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Cardinals basketball star Sydney Townsend signs with Hope College


Cardinals ready to contend for Ski Valley title

Predicting the Ski Valley girls season


5:30 p.m.
Cardinals cruise to victory
WON 65-24
5:30 p.m.

Cardinals hold on late to defeat Bellaire

Three takeaways from Cardinals win over Bellaire

WON 36-32
2/24/21 5:30 p.m. @ GAYLORD ST. MARY'S
Three takeaways from Snowbirds' rivalry
win over Cardinals

LOST 57-47
3/1/21 5:30 p.m. VS. ONAWAY WON 57-43
3/3/21 5:30 p.m. VS. FOREST AREA
Cardinals light up scoreboard in conference win
WON 85-52
3/5/21 5:30 p.m. @ INLAND LAKES WON 60-36
3/9/21 6:00 p.m. VS. PELLSTON
Cardinals trounce Pellston for key conference victory
WON 58-16
3/11/21 6:00 p.m. VS. GAYLORD ST. MARY'S
Late rally leads Cardinals past Snowbirds
WON 30-26
3/15/21 5:30 p.m. VS. MANCELONA WON 70-29
3/16/21 6:00 p.m. @ LINCOLN-ALCONA
WON 37-27
Cardinals girls basketball team claims share of conference title

Girls Basketball District 67 Hosted By

J-L girls basketball district preview

3/24/21 6:00 p.m. J-L VS. Winner of 3/22/21 Game AT J-L
J-L beats Charlevoix to reach district final
Harbor Springs vs. St. Ignace AT Harbor Springs
WON 51-28
3/26/21 6:00 p.m.

Johannesburg-Lewiston vs. St. Ignace
Cardinals lose to St. Ignace in district final

LOST 53-37

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Cardinals lose to St. Ignace in district final
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals' girls basketball team lost 53-37 at home Friday night against St. Ignace in the district final.

Just a couple more players might have made all the difference. Johannesburg-Lewiston was down to just six active players, and the lack of able bodies began to wear the Cardinals down.

St. Ignace's storied program implemented its all-too familiar full-court press from the first whistle to the last. The Cardinals struggled to get the ball in play, which led to numerous turnovers.

St. Ignace jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead, but the Cardinals scored four straight to remind the Saints they came ready to play.

The Saints grabbed a convincing 16-6 advantage after the first quarter, with junior guard Ally Schultz starting to knock down long-range 3-pointers.

“We wanted to key on (Schultz)," Cardinals head coach Heather Huff said. "We had a lot of inexperience out there, and we wanted them to key on Schultz and not leave her. Had we figured that out even earlier, it would have been closer."

J-L cut the Saints lead down to 21-16 midway through the second quarter, utilizing its height advantage to score points in the paint.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals and their shallow bench, the game was played at a frenetic pace through the first two quarters, often leaving J-L players winded and gasping for air.

Still, the Cardinals trailed just 29-23 entering halftime.

“We knew that they played an up tempo game — they always have and always will," Huff said of St. Ignace. "We expected that. We knew we’d have to run full speed for four quarters. I thought they hung in there for most of the time.”

The Saints extended their lead out to nine points (36-27) midway through the third quarter. Both teams had some trouble hanging onto the ball, but Cardinals freshman Jayden Marlatt drained a 3-pointer to put the Cardinals down 37-32. J-L would start the fourth quarter trailing 38-32.

Although the Cardinals had gutted their way through three tough quarters, remaining in the game and limiting a high-octane St. Ignace team offensively, everything started to fall apart in the fourth quarter.

St. Ignace started the fourth on an 8-0 run, jumping out to a 46-32 lead. The Cardinals tried to rally back, always fighting, but two Cardinals starters fouled out, leaving them with just four players on the court to finish the game.

“I cannot even describe how proud of them I am," Huff said of her team. "The character (my players) showed against a very good team. To be six points down in the fourth quarter, I know the final scoreboard makes it look like it wasn’t a game, but it certainly was.

“(We) showed a ton of pride, character and ability. This game proved we are one of the best contenders in the state. Unfortunately we ran out of some gas and some players.”

Even though the Cardinals' season ended one win shy of a district title, Huff was pleased with the way her squad conducted itself against a formidable foe.

“I think they represented our school with such class, such composure," Huff said. "To go into the game knowing they were the underdog, and just went out and played the best they could with everything they had.”

