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Westwood Patriots get NICE reward in All-Upper Peninsula girls basketball balloting: Westwood’s Team of the Year award only one among 6 area nominees

Westwood’s Ellie Miller, left center, gets a clean block on a shot by Negaunee’s Alyssa Hill in the second quarter on Jan. 24 at the Patriots gym in Ishpeming. Also defending for the Patriots are, from left in the foreground, Natalie Prophet and Madi Koski.

By STEVE BROWNLEE

Journal Sports Editor

MARQUETTE — There were a number of area teams, players and coaches nominated for special awards when it came time for All-Upper Peninsula girls basketball honors, but just one actually took home the trophy.

And that was the Westwood Patriots.

That NICE — as in NICE School District — team was named Division 3 Team of the Year over Negaunee and Calumet in voting conducted online by the U.P. Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association last week.

Westwood's Jillian Koski, front left, spins while passing as she charges into the arms of Marquette's Sofia van den Ende in the second quarter of their high school girls basketball game played at the Barb Crill Gymnasium in Marquette on Feb. 6. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

There were five nominees from area schools for other awards, but in this year of elite teams and an inability to hash out arguments face to face with other media members, it was apparently hard to break that barrier.

Those other area nominees were Westwood seniors Tessa Leece and Madelyn Koski for Divisions 1-3 Player of the Year, Munising senior Megan Matson for Division 4 Player of the Year, L’Anse as Division 4 Team of the Year and Patriots coach Kurt Corcoran as Divisions 1-3 Coach of the Year.

In the end, though, it was the two teams that spent just about the entire season at No. 1 in weekly UPSSA girls polls that carted off most of the hardware — Divisions 1-3 Menominee and Division 4 St. Ignace.

The Maroons, who were upset by Gladstone in their opening MHSAA Division 2 district tournament game, were named Divisions 1-2 Team of the Year as Menominee junior Emma Anderson earned both D 1-3 Player of the Year and overall Ms. U.P. Basketball.

St. Ignace was rightfully Division 4 Team of the Year as coach Dorene Ingalls earned her second straight Coach of the Year award. And Saints’ junior Hallie Marshall was named Division 4 Player of the Year.

With assistant coach Irv Dieterle standing in the middle, Westwood head coach Kurt Corcoran kneels while giving instructions to the Patriots during a timeout in the third quarter in the MHSAA Division 3 regional semifinal game played against West Iron County and held in Escanaba on March 11, 2019. (Photo courtesy Daryl T. Jarvinen)

The only award that was left was Divisions 1-3 Coach of the Year, which went to Sault Ste. Marie’s Pat Bennin. Unlike Menominee, his Blue Devils still remained in the Division 2 tournament when play was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic just before the regional finals scheduled for March 12.

Westwood earned its second straight Team of the Year honor for a 22-2 season that was only marred by an early-season 52-47 loss at Menominee and late-season 43-33 setback at Negaunee.

The Patriots also had plenty of quality wins, including a total of four against the other D3 Team of the Year nominees — 45-35 in the regular season and 48-44 in the districts vs. Negaunee, and 59-45 in the regular season and 51-26 in the regionals against Calumet.

They also dropped Marquette (16-8) in their only meeting, 53-49, in early February and took out Gwinn (13-8) twice, 38-37 and 38-27, in the final two weeks of the regular season.

“What I’m going to take out of this is that we just beat a really good team,” Patriots head coach Kurt Corcoran said of the Jan. 10 win over Calumet. “People think that we’re these world beaters and we’re not.

Westwood senior Tessa Leece, right, tries to slip past Calumet junior Elli Djerf in their MHSAA Division 3 regional tournament semifinal game played at Marquette Senior High School on March 10. (Journal photo by Ryan Spitza)

“Last year, we were just winning games. Winning close games and winning games and pretty soon, before you know it, we’re 19-1 and people were like ‘Hey, look at Westwood.

‘ People think we’re going to beat everyone by 30 points, and that’s just not the case.

“We’ve got really good, stiff competition up here and Calumet is going to be a top-five team throughout the season.”

But the Patriots added quality depth this season and were far from the regular perception of a two-girl — 1,000-point scorers Tessa Leece and Madelyn Koski — team.

“I think that story is a little old,” Corcoran said after a Jan. 24 win over Negaunee.

“Maybe last year when Madi and Tessa were the big two options, but for a long time now, we’ve had Natalie, we’ve had KP (senior Karlie Patron)….”

“It really isn’t a sense of who’s going to step up because everybody can step up. I think that’s what makes us the most dangerous.”

Negaunee lost a lot of good players heading into this season, but 6-foot-2 sophomore Alyssa Hill stepped up to become a Divisions 1-3 First Team player this year, not to mention the addition of Mike O’Donnell as head coach.

O’Donnell led the Miners boys to three Class C semifinal games during his 2005-14 tenure before coaching the men’s team at Finlandia for five seasons.

