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Tara Madej leads young Cardinals squad to earn POY honors


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W 34-24

W 67-29
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L 31-18
L 37-35
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W 33-19
W 58-18
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L 32-21
W 54-37
12/18/19 Wednesday 5:30 PM H VS. PELLSTON
J-L girls rout Pellston
W 34-18 W 60-4
6:00 PM
W 57-43
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W 42-41 OT
W 57-21
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L 33-25
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L 35-28
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Cardinals trounce Pellston

W 59-13

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W 48-37
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W 47-28
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L 29-22
L 41-30
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L 45-37
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L 47-37
2/27/20 Thursday 6:00 PM H VS. POSEN - VARSITY ONLY DNP TBA
DNP W 60-47
J-L defeats Harbor Springs to advance to district final
Cardinals season ends with promise for future
L 55-31

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Tara Madej leads young Cardinals squad to earn POY honors

Tara Madej leads young Cardinals squad to earn POY honors
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals’ girls basketball team endured a myriad of injuries this season, but junior forward Tara Madej stepped up as the team leader to guide a young group.

Johannesburg-Lewiston’s girls basketball team did not have a single senior on the roster. Three juniors, Madej, Morgan McVannel and Sydney Townsend were subsequently asked to lead a group of freshmen and sophomores.

But Townsend went down with a torn ACL in January, which forced Madej into a larger leadership role. She was also asked to be the team’s unquestioned top scoring threat, and she answered both calls without complaint.

“I have a lot of respect for the freshmen because I remember what it is like, so I knew what they were going to be feeling,” Madej said. “I just wanted to take my experience and help them get through theirs. I wanted to be the best leader I could be.

“I definitely knew at the beginning of the season that I would have to step up having such a young team, so I started out with a good leadership role, but it continued to grow as the season went on.”

Madej’s tenacity and competitiveness led to her selection as 2019-20 girls high school basketball Gaylord Herald Times Player of the Year.

“It means a lot. I worked hard over the season and all the girls have worked hard, but it’s nice to know my hard work has paid off,” Madej said.

The Cardinals played just seven games at full strength this season, with Townsend suffering her season-ending injury at Bellaire. After the injury, Madej recorded nine games of at least 15 points. She dismantled Inland Lakes this season, scoring 21 points and 34 points in her two meetings against them.

Madej finished the season averaging 15.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, displaying nice touch around the basket, and an improved jump shot to keep defenses honest.

“This season I started working on building my offensive range,” Madej said. “I was always at home shooting during the summer, while also working on my post moves. I wanted to be able to hit outside shots if they needed me to. I would get the green light to shoot some 3-pointers a little bit more this season.”

After finishing third in the Ski Valley Conference this season, the Cardinals reached the Division 3 district finals. McVannel joined Townsend in street clothes on the bench, nursing an ankle injury. The short-handed Cardinals ultimately lost to a senior-laden Charlevoix squad on the road.

“We had a really good season,” Madej said. “Sydney and Morgan getting hurt were tough to work through, but all of the girls worked their hardest at practice, and that really showed up in games. We lost some close games. The first Bellaire loss was the game Sydney got hurt, so we were still down from that, but we played them close the second time.”

The future looks bright for J-L girls basketball. Townsend and McVannel should be fully recovered by next season, and Madej will have another year to develop her post moves. The Cardinals also got great production from a trio of freshmen, which bodes well for the future.

“Next year could definitely be one of our best years because we have had all these girls together growing a close relationship,” Madej said. “We have all the same girls coming back and some talented girls coming up from JV. It should be a really good year.”

While Madej is a three-sport star, also excelling in volleyball and track, basketball has always been a big part of her life.

{p class=”p1”}“Basketball has always been something I’ve done,” Madej said. “Everyone in my family played basketball, so I would always shoot around with them. I always used their success as motivation to play the sport well. I would pretend I was playing basketball against my family (out on the court). I’ve always played as hard as I could and tried my best.”

{p class=”p1”}After a promising junior season, Madej could be one of the most feared players in Northern Michigan next season, and as a team, the Cardinals could be line for great success.

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Cardinals season ends with promise for future

Cardinals season ends with promise for future
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

CHARLEVOIX— The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team lost 55-31 to Charlevoix Friday night in quest for the district title.

Charlevoix, who hosted the district, entered the tournament as favorites to advance into the regionals, and that was before University of Michigan signee Elise Stuck returned early from a torn ACL.

Playing a rare game at full strength, the Rayders faced a Cardinals team that couldn’t say the same. J-L was without starting point guard Sydney Townsend (knee) and starting shooting guard Morgan McVannel (ankle) throughout the districts.

Charlevoix’s fervent student section rocked the walls of Charlevoix’s gym, but the game got off to a bit of a slow start. The Rayders led 6-4 midway through the first quarter, with J-L getting some key early stops.