Johnson led the Cardinals with 11 points, while battling through an ankle injury suffered in Wednesday's game against Charlevoix. Tara Madej added 10 points, while Marlatt and Townsend scored six points apiece.

Marlatt and Townsend were also tasked with getting the ball up the court, fighting off St. Ignace's full-court press.

Saints senior Hallie Marshall led St. Ignace with a game-high 20 points. Schultz added 18 points.

St. Ignace will now play Alcona in the regional semifinal on Monday.

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J-L beats Charlevoix to reach district final
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston Cardinals' girls basketball team avenged last season's district loss to Charlevoix on Wednesday, defeating the Rayders 51-28 at home.

Both teams were severely short-handed, as the Cardinals had just six active players and the Rayders had eight. But the Cardinals persevered and advanced to the district final.

Charlevoix had already knocked out East Jordan in the districts, but this was J-L's first postseason game. The Rayders controlled possession early, taking more than one minute off the clock before draining a 3-pointer for the game's first points.

J-L answered with a couple baskets, utilizing its size in the paint to get good looks. Charlevoix struggled early against the Cardinals' zone defense, which forced a lot of outside shots.

“The problem that we had early on is that we couldn’t score against their 2-3 zone," Charlevoix head coach Marc Sroufe said. "That hurt us big time. We had open shots, we just didn’t make them. If you cannot make shots against a zone and you are undersized in the post, then it's going to be a hard night. That’s what happened in the first half.”

The Cardinals led 6-5 midway through the first quarter. J-L was also cold from beyond the arc early, failing to take advantage of the Rayders' early offensive struggles.

Still, the Cardinals jumped out to a 16-9 lead midway through the second quarter on the strength of Tara Madej and Kennedy Johnson in the paint.

J-L received a scare late in the second quarter when Johnson went down in obvious pain, grabbing at her ankle. She was forced to exit, which left the Cardinals with just five available players. Sophomore Alyssia Martin came in to take Johnson's place and drew her coach's praise after the game.

Despite missing Johnson, the Cardinals took a 22-12 lead into halftime. Neither team had yet found its rhythm, offensively.

Madej changed that in the third quarter, scoring a couple baskets in the paint. Johnson also started the second half, ankle taped up, though she was still sporting a noticeable limp.

The Cardinals jumped out to a 26-14 lead midway through the third quarter, with both teams playing at a fairly slow pace.

After a cold first half, Charlevoix's 3-point specialist Taylor Petrosky started to heat up in the third quarter. she knocked down two straight shots from beyond the arc. The Rayders didn't really gain any ground, however, as the Cardinals immediately responded both times.

After Petrosky's first 3-pointer, Johnson finished off an and-one after a strong basket on the block. The Cardinals then answered Petrosky's second 3-pointer with a Sydney Townsend buzzer beater from near half court.

J-L led 34-22 with one quarter left. Cardinals head coach Heather Huff thought answering Petrosky's 3-pointers was big for momentum.

“It kept the momentum from swinging the other way," Huff said. "I thought it was good because we didn’t panic, which showed some of our maturity. We have a lot of non-veteran players, but I thought that they held their composure.

“I thought everyone stepped up and did their part. We were focusing on (Petrosky); we knew she was the player to stop. We wanted to make sure we always knew where she was. We executed the game plan perfectly, I couldn’t be happier with them."

Petrosky drained another 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter, but the Cardinals again responded with a couple buckets. J-L led 40-25 midway through the fourth quarter, utilizing a balanced scoring attack to give the Rayders problems on defense. From there, the Cardinals mostly tried to run out the clock and keep the ball away from Petrosky.

“In the second half, we just ran out of gas," Sroufe said. "We had (minimal) players again tonight. We got down and couldn’t make shots, and (the Cardinals’) post players played very well in the second half. But I’m so proud of our kids.”

Madej led the Cardinals with 16 points. Johnson added 14 points, Jayden Marlatt scored nine points, while Townsend had eight points. Petrosky led Charlevoix with a game-high 17 points.

Johnson scored 11 of her 14 points in the second half, despite playing through her ankle injury.

“It was huge (to get Johnson back for the second half)," Huff said. "She is the catalyst on the boards. She has lots of energy, and I didn’t want to see her go down like that. I was happy to see that she could play through it. She did a nice job coming back. She was able to jump off of it and play strong.”

