EAST LANSING – Shellis Hampton and Tiesha Stokes have enjoyed more victories during their Grand Rapids Catholic Central careers – literally – than most players in MHSAA history.
But there’s something special about winning a championship as a senior – and they hope to cap their final seasons with that lasting feeling Saturday evening.
They and Grand Rapids Catholic earned that opportunity Friday with a 72-49 Semifinal victory over Freeland.
One more win would give Hampton and Stokes each 100 wins for their careers – which would leave them tied for second in the MHSAA girls basketball record book. Both also were key contributors on the Cougars’ 2010 Class B championship team. But they’re cherishing this run even more.
“I think it’s better. We’re seniors. This is our last year in high school,” Hampton said. “We got to win sophomore year, which is great. But you always want to go out with a win. And the only way to go out with a win is to win the state championship.”
Grand Rapids Catholic Central, ranked just No. 10 entering the postseason, will face either Goodrich or Dearborn Divine Child in Saturday’s 6 p.m. Final.
The Cougars were 75-5 over the last three seasons coming into this one, and improved to 24-3 this winter with Friday’s victory. A four-year varsity player can win a maximum of 112 games during her career (and only if her teams don’t receive District byes). Grand Rapids Catholic has reached three of the last four Class B Finals weekends – another big advantage Friday against a Freeland team with no seniors that was playing for its first championship game berth since 1998.
“You have a sense of composure and familiarity, every time you come (to Breslin),” Cougars coach Colleen Lamoreaux-Tate said. “It’s fun to play here, but it felt like just another game.”
That was evident early Friday. Grand Rapids Catholic jumped out to a 23-8 lead midway through the second quarter and led by as many as 35.
Stokes finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and Hampton added 13 points and seven rebounds. Junior Courtney Zenner added 12 points and senior Addie Johnson had 10.
And those were just the offensive contributions. Freeland junior Tori Jankoska, who will sign with Michigan State this fall, ranked multiple Cougars as the best defenders she’s faced this season – although she still finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.
“Normally we can take away either the inside or outside game. But this team had both going tonight,” Freeland coach Tom Zolinski said. “Our inexperience showed a little bit. Definitely, their experience took over early and throughout the entire game.
“It’s an emotional ride. To go high and low just like that, it’s a feeling that will help us for next year.”
The seeds of Friday’s loss should take hold immediately, as Freeland (22-4) had no seniors this season. Zolinski spoke as well of not having to give a sad good-bye speech after the loss; instead, he got his Falcons revved to make a return trip to East Lansing.
“That’s the best part about it. I’ve grown so close to this team already, and we don’t have to say bye to any of our family members, essentially,” Jankoska said. “I don’t think any of our team had ever been to a Regional Finals beside me. … Everyone’s going to be back next year, and hopefully we can make a run at it, since nobody expected us to get here this year. No one knows how far we’re going to get next year."
PHOTO: Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior Tiesha Stokes takes a shot Friday. She made 8 of 13 for a team-high 17 points. (Photo courtesy of Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)