2017-02-10 / Sports

Mackinac Island Lakers Basketball Teams Enter Season’s Homestretch

By Erich T. Doerr

The season is almost over for the Mackinac Island Lakers basketball teams. Both the boys and girls Lakers squads will complete their regular season schedules this weekend with doubleheaders at home against Hannahville Friday, February 10, and Saturday, February 11. This season has been a unique one for the school’s efforts on the court, with many young players on both squads. The Northern Lights League championship tournament will follow the regular season, with the Lakers squads heading to the mainland to take part in the event.

Mackinac Island’s boys basketball team has posted a 10-4 record so far this season leading into its final week of play. Third-year coach Justin Gallagher is calling the shots for the Lakers this year. Mr. Gallagher is pleased with how his team has played this season noting that the things the team has worked on in practice paid off this season when the team swept a weekend doubleheader against Brimley’s Ojibwe Charter School, winning the Friday game by two points and the Saturday game by just one.

“The games were both ultracompetitive,” Mr. Gallagher said. “We put a half court trap on them. Our fundamentals clicked, we were down in both games but my players calmed down toward the end of the game and everything started going in.”

Mr. Gallagher likes his team’s output this season, including its two victories on the road against Hannahville earlier this season that kicked off the league portion of its schedule. It marked the first time the Lakers have ever swept the Soaring Eagles on the mainland during his tenure as coach. Two conference losses to the very physical team of Maplewood Baptist Academy also proved a good learning experience.

The Lakers have improved this season by markedly cutting back on turnovers. Mr. Gallagher said last year the team made upwards of 20 a game, but this year it has cut that number down to a single-digit total in most games. He credited the change to sharper passing and his team avoiding forcing issues in the paint when possible.

In the closing weeks of the season, Mr. Gallagher wanted to work on his team’s boxing out efforts on defense, stopping the opposition in their tracks so their point guards won’t be able to drive around the Lakers. Mackinac Island’s youthful roster this season means its players are smaller than some other teams, leading Mr. Gallagher to bring in some local adults to help the team at practices. Former coach Jimmy Fisher and Ken Styburski have both taken to the court to help the team prepare for the bigger opposition it faces when traveling off the Island.

Senior player Christian Styburski noted the season got off to a rough start, highlighted by a pair of losses to the school’s Ohio rival Put-in-Bay, but the team is working better together now, with the more united approach leading to more victories. Christian credits the change to improvements in passing, with the team taking better shots and passing more to set up open ones. The team worked on passing over the summer, allowing it to focus on passing this winter.

“The more we pass, the better we do,” Christian said. “I believe we can win these next few games. We know how each other works.”

The boys’ finale this week against Hannahville will mark the Lakers’ fifth and sixth games over the course of eight days. The team played Grand Marais last weekend, then played a rare Monday-Tuesday doubleheader against Paradise to make up some weather-postponed games from earlier. Mr. Gallagher’s goal is to get through these games with his team as healthy as possible. The Lakers have had a hard season with regard to injuries; any sidelined player is a big loss for a team with five high school starters and a bench consisting only of middle school players.

“We’ve battled to stay healthy,” Mr. Gallagher said.

The girls basketball team has had a learning season with a 2- 10 record as the end of the year approaches. Mary Patay is serving as the team’s coach for the ninth season this year. The Lakers have a young roster with just two high school students, junior Cheyla Shunk and freshman Hannah Styburski, among its six players.

“All of my players made the honor roll this year,” Dr. Patay said. “We’re an all-academic team.”

Dr. Patay said her team’s best games this season have been its wins against its rivals from Beaver Island and Put-in-Bay. The team also played well in a scrimmage against Burt Lake Northern Michigan Christian Academy that was held after a scheduling mix-up meant the planned regular game between the two schools did not come to pass. Dr. Patay said although the Lakers lost the scrimmage by five points, the team played strongly throughout the second half and it marked a turning point for the team, as it really started to click with the girls starting to get more comfortable in their roles.

Dr. Patay is pleased with her team’s improvement this season, with her players maturing on the court as they gain more experience. She said her players’ skills regarding defense, dribbling, and driving to the basket have all gotten better as the season goes on. The Lakers continue to improve following rebuilding seasons in recent years; the team had only five players total in 2015-2016 and fielded a team with three seniors last season.

“We’ve struggled the last few years, so it’s good to see the team turning around,” Dr. Patay said.

Player Ella Cowell, an eighth grader, said the Lakers’ teamwork skills have improved throughout the season. She said the team is working much better together.

“We are doing good for how young our team is,” Ella said, noting she also looks forward to the conclusion of the season and the arrival of the new challenges spring sports will bring.

Dr. Patay still wants her team to work on its shooting, defense, rebounding, and boxing out as the season winds down. She is looking forward to the rematch finale with Hannahville this weekend, noting the games will be a great chance to see how much the Lakers have improved since they lost two on the road to the Soaring Eagles in December. The Lakers’ trip to Hannahville for the conference tournament will be followed by a matchup with Cedarville in the state’s district championship playoffs. The game will be Wednesday, March 1, in Pickford.

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