Column: It has been a winter to remember

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, March 15, 2023

It has been quite a winter sports season for the schools we cover at Leader Publications.

Some of our local high school teams have experienced unprecedented success, while for the first time in decades, Southwestern Michigan College returned to the athletic arena and served notice that it is not only back, but it is going to be a force to be reckoned with moving forward.

In the middle of my 40th year of covering sports for Leader Publications, I am not sure I have enjoyed a season more than this one. Nearly all of our teams were successful on the court and the mat. From conference to regional championships, our boys and girls basketball teams, along with the wrestling teams, continue to play at a high level and provide drama and excitement for those who attend their games and matches.

A few teams turned in extra-special performances this year. They have provided memories that will last a lifetime for those on the team, their classmates and the legions of fans who follow them.

I will start with the Buchanan girls basketball team, which had its state title run Tuesday night in the Division 3 quarterfinals by Hart.

The Bucks dropped their season opener to an outstanding Vicksburg team, which would win all 22 of its regular-season contests. Buchanan would lose again on Tuesday night to the Pirates. In between, the Bucks went undefeated to win the inaugural Lakeland Conference championships, their third consecutive district championship, and its first regional title since 2001, ending a 22-year drought.

Buchanan was attempting to return to the state finals for the first time since winning it all in 1990. What a fitting tribute this season has been to the late Bill Weaver, who coached the Bucks’ girls basketball team for 21 seasons, leading them to the Class C state championship in 1990.

Weaver passed away in November.

Buchanan, which would end the regular season as the No. 1-ranked team in Division 3, was so much fun to watch. The Bucks were one of those rare teams that could do it all. They could score from the outside with a variety of shooters and then go inside to Faith Carson, the Ohio State University commit, who would end up fourth in the Miss Basketball voting.

Buchanan also played great defense and could get up and down the court or slow the pace and get into a half-court offense and wear a team down.

Congratulations to Coach Gabe Miller and all of the members of the Bucks’ squad on a tremendous season. I know it hurts right now, but that pain will be replaced with a great sense of pride and accomplishment as the days pass.

You should also be incredibly proud of your ability to continue the success the community of Buchanan has enjoyed over the past few years in multiple sports.

On the boys’ side, Brandywine is trying to duplicate the Bucks’ success as it has reached the Division 3 regional finals. The Bobcats face Centreville tonight in Coloma, seeking the school’s first-ever regional title.

There are a lot of similarities between the two teams. Brandywine, like Buchanan, can score from outside with some deadly 3-point shooters or attack the basket and score inside with its quickness and strength.

Buchanan has the Carson sisters — senior Faith and sophomore Alyssa — while the Bobcats have “P3.” Twins Jamier and Jaremiah Palmer, along with cousin Michael Palmer, spearhead the Bobcats at both ends of the court with their athletic prowess.

And like the Bucks, the Bobcats relatives get plenty of help from their teammates. One of the things I like best about this Brandywine team is that on any given night, a different player will step up and lead the Bobcats to victory.

The thing I love about this Brandywine team is how hard it plays at both ends of the court and how unselfish it is. This team share the basketball as well as any of the teams I have covered in my 40 years. That not only makes it fun for the players, but for the coaches and the fans.

I would love to see the Bobcats add that regional championship trophy to their case and head to Portage Central next Tuesday for a quarterfinal game.

Brandywine has lost just two games this season, both of which came at the hands of Benton Harbor, which is one of the all-time southwest Michigan powerhouses. The Bobcats had a shot at the Tigers in both games, which I hope has prepared them for the remainder of their postseason run.

I would also like to give a shout-out to another boys basketball team, and that would be the Niles Vikings, which won its first district championship in 11 years by upsetting five-time defending champion Benton Harbor last Friday night.

Myles Busby and his staff have done a tremendous job with the Niles program. Midway through the 2022-23 season I was not expecting a title out of the Vikings. They were struggling and had a losing record.

But over the last month of the season, Niles turned things around, won nine of its final 11 games, including six consecutive to end the season and led to the district championship. The Vikings ran into state powerhouse Grand Rapids South Christian in the regional semifinals. Still, despite the loss, Niles can be very proud of what it has accomplished this season, and it has set the table for what could be a special season in 2023-24.

Wrapping up the high school season in review, congratulations to Brandywine for going undefeated and winning the inaugural Lakeland Conference wrestling championship and Dowagiac for winning its sixth consecutive Division 3 District wrestling title.

Well, that covers the high school winter sports campaign. I still have plenty of thoughts to share on SMC’s winter sports success, but I will wait to see what postseason honors the Roadrunner athletes receive before sharing those. Hopefully, those will begin rolling in over the next week or so.


Scott Novak is sports editor for Lead Publications. He can be reached at