The Cardinals consistently handled Charlevoix's defensive pressure. Townsend and Marlatt were tasked with the responsibility of bringing the ball up the court, and executed throughout the game.

“We knew that (Charlevoix) would apply ball pressure," Huff said. "Sydney does a good job handling that pressure, and we were able to give her some breaks with Jayden bringing the ball up the court, too. That helps because then Sydney can go out on the wing and get a breather."

J-L will next host St. Ignace on Friday for the district title.

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J-L girls basketball district preview
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

OHANNESBURG — Momentum will be on the Cardinals’ side entering the districts.

Johannesburg-Lewiston’s girls basketball team will enter the tournament on an eight-game winning streak. The Cardinals (10-1) missed a few games early due to COVID-19 precautions, but roared back into form after a tough loss at Gaylord St. Mary.

Depth and offensive firepower are the keys to this Cardinals team. Senior point guard and Hope College signee Sydney Townsend runs the offense. She has been a solid scorer and facilitator this season, returning from last year’s torn ACL.

Junior forward Kennedy Johnson has had some monster scoring and rebounding nights. Her height and athleticism pose a tough matchup for most Division 3 opponents.

J-L will hope forward Tara Madej is near 100 percent entering the tournament. Last year’s Herald Times Player of the Year has battled a leg injury lately, but remains one of the most productive post players in Northern Michigan.

The Cardinals have exceeded 55 points six times this season, scoring 70 and 85 in two games. This J-L team likes to push the tempo and score in transition. The Cardinals have 3-point shooters, players who can get to the basket, and a strong post presence.

Defensively, the Cardinals have held their opponents under 40 points in each of their last five games, stifling teams to under 30 points in their last four. J-L has found success in the half-court and can also show a full-court press.

Last season, the Cardinals battled injuries and inexperience while losing in the districts. J-L did not have a single senior on the roster last season. Now, with last year’s squad back and mainly healthy, this could be a tough team to beat.

District 67

Teams: J-L, East Jordan, Charlevoix, St. Ignace, Harbor Springs

St. Ignace has been a basketball powerhouse for decades. They will be a tough out even though they moved up a division this season. Charlevoix and J-L have deep squads with multiple scoring options. This appears to be a brutal district on paper, but the winner could make a long tournament run.

Key Players: Sydney Townsend (J-L), Kennedy Johnson (J-L), Ally Schultz (St. Ignace), Hallie Marshall (St. Ignace), Taylor Petrosky (Charlevoix)

The St. Ignace duo combined to score 44 points in a recent game as versatile scorers. Petrosky is a knock-down 3-point shooter who can also create her own looks. Townsend plays with a lot of energy and passion, while Johnson is often the most athletic player on the court.

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Cardinals girls basketball team claims share of conference title
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston Cardinals girls basketball team claimed a share of the Ski Valley Conference title Thursday night.

Keeping up with the abnormal season, the Cardinals clinched the win via forfeit from Central Lake. J-L finished the regular season 10-1 and 7-1 in the conference, winning eight straight games.

“I think it was made more special because they had to fight through so much adversity with COVID-19, injuries, not being able to do any thing this summer, just having to get through a lot of obstacles," Cardinals head coach Heather Huff said. "It makes things even more special that they could persevere through everything.”

Three teams shared the conference title this season, with Bellaire and Gaylord St. Mary also finishing 7-1 in the Ski Valley.

Because the regular season was condensed, due to COVID-19, the Ski Valley representatives decided that only one game against each time would count toward the final conference standings (instead of the normal twice around). 

“Some people might say it was less special because there were three winners in the conference, but people who (made the decisions) made it the most fair they could and did a great job," Huff said. "All of the teams were hit with COVID-19 at some point. I’m not sure if there would have been a better way to handle it so there was only one winner.

"Three teams ended up in first place, which does give mixed feelings because you want to know who would have come out on top, but you cannot predict the future."

Huff was pleased seniors Morgan McVannel, Sydney Townsend and Tara Madej were able to celebrate a conference championship amid the constant uncertainly for the past year due to COVID-19.

“It’s awesome because they got a bright spot amid some dark spots in their senior year," Huff said of her seniors winning the title. "I'm happy that they get some bright spots throughout all of the darkness we’ve all been experiencing. They got to experience some joy which shows them that if you fight through adversity good things can happen. I’m glad they were rewarded for their hard work.”

Winning a conference title can also be a boost for the program as a whole. Younger players might see the success and want to get on board.

