By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
Perhaps the most obvious sign that the Centreville girls varsity basketball program had made a complete turnaround was the fact that it won a handful of games last winter that it shouldn’t have.
The Bulldogs also won a boatload of games decisively. After starting the year with a loss to Constantine, head coach Jill Peterson’s program rattled off 19 consecutive victories and won a Berrien-Cassopolis-St. Joseph Blue championship on its way to a 19-2 final record.
Under Peterson’s guidance, the Bulldogs went from a 4-15 squad her first season in 2013-14 to last year’s unprecedented run that included a No. 3 state ranking in The Associated Press Class C poll. In between were 13-10 (2014-15) and 14-7 (2015-16) seasons.
“We played Athens and we were down four with four seconds [left] and hit a couple free throws, stole the inbound and tied it, went into overtime and won,” Peterson recalled. “That shows a lot in terms of your resiliency as a team and just experience.”
Still, the program’s first District championship eluded it once again with a loss to Schoolcraft in the Final. It was the fourth straight year the Eagles ended Centreville’s season. This might have been the year the Bulldogs got revenge, but the District draws have been shuffled a bit, and the two schools will compete in different Districts in 2018.
Centreville returns eight players this season with varsity experience, and they “get along better than any team I’ve coached,” Peterson explained. After a short stint in the BCS, the Bulldogs are now members of the first-year Southwest 10 Conference.
The senior class consists of senior guard/forward Carly Todd, who averaged 4.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 2.6 steals per contest last year, Kayla Gest, a guard who registered 5.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and was a 28-percent 3-point shooter as a junior, guard Carlee Odom, who posted 6.7 points and 3.2 rebounds per outing, Brittany Morris, who averaged 3.1 points and 4.9 rebounds, and Morgan Walton, who is in her first year on the varsity team.
After making the all-BCS team as a freshman, sophomore forward Joanna Larsen is back and looking to retain the momentum from her rookie campaign that resulted in 7.7 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. Fellow all-conference selection Samara Schlabach, who was also named an all-state honorable mention following her sophomore season last year, produced 9.3 points and six rebounds per game.
Those players, combined with juniors MaKenzi Troyer (guard), Abby Nighswonger (guard) Whitney Morris (guard) and Molly Kirby (forward), and sophomores Olivia Deeds (guard) and Kenleigh West-Wing (guard), have made Centreville’s practices just as competitive as their games so far.
Centreville is 1-1, dropping an overtime battle on the road against a talented Bronson squad.
“They push each other more than any team I’ve coached,” Peterson said. “That really speaks volumes for the progress we’ve made over the last four years — not just what the coaching staff is doing but what the players have put in and what they’re bringing to the table.”
The Bulldogs are set up this year inside and on the perimeter. Schlabach is a matchup nightmare in the paint on top of boasting a reliable jumper, and Larsen is equally tough to stop down low. The two come together defensively to all but shut down the lane and limit opponents’ second opportunities by clearing the boards.
Todd has accepted every challenge thrown at her over the years, including a post assignment as an undersized underclassman. Now she’s a big threat with the ball in her hands as a slashing guard with a good outside shot. Odom also has an eye and the ability to carve through defenses as the team’s floor leader. She’s another scoring concern for opponents, but her most important role will be feeding the post.
As a senior, Todd now realizes she has an even bigger responsibility to help mold the team’s attitude on a daily basis.
“What I’ve noticed is when it’s one of those days when I don’t really feel like talking, it’s like, ‘Come on, Carly, you’ve got to put on that mask like you’re in a good mood,’” she said. “If the leaders are in a bad mood, everybody else could be in a bad mood. I just have to be conscious of it.”
What might be the most crucial aspect of this team is the players’ complete disregard for winning streaks and rankings.
“Honestly, it didn’t even hit me that we were winning that many games or that we were ranked in the state,” Odom said. “I didn’t think about it much and still worked hard. But it was cool winning all those games.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
Centreville team photo courtesy of JoeInsider.com.