The Cardinals, playing without a senior on their roster, started three freshmen and a sophomore. Eventually, that inexperience fed into the hands of a talented Charlevoix squad and its vicious full-court press.

Leaning on the strength and poise of senior point guard Addie Nagel, Charlevoix jumped out to a 19-10 first-quarter lead. Although Stuck returned to the lineup a couple of games ago, she remained the first player off the Rayders’ bench.

“We’ve been playing pretty well throughout the second half of the season,” Charlevoix head coach Marc Sroufe said. “We’ve been playing defense all the time, and our offense is clicking, people are hitting outside shots.

“Getting Elise back is a big plus. I haven’t noticed any issues as far as her knees are concerned. I’ve noticed some things with her stamina, and just getting into the flow, but she looks very (comfortable).”

Turnovers have been an issue for J-L since Townsend’s injury occurred at Bellaire back in January. With McVannel also out, the Cardinals had to turn to a three-girl rotation composed of all freshmen in the back-court.

“The ones who stepped in handled the pressure well,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “We aren’t going to make any excuses because it doesn’t do anything for us, but next year will be different for us. It was great not having to give any goodbye seniors speeches and just let’s go get it next year speeches.

“We knew it would be a challenge. I thought overall the girls played very well. I told them they couldn’t go out and play intimidated because (Charlevoix) had everything to prove. We were the underdogs, and that was OK. We were going to go out there and fight and play our game. We wanted to show them what lady Cardinals basketball was all about. We play aggressive and we don’t quit.

“We just needed to keep our composure, but I thought they did a good job doing the things I asked them to do.”

Although J-L did enough to hang around in the first quarter, the second quarter was all Charlevoix. The Rayders outscored J-L 17-2 in the second quarter, jumping out to a 36-12 halftime lead.

Sophomore Taylor Petrosky, who has been Charlevoix’s silent assassin all season, scored a game-high 14 points, while knocking down four shots from beyond the arc.

“She was a good shooter last year, but she still had a freshman’s strength,” Sroufe said. “Now she’s stronger and tougher. She’s more mentally tough, and that has allowed her to get to the basket more, and she improved overall from last year. We wouldn’t be where we are now without her.”

Stuck and Nagel added 12 points apiece for Charlevoix, as the starters rested all throughout the fourth quarter.

Despite the lopsided score line, the Cardinals produced one of the most exciting highlights of the game. Junior forward Tara Madej, who led her team with 13 points, hit a deep 3-pointer just before the end of the third quarter. The shot rippled through the net just as the buzzer sounded.

With a 31-point lead entering the final quarter, Sroufe was afforded the opportunity to extend his bench. Nine Rayders scored Friday night, which is something he’s grown accustomed to.

“We have a lot of places to go on offense to score,” Sroufe said. “If someone isn’t scoring well we can go other places. If we are having trouble hitting outside shots, we can go inside. And honestly the best part of our offense might be in transition. When we get Addie pushing the ball up the court to set us up for some easy shots.”

Charlevoix will now face Oscoda (20-3) in the regional semifinal Tuesday night at Cheboygan. Ishpeming Westwood (21-2) or Calumet (19-3) await on the other side should the Rayders advance

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J-L defeats Harbor Springs to advance to district final

J-L defeats Harbor Springs to advance to district final
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

CHARLEVOIX — The Cardinals girls basketball team may be wounded, but they are not out.

Playing without Morgan McVannel, who stepped in as the Cardinals’ point guard after Sydney Townsend tore her ACL, the Johannesburg-Lewiston turned to a couple of freshmen to lead the back-court Wednesday against Harbor Springs in a district semifinal matchup.

Despite being shorthanded, and having five freshmen on the court for major minutes, the Cardinals edged Harbor Springs 42-37 to advance to Friday’s district final against Charlevoix.

J-L crawled out to a 9-6 lead after the first quarter, as both teams took a little bit of time to feel out the flow of the game. But the Cardinals jumped out to a 28-18 lead at halftime with Tara Madej controlling the paint.

Madej led the Cardinals with 17 points, and as a junior, she was again forced to serve as the team’s veteran leader. Madej scored 10 of her 17 points in the second quarter.

“Tara’s big second quarter was huge for us,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “I didn’t feel like we got in a good rhythm. There were times we did, but we weren’t able to sustain that. But they pulled it together and showed some composure.”

The Cardinals maintained a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter, but the Rams had one last run up their sleeves.

Harbor Springs desperately tried to extend their season, but the Cardinals’ underclassmen back-court did enough late in the game to hold on for the victory.

Kennedy Johnson scored 10 points for J-L. Cadence Wertman added seven points, and Jocelyn Tobias scored five points.

As a consolation for the Cardinals’ hard-fought victory, they get a red-hot Charlevoix team led by the three-headed scoring tandem of Addie Nagel, Taylor Petrosky and Elise Stuck.