“When you can get those kind of achievements it keeps the younger kids excited about joining the program," Huff said. "We had a few years recently where our numbers struggled.

"In the past, the success we’ve had, it’s helped the younger kids remain excited about becoming a Cardinal. It helps to inspire them and coming up to play high school ball and get those same championships.”

The Cardinals start district play Wednesday after a first-round bye. They will either face Charlevoix (8-7) or East Jordan (6-8).

J-L girls basketball district preview

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Late rally leads Cardinals past Snowbirds
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — Sometimes missed free throws come with a price.

The Gaylord St. Mary girls basketball team led Johannesburg-Lewiston throughout the night Thursday, but made just 6 of 20 shots from the charity stripe.

Celebrating senior night, the Cardinals took advantage by rallying back in the fourth quarter to earn the 30-26 home victory.

Neither team got off to a hot start offensively, with the game’s first points occurring over two minutes into the first quarter. The Cardinals led 3-1 with three minutes left in the first.

St. Mary hit a couple shots from beyond the arc to take an 8-3 first-quarter lead. The Cardinals were struggling from the field, although they did have a few open looks in the game’s first eight minutes.

The two teams jockeyed for position in the second quarter, with neither team’s offense able to make much of an impact. The Snowbirds held on to a 15-9 advantage at halftime.

J-L showed an extended 2-3 trapping zone throughout the game, and it gave St. Mary some problems early in the third quarter. However, the Cardinals still could not muster any offense. They trailed 20-9 midway through the third quarter.

Yet, as suddenly as it appeared this just might not be the Cardinals’ night, momentum started to shift — with a made free throw. Kennedy Johnson got to the free-throw line, sunk one of two shots and finally got the Cardinals into double figures.

Then, with two minutes left in the third quarter, Sydney Townsend buried a 3-pointer. A few seconds later, Sophie Townsend drained a 3-pointer. All the sudden St. Mary’s lead was down to 20-17. The Snowbirds led 22-17 heading into the fourth.

Gracie Blust put the Snowbirds back up by seven early in the fourth quarter, but Cardinals freshman Jayden Marlatt quickly responded. St. Mary led 24-19.

Adelaida Gascho then knocked down a triple to to cut St. Mary’s lead down to 24-22, and a few seconds later, Sydney Townsend sent a no-look assist into the post for Tara Madej. The game was now tied 25-25.

The Cardinals sunk two free throws to take a 27-25 lead and never looked back. Marlatt fouled out, but J-L made enough free throws to hold off the Snowbirds.

“The difference in that game was free throws,” Snowbirds head coach Pat Schultz said. “If we shoot 50 percent from the free-throw line, we win the game. And 50 percent isn’t a lot to ask for from a varsity team, but we didn’t do it. That’s the difference. I knew this game was going to come down to small things. Free throws are huge.

“I have no complaint about our defense. That team (J-L) has a lot of (good) basketball players, so I have no complaints about our defense. To hold a team like that to 30 points, their lowest output all year, I have no worries.

“Offensively we had to overcome their trap and we had some turnovers, but this game boiled down to free throws. Those close games are usually won or lost at the free throw line.”

Cardinals head coach Heather Huff was unable to coach her team at St. Mary earlier this season due to COVID-19 precautions. Not only was she happy to pick up the victory, she was excited to see it in person.

“It was a very fast-paced, physical game,” Huff said. “St. Mary played really tight defense, which frustrated us for quite a while and quite a bit. We were having a hard time getting into an offensive flow. I told them to slow down and run some pick and rolls. We finally got some of those to work. The 3-pointer by Adelaida was huge, and Sophie and Sydney hit 3-pointers, too. Those were huge moments.

“It was a total team effort. Whether they did something good at the end of the game or the beginning of the game it took all of that to earn the win.

“There seems to always be a lot of extra pressure when you play St. Mary. The players put that pressure on themselves because they want to do well. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but a win is a win and its always nice to get a win over St. Mary. It was nice to be there this time, not watching from home.”

The Snowbirds had a couple starters out of the lineup Thursday night, but that allowed a few reserves the opportunity to get quality minutes in a big game.

“This game should be a good notice to those girls who don’t usually get a lot of playing time; that they can come in and compete and be productive,” Schultz said. “I want things to be cleaner, but there is a silver lining to all of this.

“But I’m not a moral victory kind of guy, I expect to win every time we take the court no matter who is in the uniform. We should have knocked down those free throws.”

