ram I hope to have brought pride back to our school and our program. When I was a freshman, our program hadn’t won a district championship in 10 years and now for us to have won the state title only 4 years later, I think is pretty amazing. All six of us seniors have been playing basketball together since sixth grade, so the legacy that we would hope to leave is that it is so important to stick together and grow together. The determination and grit that the seniors brought to the team, especially after losing in the final four last year, was incredible. We brought energy and love to the team and we hope the team next year is able to have the same or even improve and make it a norm in our program to play with lots of love and passion.”

Anna Wypych finished with 20 points (including 9 of 10 from the free throw line) and 8 rebounds. Alyssa Wypych finished with 9 points and Sienna Wolfe closed out her freshman year with six. The Rams finished the season 28-1 and tied for the state record for wins in a season. Their lone loss came in a close 61-54 defeat against Division 2 semi-finalist West Catholic before the new year at the Cornerstone University Holiday Tournament.

Rockford and West Catholic Girls Basketball Returns to Breslin

A year removed from magical runs that saw the Rockford Rams lose in the state semifinal and West Catholic Falcons fall in the state championship, both squads will be returning to the friendly confines of Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

Rockford returns the bulk of their 2022 campaign’s roster, while West Catholic has made their run without the help of current MSU guard and 2022 Miss Basketball candidate, Abbey Kimball. Despite the huge loss, 2023 Senior guard Cadence Dykstra has stepped into the leadership role and several others have taken hold of bigger opportunities with a year of experience behind them.

Both squads have rolled this post-season with West Catholic only experiencing one scare in overtime against Grand Rapids Christian. West Michigan has a real chance at securing multiple titles this week on the girl’s side and will be riding high hopes when the boys head to Breslin next week.

Northview Ended 2023 Campaign with Conference Title and Eyes to the Future

Northview followed up on a terrific 2022 run that brought the Wildcats to the Breslin Center with a conference championship and a rigorous schedule that offered a grueling list of opponents.

Despite a close loss in the District Championship game and some big senior departures, the 2023 season was a marked success and leaves the Wildcats with several key contributors returning next winter.

Rockford Rams Battle to Victory over Northview

The Rockford Rams and Northview Wildcats met on Friday night with the Rockford Rams emerging victorious: 53-49 and winning the district championship. The game was an intense and closely contested battle throughout, with both teams displaying all the heart and talent that made this the game of the week and putting on a great show for a packed house.

Both teams had been battle tested this season and the game was set to be an absolute battle. It did not disappoint and lived up to the bill.

The second half of the game was a nail-biting affair, with both teams exchanging leads multiple times. The Rams managed to pull ahead in the fourth quarter with a series of clutch plays and timely shots. The Wildcats fought back, but it was not enough as the Rams held on to their lead till the end of the game.

#1 West Catholic Survives Overtime Scare Against Grand Rapids Christian

In a thrilling regional championship game between the West Catholic Falcons and Grand Rapids Christian Eagles, it was the Falcons who emerged victorious in an overtime battle, winning 53-45.

The game was a closely contested affair throughout, with both teams displaying excellent defensive skills and offensive prowess. The Falcons controlled the game most of the evening and held a double digit lead late in the game, but the Eagles mounted a sterling comeback and tied the game at 42 with a final shot in regulation that would have given GRC the victory, but was off the mark.

In the extra period, the Falcons managed to pull away from the Eagles, outscoring them 11-3 to secure the victory. The Falcons’ defense was particularly impressive in overtime, as they held the Eagles to just one basket and two free throws.

The win was a huge accomplishment for the West Catholic Falcons, who will now move on to the state quarterfinals following the 53-45 win. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Grand Rapids Christian Eagles, who fought hard throughout the game but were unable to come away with the major upset.

Overall, the game was a thrilling showcase of high school basketball, with both teams displaying excellent skills and sportsmanship. The West Catholic Falcons will now look to build on their momentum and continue their run in the state tournament, while the Grand Rapids Christian Eagles will have to regroup and prepare for next season and find a new identity as several seniors graduate.

XFL & USFL Resurgence seeks Permanence in Spring Sporting Landscape

After years of anticipation and speculation, it has been officially announced that both the United States Football League (USFL) and XFL will be returning to the football landscape in 2023. The USFL, which originally launched in 1983, will return as a professional spring football league, while the XFL, which was recently revived in 2020 before shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after looking to be the most promising attempt in recent decades, will return as a fall football league.

Both leagues have a storied history in American football. The USFL played three seasons in the 1980s before folding due to financial struggles, but it featured several future NFL stars, including Jim Kelly, Steve Young, and Herschel Walker. The XFL, on the other hand, played one season in 2001 before also folding due to financial issues, but it gained a cult following due to its unique rules and edgy approach to football.

The return of these leagues has been met with excitement from football fans who are eager for more opportunities to watch the sport they love. The USFL and XFL are expected to offer a unique and exciting football experience, with both leagues aiming to differentiate themselves from the NFL by offering faster-paced games and different rules and formats.

The USFL will have two teams playing home games in the 2023 season out of Ford Field in Detroit: the Michigan Panthers and Philadelphia Stars.

The USFL has already announced plans to launch with eight teams, with cities and franchises to be announced at a later date. The league is expected to begin play in March or April of 2023, with a championship game scheduled for June.

Hart Flips the Script in Second Matchup with Kent City in Regional Championship

In a thrilling regional final championship game, the Hart Pirates defeated the Kent City Eagles, 37-34. Both teams fought hard throughout the game, with several lead changes and momentum swings. In the end, it was the Hart team’s strong defense and clutch scoring that sealed the victory after trailing at half and much of the final minutes.

The game was closely contested, with both teams showing skill and determination on the court. Hart was able to make key plays when it counted, including a critical free throws during multiple trips to the line in the final minutes that put them ahead for good. The Eagles and standout senior guard, Lexie Bowers, put up a strong fight and kept the game close until the final buzzer, but ultimately fell just short as one last three point attempt was blocked as time expired. Overall, it was an exciting and memorable game that showcased the best of high school basketball.

Quick Lane Bowl Set at Ford Field

The annual bowl game at Ford Field has been decided. New Mexico State (6-6) will travel to face Bowling Green State (6-6). Last year saw another team from the southwest, Nevada, travel to Detroit and face Western Michigan. BGSU is likely to be slightly favored and have the benefit of a regional fan base, but expect a competitive matchup.

The teams meet December 26 at 2:30 pm.

Images from 2021 Quick Lane bowl in Detroit between Western Michigan and Nevada. – Jake Szetela, Photojournalist.

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