Stuck, a University of Michigan signee, just returned to action last week from a torn ACL.

“They have some size on us and they have more than one weapon that we are going to have to stop,” Huff said of Charlevoix. “(We) can’t play intimidated. (We) have to play with the expectation (we) are going to make a big upset."

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Snowbirds girls complete season sweep over Cardinals

Snowbirds girls complete season sweep over Cardinals
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Snowbirds girls high school basketball team surged in the fourth quarter Tuesday for a dramatic come-from-behind victory over Ski Valley Conference rivals Johannesburg-Lewiston.

Gaylord St. Mary trailed by as much as 10 points late in the second half, after falling behind 33-27 after the third quarter. The Cardinals outscored the Snowbirds 18-6 in the third quarter to take the lead.

But St. Mary ratcheted up the full-court pressure they’ve relied on this season in the fourth quarter, and outscored J-L 20-4 in the fourth to earn the 47-37 road victory.

Megan Grusczynski led St. Mary with 20 points and six steals. Kinzie Jeffers added 18 points and six rebounds, while Bailey Murrell hauled in 13 rebounds and Eliza Handley finished with 10 rebounds.

Tara Madej led J-L with 12 points. Jocelyn Tobias added seven points.

“We (played) a good game tonight against St Mary,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “We played very well most of the game. We had a great third quarter and had a ten point lead at one point.

“We didn’t handle their pressure defense in the fourth very well after we had done a good job of it earlier on in the game. Also, they got hot at the 3-point line in the fourth.

Both games against the Snowbirds and Cardinals came down to the wire this season, but St. Mary was able to escape the season 2-0 against its rival.

Bellaire has essentially wrapped up the Ski Valley this year, but St. Mary may yet get the chance to exact revenge on the Eagles in districts.

The Cardinals received a first-round bye in the districts, tipping off against Harbor Springs on Wednesday.

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Cardinals give No. 2 Bellaire all it can handle

Cardinals give No. 2 Bellaire all it can handle
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team almost pulled off an upset over No. 2 Bellaire Thursday night, taking the Eagles down to the wire in the fourth quarter.

Playing with just six girls on varsity, four of whom are freshmen and sophomores and none of whom are seniors, the Cardinals lost 47-39 to the Associated Press’ No. 2-ranked team in Division 4.

Although coming out of games on the losing end is never fun, the undermanned Cardinals showed grit and determination cutting Bellaire’s lead down to four points late in the fourth quarter.

It would have been easy for J-L to hang its shoulders or feel overwhelmed by the Eagles’ pressure, but that wasn’t in the Cardinals’ DNA.

“It was a good game. I told the girls I’m proud of them, they fought hard,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said after the game. “They handled Bellaire’s press, which is what they didn’t handle the first time. It was a big improvement.

“We did a much better job on the boards. The last time we played we were giving up three and our shots each possession, and it happened a few times tonight but nothing like it did before. We improved leaps and bounds since the last time we faced this team.

“I thought we showed a lot of poise and hopefully that keeps rolling. I told them don’t let that satisfy you, keep going. We need to try and finish out the rest of the season with wins. They just proved they could play with the best team in he league.”

The Gaylord-area road stand was almost a costly one for the Eagles. Gaylord St. Mary took them down to the wire on Tuesday, and J-L gave them a test Thursday night.

Once the game started, it was immediately evident J-L was up for the daunting task. The Cardinals trailed 10-8 after the first quarter and 16-12 midway through the second, but they always answered mini Bellaire runs with baskets of their own.

Bellaire led 22-16 at halftime, and further extended its lead to 30-20 midway through the third quarter. The Cardinals, at that point in the game, had difficulty getting the ball up the court and away from the Eagles’ trap defense.

Eagles star freshman Jacey Somers also started to take over in the third quarter, draining a 3-pointer and controlling the paint. J-L was going to have to find an answer for the 6-footer in order to mount a comeback.

Tara Madej and Kennedy Johnson took over for the Cardinals in the fourth quarter. Madej scored seven of her team-high 15 points in the final quarter, and Johnson scored four of her 12 points in the fourth.

J-L cut Bellaire’s lead down to just four points midway through the fourth quarter, giving the Cardinals hope of an improbable come-from-behind upset. But Bellaire hit a couple shots to extend its lead back to 10 points.

Madej wasn’t ready to give up, though, draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key. In the end, the Eagles made enough free throws to ice the game, but J-L clawed its way back into the game throughout the fourth quarter.

“That was exciting. To watch them learn and grow, and make a run like that late was really cool for them,” Huff said.

Jocelyn Tobias added eight points for the Cardinals, while guards Morgan McVannel and Cadence Wertman scored two points apiece.

Somers and Olivia Derrer led Bellaire with 14 points apiece.

The Cardinals next head to Inland Lakes on Tuesday.