Kinzie Jeffers led the Snowbirds with 11 points. Having played off the ball most of the season, she was asked to step back into more of a point guard role against J-L.

“Kinzie is a really good basketball player,” Schultz said. “She understands what the point is supposed to do. She understands what the shooting guard is supposed to do. We needed her to have that game. She did what we needed her to do.”

Grusczynski added six points for St. Mary, while Bailey Murrell scored three points.

Sydney Townsend led the Cardinals with 11 points. Gloria House, Gascho and Sophie Townsend all added four points apiece.

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Cardinals trounce Pellston for key conference victory
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

OHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team continued rolling Tuesday with a convincing 58-16 victory over Pellston.

Still tied atop the Ski Valley Conference standings with Gaylord St. Mary and Bellaire, the Cardinals took another step towards earning a share of the title.

Both teams got off to a slow offensive start, with J-L taking a 7-3 lead midway through the first quarter. The Cardinals employed a full-court trap, which Pellston struggled to cope with. 

J-L senior leader Tara Madej was out with a leg injury, so Kennedy Johnson was forced to play more of a low-post role. Johnson thrived, continuously calling for the ball and aggressively attacking the basket, en route to a game-high 15 points. 

"She’s a player looking to play at the next level, and it's nice to see her putting it all together," Cardinals head coach Heather Huff said of Johnson. "She always had that potential, but it’s nice to see her finishing at the basket and hitting some outside shots. Her free throws have been on this year. Those are all things she was good at, but not great at.

"Mentally, she’s getting to be a smarter basketball player. She was in foul trouble a lot last year, and she is now learning how to play without that. She has come a long ways this year.”

The Cardinals continued stifling Pellston while jumping out to a 14-3 lead after the first quarter. 

J-L really found an offensive rhythm in the second quarter with Sydney Townsend, Gloria House and Jayden Marlatt all punishing Pellston with their athleticism and shooting.

With Pellston struggling to even get the ball over half court, the Cardinals led 25-3 midway through the second quarter. 

Marlatt, who also played closer to the basket Tuesday night, displayed her versatility by making some outside shots driving to the basket, and scoring on the block. She finished with 13 points on the night.

“The nice thing about (Jayden being able to play multiple positions on the court) is that she’s just like ‘okay, I’ll do whatever you need me to do’," Huff said. "She’s physically strong and she has decent height. She also has the quickness to have that versatility.”

With most of the Cardinals' top scorers finding success early, J-L took a commanding 37-5 lead into the break.

Throughout the night, the Cardinals were quick to force turnovers and set up their transition offense. Senior points guard, and Hope College signee, Sydney Townsend finished the game with 10 points and 11 steals. She was the catalyst to help J-L set up fast-break scoring opportunities.

"(Sydney's) defense leads our team and provides a spark," Huff said.

The Cardinals led 52-10 after the third quarter with a running clock being implemented midway through the third. Pellston just could not consistently get good looks against J-L's defense.

Wit the running clock in place, the fourth quarter flew by. Pellston made a few buckets at the end of the game, but J-L had, by that time, already comfortably secured the win.

“We are guard heavy, so it’s nice to see them working well together," Huff said. "We talk about getting better every game, and seeing them be a cohesive unit.

“Offensively, we are working on our inside-outside game. We had some opportunities to work on that tonight. It didn’t always look smooth, but at other times I could see how they were starting to click together.”

Gloria House scored nine points for the Cardinals. She has been one of the teams players shifting between J.V. and varsity.

“Gloria has been getting better every time we’ve played," Huff said. "She got some good minutes at Inland Lakes and made some good baskets. Her and Sophie (Townsend) have both been doing the five-quarter thing, playing three quarters in J.V. and two on varsity, so it was nice that they got a full game of varsity experience tonight.”

Now 6-1 on the season and in conference play, the Cardinals are just one win away from clinching a share of the Ski Valley Conference title. 

“When you talk about conference championship, it doesn’t say co-champion up on the banner," Huff said. "It would be nice to be able to play the teams twice. I think everyone probably feels that way, Bellaire and St. Mary as well. It’s still probably the most fair way to come up with it.”

The Cardinals are next in action Thursday against St. Mary.

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Cardinals light up scoreboard in conference win
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals defeated Forest Area 85-52 Wednesday night to pick up another Ski Valley Conference victory.

