Column: ‘Great 8’ makes history

Published 10:31 am Wednesday, March 16, 2022

WAYLAND — I must admit that when I found out that the Edwardsburg varsity basketball team consisted of eight players, and the entire program had just 16, I never thought I would be sitting in Wayland Union High School watching the Eddies play in the Division 2 state quarterfinals.

But that was what I was doing Tuesday night. I watched the “Great 8” take on the No. 2-ranked Grand Rapids West Catholic Falcons with a spot in Friday’s semifinals on the line. The outcome was not what anyone who made the trip dressed in Orange and Blue wanted, but no one can take away the Eddies’ accomplishments. Edwardsburg lost 82-27.

I underestimated this group of young women. Back in November, I remember thinking there was no way they would survive the rigors of a Wolverine Conference season, let alone make a long tournament run. With COVID still a factor, as well as the potential of an injury to any one of those eight kids, something would derail the Edwardsburg Express.

I could not have been more wrong.

Not only did these eight young women survive all the pitfalls of an undefeated regular season where they went 20-0, but they also won the outright conference championship. This happened despite losing their top sub for several games with an ankle injury and having their other key reserve sustain a similar, but less severe injury.

The Eddies overcame illness as well, as they marched through their regular season schedule, beating every opponent by more than double figures, and most of them by more than 20. This team was focused, talented and smart, which was celebrated when it received Division 2 Academic All-State from the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan.

I was pretty confident that the Eddies would roll through the district, which they did, winning by 40 and 33 points. I was not as optimistic about the regional round. But once again, they proved me wrong.

Edwardsburg had to beat Wolverine Conference foe Otsego for the third time. The Bulldogs, who gave the Eddies a fight in the league championship game, were no match for this determined squad in the regional semifinals, where they lost by 27 points.

Then came old nemesis Wayland, which had knocked the Eddies out of the tournament the previous year in the regional finals. This time, Edwardsburg would prevail, although it was not easy as a 20-point advantage in the second half turned into a dogfight in the closing moments. Still, the “Great 8” prevailed, winning Edwardsburg’s first-even regional championship and sending them off to Wayland Union High School Tuesday night.

Awaiting Edwardsburg was the No. 2-ranked Falcons and the runner-up in the Miss Basketball Award, senior guard Abbey Kimball, who is off to Michigan State University upon graduation. I knew driving to the game that it would take a near-perfect effort by the Eddies, as this was by far the best team they had faced all season.

My concerns were confirmed as West Catholic, after falling behind 4-2, rolled off 18 consecutive points, and led 26-5 after the opening quarter. It was clear this great run was about to end.

One game does not define a season. No one can take away the fact that these eight young ladies — Ella Castelucci, Macey Laubach, Katie Schaible, Mackenzie Schaible, Averie Markel, Lindsey Dalenberg, Abby Bossler and Caitlin Tighe — went undefeated in the regular season, won back-to-back district championships and the school’s first regional title. The 24 wins this season also set a school record.

I am sure I speak for all Edwardsburg fans when I say that 2021-22 has been a magical ride. This team, led by its three seniors — Castelucci, Laubach and Schaible — gave their community and all of southwest Michigan something to cheer for as other teams dropped by the wayside in the state tournament.

I know right now this team is still feeling the pain of losing its final game on the biggest stage it had ever played. But as the hours, days and weeks go by, I am hopeful that the pain begins to subside, and it is replaced by fond memories that only those who have played a team sport and have put together a season like theirs can understand.

Teams become families. They form a special bond that no one can break. They create memories that last a lifetime. For the “Great 8,” those memories will probably be too numerous to count.

Congratulations Edwardsburg. It has been my pleasure to cover you along the magical journey.

 

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