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Girls Ski Valley Conference races keep heating up

Girls Ski Valley Conference races keep heating up
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

OHANNESBURG — The Cardinals girls basketball team picked up their second win of the week, defeating Ski Valley Conference foe Central Lake 48-37 Thursday at home.

J-L got off to a slow start offensively, scoring just eight points in the first quarter and entering halftime with just 19 points on the board. But suffocating defense kept the Cardinals in great position.

Regrouping after the break, the Cardinals jumped all over Central Lake in the third quarter, scoring 19 points in the quarter. J-L finished off the game in the fourth, still playing impeccable defense.

“The girls played well and composed. They played good defense,” Cardinals head coach Heather Huff said. “It was (a close) game again tonight, and the freshmen played well. We needed to play well.

“(The opposing) coach told us that we had a great game on the boards, and I thought that was great because that was something we weren’t doing well.”

Despite battling injuries, the Cardinals remain in the race for a Ski Valley Conference championship.

“This win frees us up to work on other things, and each week we pick a new topic that we try to improve upon and it’s nice to see them put it all together,” Huff said.

“This gives them the confidence that they can keep building and play really well against a great team. They just need to be more consistent, but this certainly gives them confidence.”

Tara Madej led the Cardinals with 18 points, continuing her leadership of a young team. Kennedy Johnson added 12 points, and freshman Jocelyn Tobias added six points.

“We knew as the season went on that the freshmen would have some ebbs and flows,” Huff said. “I knew they had potential, and I think they will keep improving. A lot of it has to do with confidence.

“We gave them the day off of practice tomorrow so they were excited. With all the sicknesses and injuries we felt they needed the rest."

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Cardinals trounce Pellston
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

PELLSTON — Cardinals forward Tara Madej imposed her will on the Hornets Tuesday night, scoring a game-high 23 points in a 59-13 victory over Pellston.

It’s been a tough year for the Hornets, and J-L pounced early and often on the road. Kennedy Johnson added nine points for J-L and freshmen Jocelyn Tobias and Adelaida Gascho scored seven points apiece

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Snowbirds' pressure too much for Cardinals

Snowbirds' pressure too much for Cardinals
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

GAYLORD — For the second time in a week, Gaylord St. Mary hosted a rivalry game against a top-tier Ski Valley Conference opponent and came out on top.

After the Snowbirds boys basketball team defeated No. 4 Pellston on Tuesday, the girls basketball team doubled the school’s excitement Friday night with a 55-38 victory over Johannesburg-Lewiston.

The tension was palpable, as both schools had a large supporting cast in attendance. With no junior varsity game, all the buildup was focused on the varsity teams.

Playing without star junior point guard Sydney Townsend, the Cardinals started a young, forward-heavy lineup. The Snowbirds countered with a guard-heavy lineup.

Understanding that J-L might struggle a bit with defensive pressure, the Snowbirds implemented a full-court press throughout the entire game.

In the first quarter, the Cardinals struggled at times to get the ball over half-court, with only one true ball-handler in the lineup, J-L had to rely on crisp passing to create scoring opportunities.

Cardinals junior forward Tara Madej had been dominant in recent games, and she looked a real problem for the Snowbirds in the first quarter, scoring eight of her team-high 15 points to give J-L a 10-7 first-quarter lead.

The Snowbirds’ pressure finally got to the Cardinals in the second quarter. St. Mary had 26 steals Friday night, while forcing 38 J-L turnovers, and a big chunk of those steals came in the second quarter. The Snowbirds took a 27-20 lead into the break.

“We turned them over, so that’s good,” Snowbirds head coach Pat Schultz said. “We weren’t always doing things fundamentally well in the press, letting them throw the long pass and getting the ball in the middle. If we can keep teams out of the middle I’ll feel a lot better about the press.”

Both teams fell a little stale offensively coming out of the break. There were a number of jump balls in the game, and the third quarter especially, as neither side could create separation on offense.

J-L edged back into the game, outscoring the Snowbirds 10-9 in the third quarter. The Cardinals were down just six points entering the fourth.

Although she didn’t score many points, J-L point guard Morgan McVannel was forced into the role of main press breaker. Normally accustomed to playing off the ball, McVannel showed poise under constant pressure.

“We’ve gotten a lot better at handling pressure and we’ve become much more assertive and willing to take shots,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “Morgan has had to grow into her position very fast. She’s become one of the key role players and that was a huge for her to step into.

“I’ve got a lot of freshman having to step up and play big roles, and some of them would rather not do that, but they don’t have a choice right now.”

The Cardinals started two freshmen with two more making major contributions. The Snowbirds also had two freshmen an a sophomore play major minutes.

In addition to the Cardinals and Snowbirds, Ski Valley Conference foe, Bellaire, currently ranked, also has an abundance of young talent, setting up an exciting few years of girls basketball.

