ST. IGNACE - Olivia Nash of Escanaba has always prided herself on crashing the glass, using her height and quickness to rip off rebounds.
Saturday the Oakland University recruit displayed that skill against a cast of all-stars, helping her land most valuable player honors at the 27th Upper Peninsula All-Star Classic.
The game is sponsored by the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame, with proceeds used to help fund a scholarship fund for U.P. athletes.
Taylor Dillinger of Houghton, left, pulls a rebound away from Rapid River's Heather Sanderson Saturday in the U.P. All-Star Classic in St. Ignace. (Escanaba Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
Nash speared a stunning 21 rebounds and added 15 points to power the South girls to an 80-72 victory over North at LaSalle High School. Lauren Goldthorpe of St. Ignace, who will play at Lake Superior State, led the South with 16 points.
"I crash the boards as much as I can," Nash said. "I would rather rebound than score, truthfully."
During the regular season, Nash averaged 15 rebounds to help the Eskymos finish 14-7.
"She is just relentless on the boards," EHS coach Kelly O'Connell said after the regular season.
"Who do you put up against her?" asked Superior Central coach Greg Trowbridge, who was the North coach. "She is a very strong player offensively and defensively."
South coach Karl Dollhopf of Gladstone faced Nash at least twice a year for the past four years.
"I was happy to see her do it against someone besides us," Dollhopf said. "She always has tenacity going after missed shots. She certainly didn't surprise me."
Nash had six points in a decisive 17-3 burst midway through the fourth quarter for a 78-65 lead that enabled South to get control of a game that was tight until then.
The 6-foot-1 center, who also has 3-point shooting range and ball-handling skills suited for point guard, had two putback baskets in that key surge. One rebound basket came after she missed the second of two free throw attempts as she barged into the lane to grab the ball and put up the shot before anyone else reacted. That gave the South a 76-65 lead.
"The second half we did a good job attacking the basket and had better shot selection," Dollhopf said.
Kelly Bintner of Rapid River hit three triples for the South and matched Gaby Cappaert of Stephenson and Taylor Granquist of North Central with nine points. Whitney Wells of Gladstone had six rebounds and five steals.
"It was nice to play with different girls. It wasn't difficult," Bintner said.
"This was one of the funnest games I've ever played," Granquist said. "Our team just meshed right away. This is a perfect way to end my high school career. It is the best way I could ever imagine."
The North opened by hitting five 3-point baskets in the first quarter en route to a 20-9 lead.
"They exposed us by shooting 3s," Dollhopf said.
"It was a fast-paced game and we had a lot of speed," Trowbridge said. "At the end we looked a little tired.
"I probably should have subbed earlier."
The player rotation usually lasted about four minutes per group.
Courtney Waara of Negaunee led the North with 13 points and her cousin, Jaclyn Waara of West Iron County, added 12 points. They both had two triples, as did Allyssa Lindberg of Marquette. Joey Carroll of Houghton had 11 rebounds and Taylor Dillinger of Houghton had six steals and five rebounds.
The game marked the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which opened up the athletic world to females. It was mentioned in pregame introductions that 41 years ago girls would not have been playing in this game.
Jammie Botruff of Gladstone, a Grand Valley State recruit who did not play Saturday after undergoing sinus surgery earlier in the week, understands what that law has done.
"Sports pretty much has become a main part of my life," Botruff said. "It has given me a great future."
Botruff, Gladstone's career scoring leader among girls and boys with 1,465 points, shared U.P. Class A-B-C player of the year honors with Nash. She helped Dollhopf handle player rotations on Saturday.
"It's crazy to think only 40 years ago (girls didn't play)," said Jaime Madalinski of Bark River-Harris, who became the Broncos' all-time girls scoring leader with 1,623 points.
"It is such a big part of my life. I wouldn't be the same person I am. Basketball is a big part of my life. It would have been a completely different lifestyle."
"At our school, girls basketball is as big as boys, and boys basketball is big at our school," Trowbridge said.
The North girls own a 14-13 edge in the series.
In pregame contests, Megan Kangas of Norway won the free throw title and Taylor Dillinger of Houghton took the 3-point event.