By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The banner is on its way.
Those who followed Flushing’s unexpected run to this season’s Class A girls basketball title – the school’s first in any sport since 1977 – should quickly understand the significance.
History, at least in small part, played a motivational role for the MHSAA/Applebee’s Team of the Month for March as it reached the Semifinals in girls hoops for the first time since 1976 and then added that second title in Raiders history to the first won by the girls golf team four decades ago.
And the fever is still going strong. On Tuesday, the team is scheduled to be recognized by the Flushing school board. On Thursday, the Raiders will join Sen. Ken Horn for an introduction on the Senate floor in Lansing. On Friday, the girls will be recognized during a ceremony at the school, hopefully with that banner to unveil. And of course, they’ll be part of Flushing’s annual Summer Festival parade June 7.
“I’ve been with the program 20 years – the first seven as an assistant – and when I first started, back when girls basketball was in the fall and we played in the old Big Nine Conference, we always had probably some of the bigger fan support than a lot of the other schools in the conference,” Flushing coach Larry Ford said. “Girls basketball has really been embraced by the community. When we switched seasons (to winter), it dropped off a little … but I still feel we have one of the better followings in the area. What the community did behind the run this year, it was second to none.”
And the same was true for a team not necessarily expected to be standing with the trophy on the season’s final day, despite a group that played for that moment going back to middle school.
After playing together at Flushing's junior high, now-seniors Lauren Newman, Breanna Perry and Kamryn Chappell joined the varsity starting lineup as freshmen, and senior guard Carson Wilson was added the following winter as a sophomore. They were four of six seniors from a class that dominated in middle school and over the last four seasons led the varsity to a combined 81-16 record – including a school record 24 wins both this winter (finishing 24-3) and in 2014-15 (24-1).
Still, the Raiders entered this postseason unranked by The Associated Press after losing two of their their first three games of the season but winning 17 of their final 18. Flushing’s only defeats came to Saginaw Heritage and Midland Dow during that opening run and eventual Class B runner-up Ypsilanti Arbor Prep during the final week of the regular season.
Flushing more than proved its merit during the playoffs. The Raiders opened by avenging last season’s District Final loss to St. Johns, and went on to eliminate 18-win Flint Carman-Ainsworth, 17-win Lapeer, 21-win Dow and 19-win Macomb Dakota. They knocked out reigning champion Warren Cousino (24-3) in the Semifinal 52-36 before downing East Kentwood (26-2) in the championship game, 49-38. All but the Dow win were by double figures.
“When they were eighth graders, we started talking to them about state championships,” Ford said. “I was over there for one of their games, and talked to them, or maybe at practice the next day, and I asked them if they knew what a state championship is. When they’re in eighth grade, that look at you like what is that?
“But we started making it a point (freshman year) what we wanted to do. I thought as juniors and seniors they might have a decent chance to make a run like this. These last two years they really were committed to it.”
The Raiders also can boast some all-around successes. Perry and sophomore Thailyia Christensen are multi-sport athletes also competing in track & field, while Wilson and Chappell play soccer during the spring and Newman played softball as well earlier in her high school career. Newman and Wilson carry 4.0 grade-point averages, while Chappell is at 3.5. Perry, a 6-foot forward, will continue her academic and basketball careers next season at Temple University.
But for now, she and her teammates have a busy week ahead and a lot more to celebrate from their history-making winter.
“They are humble beyond belief, and it’s really nice to see,” Ford said. “They’re very appreciative of the accolades they’re getting, the number of cards and emails they’ve gotten from fans and supporters. They’re really enjoying it."
Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
February: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central girls skiing - Report
January: Powers North Central boys basketball - Report
December: Dundee boys basketball - Report
November: Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
October: Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report
PHOTO: Flushing's girls basketball team poses with its championship trophy after winning the Class A title last month.