“We have a core group of underclassmen,” Schultz said. “We have some talent. We are small, but we have some talent like J-L and Bellaire. As our freshmen class starts to reacclimatizes I think it will be a good group moving forward.”

J-L stayed in the game throughout most of the fourth quarter, lurking six points behind most of the way. But a late surge by the Snowbirds made the final scoreline a little more lopsided than the true flow of the game.

The Snowbirds outscored J-L 19-8 in the final quarter, using its pressure and depth to wear down the Cardinals.

“I’m super proud of them, I thought they made a lot of progress and composure in the last week, and I thought they were really tough,” Huff said of her team.

“This was a close game, six-point game most of the time. They can do it. This will be a good battle for the next couple years. We had some size advantage, but we should have done more on the boards. We should have had a better advantage. We have to battle smart.”

Megan Grusczynski led the Snowbirds with 14 points and six steals. Kinzie Jeffers added 10 points, five steals and four assists, while Macy Bebble and Bailey Murrell scored eight points apiece.

“We got to the rim, Kinzie go to the rim a lot better in the second half,” Schultz said. “We had a hard time getting Megan going tonight. She took it to the rim a bit in the second half. But her outside game is important. She shot lights out in the preamp. When we get her rolling we can spread things out and it trickles down to other good things. We need her outside presence.”

Madej led the Cardinals with 15 points. Kennedy Johnson added 12 points, and Cadence Wertman scored seven points.

"Kennedy had a good game today, she used her strength to drive to the basket, and I think Tara has really taken on a leadership role,” Huff said. “She has become more vocal and she has helped the younger girls come along."

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Madej helps Cardinals cruise past Inland Lakes

Madej helps Cardinals cruise past Inland Lakes
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — Cardinals forward Tara Madej continued her breakout season on the basketball court Friday night, scoring a game-high 21 points in a 65-38 victory over Inland Lakes.

The game got off to a frenetic pace, as J-L held a 27-18 lead after the first quarter. The Cardinals made some defensive adjustments, however, holding Inland Lakes to just four points in each the second and third quarters.

J-L led 48-26 heading into the fourth quarter, and kept their foot on the pedal to earn another convincing win.

Madej hauled in 10 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the floor. She has stepped up her offensive production since Sydney Townsend went down with a season-ending injury.

Cadence Wertman also produced solid minutes for the Cardinals, scoring 15 points with seven rebounds. Morgan McVannel added nine points, four assists and three rebounds, while Gloria House and Jocelyn Tobias scored seven points apiece. Kennedy Johnson added six points and five rebounds.

The Cardinals have rebounded nicely after a tough loss at Bellaire. They next play Friday at Gaylord St. Mary.

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J-L back on track with win against Inland Lakes
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

Johannesburg — Key season-ending injuries have plagued both the boys and girls Cardinals varsity basketball teams this season, with point guards Carlos Gascho and Sydney Townsend out for the season.

The Cardinals defeated Inland Lakes 65-38 Wednesday night in their first full game without Townsend, after losing big to Bellaire last week.

Several Cardinals stepped up to ease the loss of Townsend, with junior forward Tara Madej recording another strong performance. Madej scored 21 points to lead the team.

“She’s our go-to post player,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “She’s strong and she did a nice job with her post moves. She also really ran the floor well tonight. She was always looking for the return pass. She’s not always the most vocal, but she really stepped us as a vocal leader tonight.”

Cardinals freshman Cadence Wertman scored 15 points while showcasing some deft such around the rim. Junior Morgan McVannel added nine points, while Gloria House and Jocelyn Tobias added seven points apiece.

“It was nice to get back on track not knowing what our flow would be,” Huff said. “When you are missing your point guard it’s hard to know what the flow might be, but everyone stepped up and played to the next level.

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J-L falls to Bellaire after Sydney Townsend injury

By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

BELLAIRE — Few teams in the area entered Friday in as great of form as the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team. But an early devastating injury changed the Cardinals’ fate in a hurry.

The Cardinals lost 53-24 to Bellaire, an uncharacteristic result for the spirited young team. Star junior point guard Sydney Townsend left the game early in the fourth quarter with an apparent knee injury and was unable to return.

After the game, J-L head coach Heather Huff said Townsend was at the hospital receiving treatment and no official word had been given regarding the severity of the injury.

The Cardinals’ boys basketball team just this week received a huge blow when point guard Carlos Gascho was ruled out for the season with a torn ACL.

Shell-shocked by the loss of their point guard and leader, the Cardinals struggled with Bellaire’s pressure.

Cadence Wertman led the Cardinals with seven points. Tara Madej added six points and eight rebounds, but the loss of the Townsend’s speed and ball-nailing ability was too much to overcome.

J-L has a few days off before hosting Inland Lakes on Wednesday, as the health of Townsend will play a key role in the remainder of the Cardinals’ season

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J-L girls basketball keeps rolling; crushes Forest Area

J-L girls basketball keeps rolling; crushes Forest Area
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

 A long holiday break didn’t slow the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team down Wednesday night, as the Cardinals cruised to a 57-21 victory over Forest Area.