Johannesburg-Lewiston was led by Sydney Townsend, who scored 23 points with 11 assists and four steals. Kennedy Johnson added 22 points and 14 rebounds. Tara Madej scored 20 points, and freshman Jayden Marlatt poured in 17 points. 

The Cardinals improved to 3-1 on the season after the offensive outburst.

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Three takeaways from Snowbirds' rivalry win over Cardinals

Three takeaways from Snowbirds' rivalry win over Cardinals

By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

GAYLORD — Rivalry week continued Wednesday night, with the Gaylord St. Mary girls basketball team defeating Johannesburg-Lewiston 57-47 at home.

Despite limited fans still in attendance, it felt like the gym was at full capacity. Fans and students from both schools cheered their team on, hoping to provide an emotional spark.

St. Mary made the game's first move, ending the first quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 17-8 lead.

The Cardinals started the second quarter strong, cutting into the Snowbirds' lead, but St. Mary scored a couple baskets late to take a 25-18 lead into halftime.

Both teams remained in the locker room deep into the halftime break, and the Snowbirds came out and extended their lead. St. Mary held a 39-27 advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

J-L stormed back, cutting the Snowbirds' lead down to single-digits after a couple of 3-pointers from freshman Jayden Marlatt, but the Snowbirds consistently drained free throws to ice the game.

Here are three takeaways from St. Mary's win over J-L:

1. The Snowbirds' press is tough to crack — After losing to Bellaire in the season opener, the Snowbirds (6-1) have since rattled off six straight victories, in large part due to their stifling full-court press.

St. Mary looks to force turnovers and score in transition. They have an array of quick guards pressuring opposing ball-handlers, with several capable scorers hoping to take advantage of turnovers.

The Snowbirds turn games into track meets, constantly making the game a full-court sprint. Kinzie Jeffers often leads the press, setting up the trap or running behind to swipe the ball away. Jeffers and Ava Schultz both had four steals Tuesday night, and they quickly turn those into points.

“It was ugly, but ugly usually benefits us," Snowbirds head coach Pat Schultz said. "We forced a lot of turnovers, but had more than they did, unfortunately. We just wanted to make sure the game didn’t get stuck in a half-court setting.

"They are just too big. We can’t play that team in half court. Everyone on their team looks for Tara Madej. Our objective was to keep the ball out of her hands. We said before the game if we can hold her to 10 points or less we can win the game.”

St. Mary has now defeated Pickford and J-L in their last two games. Schultz believes the press is a big reason why.

“I think for us it has kept us in a lot of games," Schultz said. "We are still gaining some overall team basketball I.Q. The press has been an equalizer and then some. We need to put our kids in motion, and J-L got tired and fouled.”

Not only does the Snowbirds' press force opposing teams into mistakes, it often leads to transition buckets the other way. Sophomore Macey Bebble ran the offense against J-L, utilizing her quickness to set up scoring opportunities.

“We want to keep our offense as simple as possible," Schultz said. "We talk about spacing the floor and creating double gaps. Macey needed those 3-pointers. To be a 10th grader with limited varsity experience, running the point, she has the quickness and ball-handling skills to succeed. I put her there because I believe in her.”

2. The Cardinals are still getting back up to speed — J-L had not played since defeating Bellaire at home two weeks ago. It looked like the Cardinals just needed a little bit of time to get back up to game speed.

The Cardinals were also without head coach Heather Huff Tuesday night, with Luke Townsend taking charge in her place.

“The layoff just really hurts," Townsend said. "It was a momentum buster. We aren’t in as good of shape any more. It’s hard. You can’t take two weeks off after being on momentum like that. They get out of their flow and they get out of shape.”

The Cardinals were hurt by foul trouble, with Tara Madej fouling out early in the fourth quarter, and Sydney Townsend playing most of the fourth with four fouls.

"We had a couple girls foul out and a couple in deep foul trouble. We went away from our bread and butter which is our post game, in-and-out game, and we just couldn’t get that working.”

Despite the long layoff, the Cardinals battled. They cut St. Mary's lead down to single digits a couple times, proving they have the fight to succeed.

“We played tenacious defense and we played as a team," Townsend said. "The girls worked hard and never gave up. We just couldn’t get in sync on offense.

"Everything just was a perfect storm the last couple days. But the girls gave everything they had for what they are dealing with right now, and I cannot be more proud of that effort."

3. Both teams are filled with talented players — Most of this game looked like a prized fight, with two champions battling it out for the title. 

