JOHANNESBURG — Some extra traffic will populate the stretch of M-32 between Gaylord and Johannesburg Wednesday. Paul’s Pub may serve some extra burgers with onion rings and most everyone in Johannesburg will don either red or blue.
The usual crowd of parents and friends will pack into the Red Nest on Wednesday for the first of two Ski Valley Conference contests between the St. Mary and Johannesburg-Lewiston girls’ basketball squads. This time around, the bleachers may be sporting an extra large crowd.
Despite being the fifth game of the season, Wednesday night’s outcome could result in changes in state rankings, both in Class C and D. The game will most likely be viewed by a couple of different media outlets, in addition to a handful of college scouts.
Both teams enter into the contest a perfect 4-0, and both teams boast power, speed and agility on offense. “They’re (J-L) just a dynamite team,” said St. Mary coach Dan Smith after Friday’s victory over Onaway. “They are loaded with talent. They have a junior class that hasn’t lost in a long, long time. We’ve got a lot of work to do before Wednesday when we face them.”
The Cardinals enter the game on the heels of their closest contest, Monday’s 14-point victory against East Jordan. Averaging more than 60 points per game as a team, J-L spreads the ball around. The two scoring leaders are no surprise with senior Abby Schlicher scoring nearly 15 points per game and junior Brittany Cherwinski at just under nine points per game.
After the top two, every other Cardinal has made a contribution on the young season. Speedy freshman Madison Showerman averages a little more than six points per game and a handful of assists. The size advantage goes to J-L with Cherwinski, Hannah Huff and Katelyn Weaver ready to clean up on the boards. Huff leads the team in rebounds at 10 a game.
Cardinal coach Heather Huff sounded cautiously satisfied with the progress of her team this season. “They have all been working really hard so far,” she said. “Not only have we put in a new offense, but we also put in a new defense. Sometimes when you put in new stuff you get resistance, but they have all worked hard.”
Snowbird scoring is slightly more one sided with the always dangerous junior Kari Borowiak putting one eye on the basket at all times. Borowiak averages more than 20 points per game and accounts for almost 40 percent of St. Mary’s total offense.
Mary Spyhalski, Sarah Long and Bekah Myler combine for the majority of the other 60 percent.
These numbers should not surprise many. What may surprise fans of numbers is that the defenses of the two teams might be better than their offenses.
St. Mary gives up a stingy 28.5 points per game, while J-L’s opponents average 33.5 points per game. According to Dan Smith, the defense goes hand in hand with the offense.
“The key for us is that we put defensive pressure on people,” he said. “Obviously, we’re on defense, but we’re starting our offense with that defensive pressure. The last two games we’ve come out playing full court man-to-man, and these kids love playing defense. They are all willing to work hard. Their motto is ‘Whatever it takes.’”
St. Mary senior guards Christina Smith and Jada Bebble are key igniters of the Snowbird defensive pressure.
If recent history plays a role in the game, the edge goes toward the blue ‘Birds. St. Mary has won the last four games by a total of 184-125, an average margin of victory of just over 14 points.
Regardless of the outcome, a lot of eyes will be on a red-tinted gym for the only varsity competition taking place in Otsego County tonight (Wednesday).
“I have a great amount of respect for Heather (Huff) and her program,” coach Smith said. “She’s done an outstanding job for a long time, and she gets kids to play hard for her, and that’s what we try to do here at St. Mary as well.”
“It (a victory) would be a great confidence booster for the team,” said Heather Huff. “We know we can do it, but doing it and having the ability to do it are two completely different things.”