The Cardinals utilized a suffocating mixture of defenses to grab a 39-4 halftime lead, creating points off turnovers while executing in their fast break.

“We played well. Sometimes coming off a long break its’ unknown how you are going to play,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “We started out a little slow, but we really did a nice job following the holiday break.

“We played a lot of different defenses. We didn’t do much pressing, but we gave them a lot of looks with man and zone. We had to work on a lot of things, but we were able to figure some things out, and it’s nice to get those opportunities. Forest Area is very aggressive, but their best player got in foul trouble and stayed in for trouble.”

Sydney Townsend led the Cardinals with 16 points. Tara Madej added 12 points and Kennedy Johnson scored 10 points.

“The girls have a really good chemistry and they have a lot of fun playing together,” Huff said. “They are coachable and willing to work on new things. They don’t let things out of their control get to them. They work hard under the basket and are doing well on the fast break.”

The Cardinals, who only has one loss this season, to a tough East Jordan squad, next heads to Bellaire on Friday. Bellaire just defeated East Jordan on Wednesday.

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Cardinals maintain winning ways against Central Lake
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

CENTRAL LAKE — The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team entered Christmas break on a strong note, defeating Central Lake 57-43 on the road Friday night.

The Cardinals (5-1) have utilized speed, strength and tenacious defense to cruise past Ski Valley opponents thus far this season. Their only loss was a heart-breaker at East Jordan.

J-L continued its pressure defense Friday, with three players reaching double figures in scoring. Cadence Wertman led the way with 18 points. Sydney Townsend scored 12 points, and Tara Madej added 10 points.

Not only has the Cardinals defense held opposing offenses in check, the turnovers created have also led to scoring opportunities at the other end of the court.

“It was a slow first half (tonight), but we played well in the second half,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “Cadence played very well tonight. She was scrappy and earned tons of rebounds and put-backs.”

The Cardinals have a litany of players who can lead them in scoring any given night. That versatility and depth has proved a difficult task to stop for other teams.

J-L is off throughout the holiday break, returning to the court in January.

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J-L girls rout Pellston
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team didn’t need much time Wednesday night to run away with a 60-4 victory against Pellston.

After scoring 21 points in the first quarter, the Cardinals had already pulled away enough to cruise to victory throughout the remaining three quarters of play.

The Cardinals (4-1) have utilized their suffocating pressure defense and dangerous inside-outside offensive prowess to dismantle opponents through the first couple weeks of the season.

Junior Sydney Townsend led the Cardinals’ balanced scoring with 14 points, all of which came in the game’s first three quarters. Tara Madej added 13 points for J-L, and Morgan McVannel scored nine points.

Freshman Adelaida Gascho continued her stellar play by scoring eight points in just three quarters. Jocelyn Tobias and Kennedy Johnson added six points apiece for the Cardinals.

Already off to a quick start this season, J-L does not have a senior on its roster. The Cardinals next travel to Central Lake on Friday.

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Sydney Townsend leads Cardinals past Mancelona

Sydney Townsend leads Cardinals past Mancelona
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

MANCELONA — Pressure defense has become a staple of the Cardinals girls basketball team this season, and J-L applied some heat to steal a 54-37 road victory Friday against Mancelona.

Cardinals junior Sydney Townsend, one of the fastest players in the Ski Valley Conference, gave Mancelona fits on both ends of the court. Not only did Townsend lead the Cardinals with 16 points, she also finished the game with an electrifying 10 steals.

Townsend was efficient from the floor, draining three 3-pointers and she made 3 of 4 from the free-throw line. J-L started a very young team, and Townsend’s poise and leadership helped the team establish tempo.

J-L was spurred by a big first quarter, scoring 19 points in the first eight minutes to open up the game. The Cardinals then scored 17 points in the third quarter to really blow the game open.

Cardinals head coach Heather Huff was impressed with her team’s defensive pressure, and Townsend’s ability to get into passing lanes and force Mancelona turnovers.

If not for a heart-breaking loss at East Jordan last week, the Cardinals (3-1) would be undefeated early this season. As it stands, J-L looks a real threat to contend for a Ski Valley Conference title.

Junior forward Tara Madej established her presence in the post for the Cardinals with 11 points. Freshman Adelaida Gascho scored nine points, and Kennedy Johnson added seven points.

The Cardinals will look to keep rolling Wednesday at home against Pellston.


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Balanced scoring leads Cardinals girls past Fairview
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

FAIRVIEW — Fresh off a heart-breaking loss at East Jordan last week, the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team rebounded Tuesday with a 58-18 win at Fairview.

The Cardinals (2-1) dominated early and often against Fairview, utilizing their size and depth to control the tempo and physicality of the game.

