By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
DETROIT – Twelve months ago Detroit Edison was considered an up-and-coming program.
With all underclassmen in the starting lineup, any success the Pioneers would achieve during the 2017 MHSAA Tournament would be considered a bonus and a building block for this season.
Success for coach Monique Brown and her team arrived sooner than most predicted. Edison won the Class C title, the school’s first. And at that time, a repeat, possibly even a three-peat, was in the back of the minds of most who watched Edison’s tournament run.
Not only is Edison favored to repeat as champion in three weeks, there are many who say this team could be the state’s best regardless of class. One glance at the Pioneers’ schedule and results this season, and it’s easy to understand why.
Edison was 17-1 during the regular season with its only loss to Ypsilanti Arbor Prep, the Class B runner-up last season and considered one of the top teams in Class C this winter. The Pioneers moved to 18-1 with their District win over Detroit Cristo Rey on Wednesday.
As an independent, Edison played a variety of teams and some of the best including reigning Class B champion Detroit Country Day and Class A elite Ann Arbor Huron, Saginaw Heritage and Wayne Memorial to name a few.
Brown stopped short of saying this team is better than her team last season, and wisely so. Until this team wins another Class C title, one can rest assured Brown won’t make that claim.
“I’ve been pleased with the growth and maturity they’ve shown,” Brown said. “They’ve grown up. Just the patience they’ve shown has been great. We’ve had some games this season that have gone to overtime, where we’ve been down late and have come back. In these situations last season we would have lost by 12 points or so.”
The most recent game where Edison trailed late before coming back to win played out at Heritage on Feb. 20. The Hawks (20-1), considered top contenders for the Class A title, entered the contest undefeated and coming off an impressive 59-49 victory at Country Day just three days earlier.
Edison trailed Heritage by five points with less than a minute to play and came back to win, 57-55, in double overtime.
“That was the best crowd we’ve ever had to face,” Brown said. “When we played Blissfield in the tournament last season, they brought a lot of fans but they were back, up in the stands. Heritage fans were so close to the floor. They were so close they could touch the players. Their student section was packed.”
Edison has star power in 6-foot-3 junior Rickea Jackson and 5-10 sophomore Gabrielle Elliott, both considered among the top players in their respective classes. But more than that, Edison has exceptional depth.
At the point is freshman sensation Damiya Hagemann. Sophomore Shaulana Wagner, who shared time at the point with Daija Tyson last season, is again sharing time at the point but this time with Hagemann. Tyson, a sophomore, recovered well after suffering a knee injury last season and is more at home on the wing.
Brown has two seniors, Ashley Primas and Oretha Humphries. This is Humphries’ fourth season in the program. And Primas, though not a prolific scorer, is the type of player every good program needs. Whatever is asked of her, she’ll do – she’s the player who will dive for loose balls, set screens and defend players on the wing and in the post.
“Both are quiet, almost like freshmen,” Brown said of her seniors. “Leadership? You get that from Jackson. During a timeout, she’ll get them going.
“Even during practice she’s a leader. At one practice, there was one of our of post players she wasn’t happy with. She texted her and said that she wasn’t working hard enough. I didn’t even know she did that. She’s matured so much. Last year I called her our “sophomore-senior,” but she didn’t know how to lead. Me not throwing that on her this year, she’s stepped into that role.”
Brown has received more consistent play from her reserves, especially since the loss to Arbor Prep on Jan. 11 Brown said her players weren’t as focused for that game as they need to be and got ahead of themselves, perhaps a bit too overconfident.
“That loss helped,” she said. “That’s why we were able to win other games later in the season. We trailed Arbor Prep the whole game and came back to tie it, and then relaxed.”
Brown knew she could count on players like Jackson, Elliott and Hagemann. But throughout the season others have emerged to contribute. Keiarra Jennings played sparingly as a freshman last season and has gradually earned more playing time. It was Jennings’ 3-pointer that sent the game against Heritage into overtime.
“Sometimes she’s too aggressive,” Brown said. “I’ll have to take her out and tell her to slow down. You wouldn’t believe how she’s progressed from last year. She’s a threat coming off the bench. She doesn’t play a whole lot of minutes, maybe 10 in a game, but she can get you seven quick points.”
Edison is a team where every player has accepted her role and is working toward the same goal, from seniors like Primas to freshman like Hagemann.
“It’s not that were better than last year,” Primas said. “We’re more mature. Mentally, we’re tougher this year. It’s the experience. We were in so many games last year where we were down late and would lose.
“There is a difference between last year and now. Last year we didn’t know what to expect. Our mindset this year is to dominate every game. We realize our roles. We have so many players and if one isn’t on their A game, we know we can step up and fill that void.”
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) This season’s Detroit Edison team, off to an 18-1 start as it pursues a second straight Class C title. (Middle) Gabrielle Elliott readies for a pass during a scrimmage. (Photos courtesy of the Detroit Edison girls basketball program.)