By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Ypsilanti Arbor Prep finished its fifth season of high school girls basketball Saturday. Nastassja Chambers finished her fourth season on the varsity.
That makes her the first star in the program’s young history – and one that will be remembered for years to come thanks to the Class C championship she helped the Gators earn in her final high school game.
Chambers scored 14 points to go with three assists and three steals, and 10 of those points came as Arbor Prep put Traverse City St. Francis nearly out of contention during the first half on the way to a 53-37 title game win at the Breslin Center.
Arbor Prep opened for the 2011-12 school year, and was first eligible for MHSAA Tournament play in 2012-13. Chambers has been part of the team for all of its postseason games, including two straight trips to Finals weekend, and for a combined run of 86 wins and only 15 losses.
“She’s someone to look up to, because no matter how much pain or how tired she is, she works hard,” Arbor Prep junior Adrienne Anderson said. “And that’s what she pushes us to do. And because she pushes herself, she’s in the position she’s in today. It’s an example that we want to follow.”
Arbor Prep (25-2) finished its final opponent this season the way it’s taken on a schedule loaded with top Class A and B programs all winter.
The top-ranked Gators jumped out to a 9-0 lead, and after allowing the Gladiators to get back within three by the end of the first quarter, took off again to carry a 25-18 lead into halftime.
“We knew we had to come after them. We’re normally the team that always gets the lead, so we knew if we came out hard we could maintain the lead, and that would have them on their toes,” Chambers said. “And we knew once they called that timeout (with Arbor Prep up 4-0), we knew we had gotten in their heads."
The teams played almost evenly during the third quarter, with Arbor Prep taking a nine-point lead into the fourth – where the Gators turned on the jets again and changed up defenses a few times as they pushed the lead to as large as 18.
Arbor Prep took advantage of 29 St. Francis turnovers, scoring 33 points off takeaways, and had 16 fastbreak points to the Gladiators’ zero.
“I was worried early in the game, but I thought we’d adjust. They never let us. We never got in a rhythm. We never got in a routine,” St. Francis coach Keith Haske said. “Obviously that’s the best team we’ve seen this year. We got them a few times on the press, but obviously not enough to make a difference.
“Just watching them against Ithaca (in the Semifinal), they are just a little bit quicker than what we’re used to seeing. They’ve got more quick kids than I ever want to see in my life again. Usually when they have one or two quick kids, it’s OK. They’d take out three more, and three more came in.”
Junior Cydney Williams added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Arbor Prep, which spread the scoring among seven players – with Chambers the only senior. Her contributions were not lost on the Gators once the championship ride was done. The 5-foot-8 guard will continue her career next season at Wayne State University and averaged a team-high 11.2 points per game heading into the week.
“These last two games she led us in scoring, but previous games in the state tournament she didn’t always lead us in scoring. She’s grown as a player, understanding you don’t have to lead us in scoring to be a good player, and I think that’s the biggest thing she got out of this season,” Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said.
“She’s’ always helped push us to our greatest potential, and when we’re down she helps pick us all back up,” Williams added. “She’ll always be there with a smile to help you move along.”
St. Francis, which played in its first MHSAA championship game and suffered its first loss since the second game of the season, also will say good-bye to only two seniors who played significant minutes Saturday – although they were the leading scorers.
Forward Annie Lyman had 15 points and center Lauren McDonnell had 10 points and six rebounds. Junior forward Juliana Phillips, a standout in the Semifinal, added nine points and 10 rebounds.
The Gladiators finished 26-2 and entered the postseason tied for No. 3 in The Associated Press' rankings.
“I’m just so proud of our team and what we accomplished this year together,” Phillips said. “We just love each other a lot. … This moment is as far as you can make it in a season. We’re all pretty sad it’s over, but super proud of what we did.”
Click for the full box score.
The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ypsilanti Arbor Prep players celebrate the first MHSAA championship in their school’s history. (Middle) The Gators’ Ro’zhane Wells drives to the basket with a pair of St. Francis defenders moving to clog the lane.