Junior forward Tara Madej led the Cardinals with 16 points. Sophomore Kennedy Johnson scored 11 points, and junior point guard Sydney Townsend scored nine points.

J-L will look to keep things rolling Friday at Mancelona.

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Late game-winner sends East Jordan past J-L
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

East Jordan — Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball had one thing on its mind entering Thursday’s clash against East Jordan: stop Jayden Weber.

The Red Devils star entered the game on the heels of a fantastic 32-point, 12-rebound effort in their season opener earlier this week, so the Cardinals certainly had Weber on their radar.

“We played for her today and we knew that we would double- and triple-team her every opportunity we had,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said.

J-L swarmed the middle of the lane every time Weber touched the ball. They also had someone virtually face guard Weber outside the 3-point line, but she still finished the game with 23 points to lead the Red Devils to a thrilling 37-35 come-from-behind victory.

East Jordan controlled the first 12 minutes of the game, holding a 12-10 lead after the first quarter, and extending their lead to 14-10 midway through the second quarter. But the Cardinals rallied back, finishing the first half on an 11-3 run to storm in front at the break.

“We talked at halftime that we thought we were getting outplayed, and nothing good happens then,” East Jordan head coach Steve Hines said. “We picked it up a bit in the second half, and we talked about being patient. It’s a 32-minute game.”

A renewed energy and a stern talking to at halftime didn’t immediately pay off for the Red Devils, as the Cardinals extended their lead to 24-17 midway through the third quarter. East Jordan’s offense had completely stalled, scoring just one point in eight minutes of play.

“We applied pressure on defense and we were able to take advantage of the fast breaks we created,” Huff said. “We wanted to make them tired and I thought we did a good job of that for a while.”

But then Weber and the Red Devils found a rhythm to end the third quarter with seven huge points, cutting J-L’s lead down to 28-24 with one quarter to play.

Weber hit three crucial 3-point shots through the first three quarters, showing off an added dimension to her game from seasons past.

“Jayden has gotten better every single year,” Hines said. “Her first two years here she was predominantly a post player. She spent very little time on the perimeter, but we decided to have her work on her outside game.

“She is very coachable and she put in a tremendous amount of work. She is an amazing player and it’s great to see her successful.”

One thing both teams did fluently all game was break the full-court press. Sydney Townsend utilized her quickness to blow by the East Jordan press, and Molly Kitson’s poise helped the Red Devils survive J-L’s tough press.

“I have one of the best post guards in the conference,” Hines said of Kitson. “She’s a two-year starter and all-conference selection last year. She can handle the ball well and I feel very comfortable putting the ball in her hands because she’s got great speed and can set up five-on-four mismatches for us, and that’s what we want. The press doesn’t bother us this year.”

The two teams traded blows throughout the fourth quarter, setting up a dramatic final two minutes of play. The Cardinals held a 34-33 advantage with a minute and 30 seconds remaining.

Four freshmen played heavy minutes for J-L, but it was East Jordan freshman Elliona Leaman who stepped up big at the end of the game.

Leaman had just sunk a mid-range jumper to get East Jordan back within a point of the lead. Then, with under a minute left to play, she drained a 3-pointer to give East Jordan its first lead since the second quarter.

Weber made a free throw with under 10 second remaining on the clock to put East Jordan up 37-35, but the Cardinals would have one last chance to win the game.

Townsend held the ball on the left wing, but she couldn’t get a shot up. She swung the ball over to wide-open Kennedy Johnson at the top of the key, but her shot was just a bit too strong, giving the Red Devils a clutch home victory.

“I’m very pleased with our effort, with all the freshmen we had to play I thought we maintained composure,” Huff said. “We had some freshmen mistakes with shot selection, but those are the things we learn from. Every game we’re going to get better, but I thought they played well tonight.

“I thought Jocelyn (Tobias) did very well against Weber. She played her heart out tonight.”

Tobias and Tara Madej led the Cardinals with 10 points apiece. Townsend added seven points, while providing an offensive spark with her crisp passing and quick feet to break the press.

Johnson and Layla Gascho added four points apiece for the Cardinals.

“Kennedy had an off night. Normally she’s good for 8-to-10 points, but they were keying on our bigs, swarming the paint,” Huff said. “We know teams are going to key on Tara, Kennedy and Sydney, but we will regroup.”

Weber led East Jordan with 23 points, Leman had five points, and Katy Black added four points. Lindsey Cross led the Red Devils with seven rebounds, and Kitson led with five assists.

The Cardinals (1-1) will look to get back on track Tuesday at Fairview. East Jordan next hosts Petoskey on Thursday.

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Gaylord HT Photos

J-L opens season with Mio rout
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

OHANNESBURG — Wasting little time to set the tone for the season, the Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team devastated Mio on Tuesday night with a 67-29 home victory.

