Redmen tops in Divisions 1-2

The Marquette bench, including head coach Brad Nelson, in black shirt, erupts as the Redmen's Liam Darr sinks the third of five consecutive 3-point attempts in the first quarter of a high school boys basketball game played against Kingsford at the Redmen gym on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

MARQUETTE — The Marquette boys basketball team had quite a 2018-19 season.

It’s been fairly common for MSHS’ Brad Nelson to take the Great Northern Conference title like they did with an 8-0 record this year — his teams have won the title more often than not in his 11 years at the helm — but what the Redmen also did this season was to end a drought by notching an MHSAA district tournament title.

This year’s district championship — in Division 1 rather than Class A — was the Redmen’s first since 2013.

So Marquette was honored as the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association Division 1-2 Team of the Year at its annual meeting Tuesday.

Iron Mountain earned the Division 3 award after a trip to the state championship game, while Brimley took the Division 4 spot after an undefeated regular season and a 23-1 final record.

Nelson was pleased with what his squad accomplished and said the district championship was something that meant a lot to his players and the program.

“The conference is always a check mark for us and we’re typically pretty successful on winning that,” he said. “I don’t know how many we’ve had, but I’d say seven out of the last 11 years.”

A check of records shows he is exactly right — since his first year in 2008-09, he’s won six GNC titles outright plus a shared one with Gladstone in 2017-18 for seven in all. More recently, it’s been six of the past seven, too.

“I try to tell the guys not to take that for granted because we play in a tough conference. To go undefeated the year that we had, the kids obviously put a point of emphasis on that. With winning the district, I hear from people ‘Why coach in Marquette? You’re never going to play a meaningful game.’

“If you ask any of the 14 guys who won that Division 1 district final how important that game was, they’ll tell you that’s the most important game they’ve ever played.

“We kind of laid an egg in the regionals and I thought we let one get away. We just didn’t play well, but we need to take the next step and be a district contender every year and then hopefully make a deeper run than just winning the district.”

Marquette is losing quite a bit going to next year in All-U.P. Dream Teamer Marius Grazulis and All-U.P. Division 1-2-3 Second Teamer Bryce Brazeau, but Nelson is feeling positive.

“We’re in a good situation,” he said. “A lot of people think we’re losing a lot of the seniors and a lot of the talent that we had, but we got a good group coming back that’s young and talented.

“We’ve still got Luke Ogea coming back and Drew Wyble and John Thomson and Collin Hicks, and the JV team was very successful this year. So I’m looking forward to next year.

“It’s kind of a different situation this year where we were expected to win, but next year, people aren’t going to expect us to do much, but that’s the kind of stuff that I like.”

In the Coach of the Year races, the Mountaineers’ Harvey “Bucky” Johnson earned the Division 1-3 honor while Dollar Bay’s Jesse Kentala won the Division 4 award.

Johnson nearly led IM to the Division 3 state championship, only losing 53-52 to Pewamo-Westphalia on several late questionable calls, while the Blue Bolts made it to the D-4 semifinals before being knocked out by eventual state champion Southfield Christian for the second straight year.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.