The Snowbirds, who made 24 out of 31 from the free-throw line, some of them in clutch situations toward the end of the game, was led by Jeffers' 19 points. Bailey Murrell added 14 points and 11 rebounds, Bebble scored 10 points, and Schultz scored eight points with five rebounds.

“Outside of Kinzie, we have some young kids who haven’t had a ton of court time, and I was glad to see them stay composed," Schultz said. "I think they are learning how to win. I hope it gets in their mind that they beat a good team today, following a big win against Pickford.

“Every game we have improved shooting. Every game we’re just getting a bit better. The girls are improving and I think they understand that the press and field-goal percentage are the keys to winning games.”

The Cardinals were led by Marlatt's 15 points. The freshman guard took over in the fourth quarter, scoring 12 points in the final eight minutes. Sydney Townsend added 12 points for the Cardinals, while Kennedy Johnson poured in 10 points and Madej scored six points.

Both teams were ripe with talent, which should set up a great rematch next month.

“It’s the best game of our year, and we were looking forward to it," Townsend said. "It just didn’t work out for us tonight. We get them again back at our place, so we’ll see what happens after that."

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Three takeaways from Cardinals win over Bellaire
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — A changing of the tide may have taken place Thursday night in Johannesburg-Lewiston's gym.

The Cardinals' girls basketball team defeated Bellaire 36-32, providing them with an edge in the Ski Valley Conference battle.

Only one game against each team will count in the final conference standings this season, and J-L is already off to a 2-0 start.

Thursday night's game was thrilling and impactful, as the Cardinals beat a team they had recently struggled against.

Here are three takeaways from the Cardinals' victory over Bellaire:

1. The Cardinals have a formidable starting lineup — In an era dominated by "position-less basketball", the Cardinals have an ideal throwback starting lineup in a lot of ways, with a bit of a modern twist.

J-L features a starting lineup composed of Sydney Townsend, Morgan McVannel, Tara Madej, Kennedy Johnson and Jayden Marlatt. All five players can play multiple positions, but all seemingly have an ideal role.

Townsend is the point guard, dictating tempo and orchestrating the offense. Townsend can also score by getting to the basket and knocking down 3-pointers. But her main role is to get the ball up the court, even in the face of pressure. She certainly excelled Thursday, scoring eight points (six of which came in the fourth quarter) while organizing her team's offensive strategy.

Marlatt, a freshman, played more of an off-guard, or shooting guard role against Bellaire. She occupied the wing, and even drained a shot from beyond the arc. She looks like the ideal back-court compliment to Townsend.

Johnson and Madej are the teams forwards, commanding double teams in the paint. Although both spend a lot of time in the paint, they can also step outside and hit jump shots, providing the Cardinals with versatility.

Here's the modern twist. Historically, basketball teams have started with a lineup consisting of positions marked 1 through 5. One being the point guard all the way to five being the center. The Cardinals, like most teams at various levels, opt to start another ball-handler instead of a true center. McVannel provides another guard option for J-L, which usually gives the forwards more room to operate in the paint.

The Cardinals appear to have a well-disciplined lineup with all players understanding their roles and responsibilities, which could make for an exciting season.

2. The Cardinals are very formidable on defense — Offense is great. Everyone loves watching points fly on the scoreboard. But what really makes coaches happy is solid defense.

J-L shut Bellaire down for large stretches of Thursday night's game. The Cardinals allowed just two points in the first quarter, and held Bellaire star Jacey Somers to just 10 points, while getting her in early foul trouble.

Even when the Cardinals' defense started leaking a bit in the fourth quarter, they still made key stops down the stretch to earn the victory.

Marlatt looks like a key defensive stopper. She was often faced with the difficult task of guarding Somers, and passed every test. If she can consistently shut down opposing teams' best players, the Cardinals will be very difficult to beat.

Having a high-octane offense might fill seats, but teams don't have to worry about that anyway due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Cardinals still seemingly have a solid offense, but a very formidable defense that could pay dividends come tournament time.

3. This team could maintain the Cardinals' great athletic run — The 2020-21 school year has thus far produced some magical athletic moments for J-L. 

The volleyball team earned a conference and district title; the boys and girls cross-country teams qualified for the state meet, and the football team made it to the state semifinals after a tremendous run.

This girls basketball team features a lot of the same athletes who either made up the volleyball team or the cross-country teams. They are winners used to winning, and through two games this basketball season, have made a statement they expect to continue winning.

