By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
FRANKFORT – Tim Reznich and Reggie Manville are fly fishing and coaching buddies.
They share and enjoy mutual interests, especially when it comes to running Frankfort's two successful basketball programs.
Reznich, now in his 14th season, has guided the girls to nine District, four Regional and two MHSAA Class D titles.
Manville, beginning his fifth season, has led the boys to four District and three Regional championships in a row, with a Semifinal appearance in 2014. Before Manville's arrival, the Panthers had gone 11 years without a District crown, nearly 40 without a Regional title and almost 50 without a Semifinal berth.
"Our expectations are high (in both programs)," Manville said. "We've set that bar, and now it's a situation where people expect us to be there. It's a product of past success. Last year our girls and boys were a combined 45-5. That's an unbelievable record when you stop and think about it.
"One of the programs I tried to emulate when I took over was the girls program," Manville added. "They had been there (to the big stage) before; the boys hadn't. I wanted to get us to the point where we were at the same elite level. When I say elite, I mean that you're usually winning a Regional because then you've got a shot at winning a state title. That's where both programs are right now. I joke around with Tim. Being from Flint, a factory town, I like to say this is our Frankfort basketball factory. We've got two shifts going 24/7."
The girls made a serious run at a third MHSAA crown last March, losing to eventual champion St. Ignace in the Semifinals. The Panthers led by 13 in the first half. Then Margo Brown hit seven 3-pointers to fuel the Saints’ comeback.
"They were deep 3s, 23-footers coming off screens," Reznich said. "It was something."
The boys reached the Quarterfinals before falling in overtime to Fulton.
Optimism is high as the teams embark on their 2015-16 campaigns.
Reznich returns three starters, including two-time all-state pick Mackenna Kelly, who signed with Central Michigan University last month. Junior Cecelia Schmitt and senior point guard Anna Hunt are also back. They all have their eyes on the top prize.
"The goal is the same as it is every year – to win a state championship," Kelly said. "That's the ultimate goal, and we're working hard in practice every single day to reach it. That's the plan."
Reznich believes that goal is realistic.
"They've been preparing for this," he said. "They feel good, they feel confident, they feel it's their time to shine.”
The Panthers boast an experienced team with seven seniors, plus Schmitt, who averaged about 11 points a game as a sophomore. Kelly said the chemistry between the players is the strength of the team.
"We've all been together a long time," she said. "We know each other really well."
Chemistry is not the only strength, though. Reznich likes two other qualities his team possesses.
"This might be the most athletic, and the quickest, team I've had," he said.
That helps make up for a lack of size, although Kelly and Schmitt play bigger than their listed heights of 5-foot-10.
Frankfort opened last week with a 57-37 win over McBain, traditionally one of the stronger Class C teams in the north. The Panthers, who shot better than 60 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, led 22-2 after the first quarter.
Satisfying? Sort of, Kelly said. She thought the Panthers lost some intensity after building their lead. She described it as a learning moment.
"That game told us we need a lot of work," the 17-year-old said. "We came out pretty hot – we weren't missing a lot of shots – but we kind of fizzled out. Most of our action was in the first half, which can't happen. It needs to be (like that) the whole game."
Kelly finished with 24 points. A year ago, she averaged 17 points and seven rebounds for the 24-2 Panthers. She said she spent her offseason working on her range and a pull-up jumper.
"I've had a tendency on the fast break to try and plow through everyone, which doesn't go in my favor most of the time," she said.
"She still gets to the rim, but instead of forcing her way to the rim she's worked on a pull-up jumper," Reznich added. "She shot really well against McBain. I expect her to do that all season."
Frankfort’s run the table in the Northwest Conference the last two seasons. Reznich is expecting a battle this season, especially with Maple City Glen Lake picking up Sarah Carney, a transfer from Traverse City St. Francis.
The Gladiators remain a challenge, though, as Frankfort fell to St. Francis 76-72 on Wednesday. The Panthers’ schedule also includes Manistee, Saginaw Arthur Hill and Harper Woods Chandler Park. They'll play Arthur Hill in the Motor City Classic later this month in Detroit. Chandler Park will travel to Frankfort in January.
"We've put ourselves out there (with this schedule)," Reznich said.
So has Manville's team, whose nonleague schedule includes larger schools like St. Francis, Elk Rapids, McBain and Boyne City. The Panthers opened the season Tuesday with a 67-16 win over Class B Remus Chippewa Hills.
"One of reasons we've had success in the postseason is that we've toughened our schedule up," he said. "Like I said, I'm from Flint. That's all we did, played tough teams – Saginaw, three Flint schools, Pontiac. It didn't matter who you played. They were all good.
"As a coach, you want your regular season to prepare you for the tournament. You don't want any surprises. You want your kids to see everything so they're well-seasoned. Wins and losses? I would like to win every game. I'm very competitive. But my main goal is winning championships. That's what I want."
Manville, who coached Charlie Bell at Flint Southwestern, returns five players from last year's rotation. Plus, senior Mason Loney is back. The 6-2 Loney, who was on varsity as a freshman, injured a knee in football and missed his entire junior year.
"Physically, he's about 100 percent," Manville said. "Mentally, he's still working on being more aggressive. He'll be fine. He'll get there."
When Loney was out last season, the Panthers replaced him in the lineup with his younger brother, Matt. Now a sophomore, Matt will be one of the go-to players on the team, along with sophomore Jaylon Rogers, senior point guard Nate Frieswyk, four-year veteran Kole Hollenbeck – a standout on the football team that reached the Regionals – and Tristan Rogers.
"I think this will be the best shooting team I've had here, and the quickest team," Manville said. "We're going to get up and down the floor. We're not big, though, and that could be a problem on the boards. That's something we'll have to continually work at."
The Panthers are 73-25 over the last four years. They were 21-3 last season, one in which the 70-year-old Manville missed several games with health issues. He had back surgery in December, a hip replacement in February. Manville returned to the bench, but then spent the night of the Quarterfinal game in the hospital after having a bad reaction to the medication he was given. He credits his assistant, Dan Loney, for keeping the team on task and on track. Former head coach Dave Jackson also assisted.
"I can't be more pleased with the job he's doing," Manville said of Loney.
Loney had to step in the previous year, too, when Manville suffered a heart attack during the season.
He said he feels "great" now and that coaching gives him a positive outlet in his life.
"Walking in that gym is a plus," he said. "You need positives in your life when things are going bad, and basketball's always been there. Coaching's a love."
Right now, basketball’s a love in Frankfort. The teams are generously supported by the community, the school administration and a lively student body that was a 2014 finalist in the MHSAA’s Battle of the Fans contest.
“The atmosphere here is awesome,” Kelly said. “Everyone talks about the games the day before, the day of, the day after. It’s a fun thing.”
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Mackenna Kelly, left, and Nate Frieswyk have helped Frankfort's teams to MHSAA Semifinals at the Breslin Center during the last two seasons, the girls advancing in 2015 and the boys in 2014. (Middle) Anna Hunt (22) is among returnees for a Panthers team expected to contend. (Below) Boys coach Reggie Manville, with clipboard, discusses strategy with his team during the 2014 trip to East Lansing.