Column: It is go time for our area teams

Published 4:21 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The postseason has gotten off to a great start for our local high schools.

The six teams I have the good fortune to cover — Brandywine, Buchanan, Cassopolis, Dowagiac, Edwardsburg and Niles — have already found success to varying degrees in wrestling and competitive cheer. Those two sports were joined by girls basketball Monday night.

Wrestling is always our first winter sport to hit the postseason. We had three teams win team district championships — Brandywine, Dowagiac and Edwardsburg — and 29 individual wrestlers advance to the regional round. Eight more will compete at Ford Field in Detroit for state titles this weekend.

And for the first time ever, two female wrestlers will also be in competition in Detroit. Brandywine’s Maddison Ward and Buchanan’s Kaitlynne Walters competed in the first girls-only regional two weeks ago and both finished third.

For Dowagiac, it was the fifth consecutive Division 3 District championship. The Eddies won their third Division 2 district championship in four years. The Bobcats returned to Division 4, where they have been a dominant force.

While our teams did not have any individual regional champions, Dowagiac senior Jordan Simpson led the with his third consecutive district title in Division 3. Simpson is one of the eight wrestlers remaining, and he will be seeking his 150th career victory in Detroit on Friday.

Only Buchanan advanced to the regional round after the Bucks finished second at the Division 4 District in competitive cheer. Even though it did not advance in the state tournament, Dowagiac had a banner year. It continually set new school records for points scored in meets and brought home multiple competition victories for the first time in school history. The Chieftains also had their highest finish at a district competition as it finished sixth, just two spots away from advancing.

I now turn my attention to state basketball tournaments. The girls got under way Monday night, with Niles and Buchanan advancing in Division 2 and Division 3, respectively. They now face familiar foes in Vicksburg and Brandywine.

Niles split its pair of Wolverine Conference games against the Bulldogs this season. At the same time, the Bucks and No. 9-ranked Bobcats will also square off for a third time after splitting BCS Athletic Conference Red Division games and the division title. This game will not be for the faint of heart.

Undefeated and No. 6-ranked Edwardsburg is the favorite to win the Division 2 District it is hosting. The Eddies face Wolverine Conference South Division foe Three Rivers, a team it has beaten by more than 20 points twice this season. The winner takes on the winner of the Niles-Vicksburg contest for the title.

The Brandywine and Buchanan contest is a true contrast of teams. The Bucks are a more veteran squad that would like to get into its half-court game and pound the ball inside where it holds a significant advantage on the Bobcats. They also want to put the ball in sophomore LaBria Austin’s hands and let her take control of the game as she did in the second meeting.

The Bobcats will have just one senior in the starting lineup tomorrow night. The remainder of the starters, and a good portion of its roster, is made up of freshmen and sophomores, including sophomore point guard Ellie Knapp, who led southwest Michigan in scoring this season with an average of nearly 18 points per game.

In a normal year, that semifinal matchup would decide the district champion. That might be the case again this year, but Watervliet, which has to get past a vastly improved Cassopolis squad Wednesday night to reach the finals, might have something to say about who lifts the trophy Friday night. The Panthers are 17-2, their only two losses coming at the hands of perennial state powerhouses Kalamazoo Christian and Schoolcraft.

At Berrien Springs, Dowagiac literally has a tall task if it wants to win its first district championship since 2008. The Chieftains will need to figure out how to stop Benton Harbor’s 6-foot-5 Desrae Kyles power forward. Should Dowagiac figure out a way to stop Kyles and the Tigers, they could win the title as the Chieftains have beaten every other team in the field.

I cannot wait to see how the rest of this week shakes out. Then it will be on to the boys district the following week as winter sports heads toward its conclusion at the end of this month.

These two weeks are the busiest in all of sports, with the boys and girls tournaments on top of each other and the wrestling and competitive cheer tournaments wrapping up. I am truly worn out by the end of next week.

But I would much rather be worn out than what I was two years ago. It dawned on me as I sat in the Edwardsburg High School gymnasium Monday night waiting for the start of the game, that the last time I was there covering a district tournament, I got an email in the first quarter from the Michigan High School Athletic Association that sports would be shutting down the next day.

It was a moment I will never forget as long as I live. I had joked with someone before the game that they should enjoy it because it would be the last one this year. Little did I know I was a prophet. We have come a long way some that night. I know I have had a new appreciation of sports ever since that evening.

Do not take anything for granted. Do not decide to wait and see if your local team gets to the finals before coming out and supporting them. You never know when the privilege of watching high school sports can be taken away from you.

I am confident that those dark days are behind us. I am also confident that there are some great tournament games yet to be played in 2022. Get out and enjoy them.

 

Scott Novak is sports editor for Leader Publications. He can be reached at scott.novak@leaderpub.com.