By Paul Costanzo
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – The Detroit Edison girls basketball team has been leaving people in awe all season.
On Saturday night, the Pioneers' own coach was a bit star struck after they defeated Freeland 77-58 to claim the Division 2 championship.
“This is a phenomenal group that I have,” Edison coach Monique Brown said. “I don’t even know where to start with this group and what we’ve accomplished together as one unit. Today up and down with our defense, they had so many 3s on us, but we just kept fighting and fighting and pushing and communicating. I’m just so happy to be up here with these young ladies and to say I’m their coach.”
The title is the third straight for Edison, with the previous two coming in Class C. Edison is the sixth school in MHSAA history to win three straight girls basketball titles, and the Pioneers’ run was a dominant one. Through its first seven postseason games, their average margin of victory was 48.7 points, with their closest game prior to the Final coming in a 27-point win against Haslett in the Semifinal.
With that type of run, it could have been easy for the Pioneers to lose focus, but they never did.
“The way we were able to stay focused was our practice and each other,” Edison junior forward Gabrielle Elliott said. “We were always on each other’s back in practice. We were blowing people out, so we had to stay focused. Our biggest competition was ourselves, and we were going so hard in practice. That’s what people didn’t see as to why we were beating people by 50.”
Unfortunately for the rest of the state, Edison’s powerhouse may not be going anywhere. While graduating senior Rickea Jackson, this year’s Miss Basketball Award winner, is certainly going to hurt, she’s the only senior on the Pioneers’ roster.
“Many, many years with more state championships,” Jackson said when asked what’s to come. “It doesn’t just run on me, it was a team effort. There are other great teammates and great shooters, scorers, rebounders that are still here, so I think it can go a long time.”
Jackson was the star again Saturday night, scoring a game-high 28 points and adding five rebounds in her final game. Next year, she’ll be playing at Mississippi State.
“Amazing,” Freeland coach Tom Zolinski said. “She really is. We would make a little run then she’d come back and hit a quick shot, a mid-range shot or even a three. She’s tough.”
During the Division 3 game, which directly preceded the Division 2 Final, Jackson was awarded the Miss Basketball trophy. It could have made an already large target on her back even bigger, but she said that she used it as motivation.
“It made me feel like I had to win this championship even more,” Jackson said. “Why not finish your season with Miss Basketball and a third state championship? If we didn’t get it, I would have been very hurt. It made me more confident. Getting that award definitely made me way more confident just knowing that I could go out there and play my game. There was nothing more I could do to go out there and prove to nobody. I could play my game.”
Edison did struggle from the perimeter in the first half, hitting just 1 of 10 attempts from 3-point range. But the Pioneers made up for that with 12 second-chance points and 11 points off turnovers to lead 37-24 at the half.
Freeland didn’t back down from the state’s top-ranked team, and every time it looked like Edison was about to blow the top off the game, the Falcons found points either from the field or the free-throw line to remain within shouting distance.
While they weren’t great from the field, shooting just 6 of 23, they were perfect on their 10 first-half free-throw attempts.
In the second half, those perimeter shots started falling for the Pioneers as they hit their first four attempts from beyond the arc, three coming from sophomore guard Damiya Hagemann.
“We were rushing a little bit offensively and settling for the 3-point shot,” Brown said. “In the first half we were 1 for 10, and when I’m looking at these numbers, we were 7 for 19 (for the game), so we went 6 for 9 in the second half, which is pretty good. That says a lot about who we are and how we listen and pay attention, and how we go out there and work together as a unit.”
While the lead grew to 19 heading into the fourth quarter, Freeland hit its own shots to again keep the game from getting completely away.
The Falcons were able to cut into the lead a bit in the final quarter, but never got closer than 14 points over the final eight minutes.
Elliott scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds for Edison, while Hagemann had 13 points and nine assists.
Alyssa Argyle led Freeland with 18 points and five rebounds, while Kadyn Blanchard had 16 points, four rebounds and four assists, and Autumn Kloha had 11 points and five assists.
“They made history in Freeland,” Zolinski said. “Tonight, they gave it their all. It was a tough task tonight, and a lot of credit goes to them. But what a group of girls right here. In four years, they won 94 games and lost 11. Never lost a conference game, and I’m definitely going to miss them. They’ve set it up for the future.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Detroit Edison players raise their Division 2 championship trophy Saturday night at Van Noord Arena. (Middle) Rickea Jackson gets an open look in the lane.