Negaunee put together a 16-7 season with one of the strongest schedules in the U.P. as the Miners’ losses came to Westwood, Marquette (twice each), Calumet (19-4), Escanaba (13-8) and Gwinn.

They also had two wins each over Gwinn and Gladstone and one each over Calumet and West Iron County.

The Copper Kings chalked up victories over Division 4 powers L’Anse and Ewen-Trout Creek along with WIC (twice), Marquette, Negaunee and Gwinn.

Anderson clinched the D 1-3 POY and Ms. U.P. Basketball laurels with a First Team berth on the Associated Press’ Division 2 all-state team after just an All-U.P. Second Team honor in 2019.

She was named Great Northern Conference Player of the Year as Menominee went 20-0 in the regular season before the upset to open the districts. Anderson averaged 18.3 points and seven rebounds per game.

Leece was a Second Team honoree in Division 3 all-state, earning West PAC and Mid-Peninsula Conference Player of the Year honors. Last year’s All-U.P. Divisions 1-3 Player of the Year, this year she averaged 12.8 ppg, six rebounds, four assists and three steals while making 42 percent from the field, 35 percent on 3-pointers and 72 percent at the free-throw line.

Koski, who scored her 1,000th career point in December, was a Dream Team pick in the West PAC and First Team in the M-PC. She averaged 12.3 ppg, three rebounds, four assists and three steals, making 76 percent at the line.

Escanaba’s Nicole Kamin was the other D 1-3 POY candidate as she was a Second Team all-stater in Division 2 and First Team in the GNC. She averaged 19.2 ppg, 12 rebounds, three steals and 2.5 blocks per game, making 75 percent at the line.

In Division 4, Marshall won the All-U.P. Player of the Year award after leading 21-2 St. Ignace to the regional finals before the season was called. She was co-Player of the Year in the Straits Area Conference, averaging 13.3 ppg, four steals and three assists at point guard.

She had a 34-point game in a win over previously undefeated Ann Arbor Huron.

Munising’s Matson was a Second Team all-stater and First Teamer in the Skyline Central Conference, averaging 20 ppg, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and more than two blocks per game. She made 54 percent from the field.

Also up for Division 4 POY consideration were Elise Besonen of E-TC and Mercedes Simmons of Forest Park.

Besonen, a 5-foot-3 junior, was a First Team all-stater and Player of the Year in the Copper Mountain Conference, averaging 16.6 ppg, three steals, three assists and two rebounds. She made 68 percent on 2-pointers and 87 percent at the line.

Simmons was also a First Team all-state player and First Team in the Skyline, averaging 19.4 ppg, 15 rebounds, four steals and three blocks, accounting for half of the Trojans’ scoring and rebounding.

L’Anse finished its season at 20-4 and was awaiting an intriguing Division 4 regional championship matchup against next-door neighbor Baraga when the season was called.

The Purple Hornets, who joined the Copper Mountain Conference this season, lost only to E-TC (twice), Baraga and Calumet while also getting a district win over E-TC and a regular-season victory over Baraga.

They were led by All-U.P. Division 4 Second Team honoree Maija Rice, a 5-7 junior.

The other D4 Team of the Year nominee was E-TC (21-2), which had a 21-game winning streak between an opening loss at Calumet and a district championship game loss to L’Anse.

Sault Ste. Marie (21-1) and Escanaba (13-8) were also up for Divisions 1-2 Team of the Year. The Soo’s only loss was to St. Ignace 40-37 in December as the Blue Devils got revenge with a 43-29 victory in early February. The Soo also defeated Escanaba in both the regular season and districts, along with taking victories over Marquette, Traverse City Central, Traverse City West, Gaylord and Alpena.

As a D 1-3 Coach of the Year candidate, Corcoran was cited as a repeat winner of West PAC Coach of the Year, getting his 100th victory in February and repeating as both West PAC and M-PC champion.

Bennin earned his Coach of the Year award with the Soo as it was cited that while the team was deep and balanced on offense, it also gave up an average of just 29 points per game.

The third D 1-3 coaching candidate was Lucas Chouinard of Menominee.

In Division 4, Ingalls’ repeat Coach of the Year honor at St. Ignace — she actually shared the award with Baraga’s Tom Goodreau in 2019 — noted that her Saints gave Division 2 Sault Ste. Marie its only loss as she began with a team that had just six players, none over 5-8. The Saints also defeated Division 1 state-ranked Ann Arbor Huron.

Also nominated in D4 were Ken Linder of Carney-Nadeau, Roger French of Engadine and Kirk Mattson of North Dickinson.

Linder was a first-year coach who guided the Wolves to a 20-5 mark and first district title since 2006, overcoming a 2-3 start with a 14-game win streak.

French led a major turnaround at Engadine (16-6) with a signature win over Pickford (17-5), while Mattson led ND (20-3) to an undefeated season in the Skyline Central as their only losses were twice to Division 2 Kingsford and to C-N in the district final.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.

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