The Cardinals were consistent all game, scoring over 12 points in each quarter. J-L led by 18 points at halftime, after holding Mio to just 14 points at the break.

J-L looked comfortable in possession all game, consistently scoring in transition and off of set plays. With multiple scoring threats, the Cardinals were difficult to defend in the half court.

A young team, and just a year removed from a slight numbers crisis within the program, J-L looked primed for a big season Tuesday.

Layla Gascho led the Cardinals with 17 points, while dropping in seven points in the fourth quarter. She scored all her points from the field, hitting seven two-point shots and one 3-pointer.

Forward Kennedy Johnson pitched in for J-L with 15 points. Tara Madej added nine points and six rebounds, while Gloria House scored eight points and Sydney Townsend scored seven points with seven assists.

“We displayed very unselfish play throughout the game,” Huff said. “The girls are all in this together this season.”

Defensively, the Cardinals had 17 steals, forcing a number of turnovers while making life difficult for Mio’s guards. Madej and Townsend led the team with four steals apiece, but seven J-L players had at least one steal.

“It was a lot of fun playing in front of our home crowd,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “The girls played really well tonight.”

Phynix Rickett led Mio with eight points. Alyssa Reichard added seven points.

With the opening win under their belt, the Cardinals will try to maintain the momentum they gained Thursday at East Jordan.

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Girls Basketball

J-L girls basketball hoping to build off last season’s development
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

OHANNESBURG — Success is etched on the walls at Johannesburg-Lewiston high school, and the girls varsity basketball program has produced plenty of ink. However, in many ways, the program has been reborn in recent years, and the transformation hasn’t always been easy.

The Cardinals begin the 2019-20 season in similar murky waters as last year, when the school wasn’t even sure if it would have enough players to produce two teams. J-L had a larger-than-normal number of freshmen and sophomores infiltrating varsity last season, but those players now have a year of experience under their belt.

Here are three things to watch for throughout the 2019-20 Cardinals girls basketball season:

1. Who can the Cardinals count on for points? — J-L returns four starters from last season. Sydney Townsend is back after earning Ski Valley first-team all-conference last season. Tara Madej, a junior, is also back after being named second-team all-conference. Sophomore Kennedy Johnson, who earned her starting spot midway through her freshman season, is back to continue her improvement, and Morgan McVannel will start at guard.

“My four returning starters all have the ability to score,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “But I also have a lot of speed, and with the younger players coming I think some defense can lead to some good offense. Hopefully, we can force some other teams into mistakes.”

Townsend and Madej will provide the team with a solid inside-outside scoring attack, which should help open up scoring opportunities for other players.

“I think our inside-outside game is the key to our success, and we have the ability to do both,” Huff said. “Tara and Kennedy are our strong inside threats, and Kennedy can also be an outside threat. Sydney has a really nice outside shot, and she can drive the ball in the lane.”

2. Can J-L restore its former glory? — Early in the decade, the J-L girls basketball program produced a number of deep postseason runs, posing a threat to teams around the state hoping to win the state title.

But the Cardinals have recently fallen on hard times, winning just one district game since 2014. J-L reached the regional final in 2011 and the regional semifinal in 2013, while consistently contending for Ski-Valley Conference crowns, but the girls basketball well has dried up since then.

This Cardinals, like all teams, are hoping everything clicks in time for a deep postseason run, but they have other ambitions they wish to achieve, as well.

“We always go into our season with the goal to win conference because we have always been in contention,” Huff said. “We’ve been around the top for may consecutive years and we are hoping to get a conference championship this year, and prove that we can get it done despite having a young team.

“We know Gaylord St. Mary will be strong again, and they are the ones we always have a rival with.”

After enduring some tough times in recent years, the Cardinals’ girls basketball program appears to be headed back in the right direction.

3. Who will step up as key role players? — Youth and inexperience dominates the Cardinals’ starting lineup entering the season, just like it did last season, but the team will need depth to continue winning more games.

Last season, twin sisters Alyce and Arielle Vermilya added key contributions off the bench. But they decided against rejoining the team for their senior seasons, leaving Huff in need of replacements.

“It’s hard for me to comment on our other players, because we still have so much to figure out,” Huff said. “We are still figuring out final roster spots on the varsity team.”

“We have some scrimmages coming up. We are going to be very young, and this is going to be a rebuilding year, but I’m looking forward to it because youth brings out (unfulfilled potential).”

Whomever the Cardinals find as key players off the bench, they will have to subscribe to a certain mentality.

“I want to find some leadership, but I want this team to grow as a cohesive group,” Huff said. “The girls came up with goals, and the one goal that was said over and over again was to have a sense of family and to work together as a group.”

The Cardinals begin their season Tuesday, Dec. 3 at home against Mio.

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Lady Cardinals!

J-L Sporting Event Ticket Prices

Adults ~ $5.00
Students ~ $3.00
Family ~$12.00






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Updated 4/10/20