The Cardinals feature a very well-balanced and versatile team. They have solid depth and star power able to consistently get buckets when needed.

Although it's still very early in the season, with a lot of basketball left to be played, this Cardinals team does seem to have a special, winning quality around it. This J-L girls basketball team could definitely be one to watch for come tournament time.

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Cardinals hold on late to defeat Bellaire

Cardinals hold on late to defeat Bellaire
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team made a statement Thursday night.

With a win already under their belt this season, the Cardinals improved to 2-0  with a hard-fought 36-32 victory over Bellaire, the defending Ski Valley Conference champions.

Despite limited fans due to COVID-19, there was a certain energy sparking throughout the gym. The Cardinals fed off that energy by taking an early 5-0 lead in the first quarter.

While the early lead was important, perhaps even more important was the No. 2 that had just popped up on the scoreboard next to Bellaire sophomore Jacey Somers' name. Somers picked up her second foul early in the first quarter, and sat out the rest of the first half. 

The Cardinals didn't fully take advantage of Somers' early foul trouble. Bellaire actually outscored J-L in the second quarter. But the Cardinals still maintained a 16-11 lead heading into the break.

Before the game, Cardinals senior point guard Sydney Townsend signed with Hope College to continue her promising basketball career. Back from last season's torn ACL, Townsend looked close to full health against Bellaire, controlling the tempo and orchestrating the offense.

Returning after halftime, the Cardinals quickly made a surge, jumping out to a 23-11 lead with five minutes left to play in the third quarter. J-L extended that lead out to 27-14 with two minutes left in the third; ultimately taking a 29-17 lead into the fourth quarter.

Momentum shifted in the fourth quarter. Bellaire, backs up against the wall, started the final quarter on an 8-0 run to cut the Cardinals' lead down to just four points (29-25) with just over four minutes left to play.

Needing a basket, Townsend drove through the paint and made a tough layup over a couple Bellaire defenders. She later made a long two-point jump shot with a hand right in her face. Townsend was also the player bringing the ball up the court in crunch time. She finished the game with eight points. Six of which came in the fourth quarter.

“It’s nice to have that balance," Cardinals head coach Heather Huff said of Townsend's presence. "Jayden and Morgan can also handle some of the pressure, but ultimately we were missing that veteran player (last season) with the knowledge of the game and ball-handling skills.”

Although the Cardinals struggled to make free throws in the closing stretch, they did enough to hang on for a 36-32 win. Not only did the Cardinals earn their second straight victory, they also usurped the defending champs. In a year when the final conference standings will be decided by one game apiece for each team, this win could prove monumental.

“I’m just for happy for this group of seniors," Huff said. "We’ve been getting beat pretty good by (Bellaire) for a while, so this was a long time coming.

"It meant a lot to them. They are super excited and they held it together when it got close. I’m super proud of everyone. It was a total team effort.”

Tara Madej led the Cardinals with 10 points, consistently giving the Eagles fits in the paint. Kennedy Johnson scored eight points, utilizing her athleticism to make an impact in a variety of ways. Freshman Jayden Marlatt added eight points, impressing on both ends of the court, as she was often matched up against Somers.

“We knew they would probably double team Tara," Huff said. "The biggest thing is we did a great job on the boards and we communicated well on defense.

“I felt like we had a whole lot of patience on offense, and we did a great job of adjusting when something wasn’t working. They spread it out and they did a nice job rotating to open spots. They played with a lot of poise.”

Both Marlatt and Johnson helped space the floor for Townsend and Madej. Marlatt hit a 3-pointer in the first half, and Johnson consistently found ways to put up shots around the rim. Their ability to keep Bellaire's defense honest seemingly helped free up some space for other players.

J-L is still without sophomore Jocelyn Tobias, who is nursing an ankle injury. She was at the game in a walking boot Thursday night.

Despite foul trouble and stifling defense by the Cardinals, Somers still led the Eagles with 10 points. Emersyn Koepke added seven points.

The Cardinals will now take their undefeated record on the road Monday to Central Lake.

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Cardinals basketball star Sydney Townsend signs with Hope College
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — It's been a whirlwind couple of years for Cardinals star Sydney Townsend.

Capping a roller-coaster stretch, Townsend signed with Hope College — which is located in Holland, Mich. and competes in Division III collegiate athletics — Thursday in front of friends and family. 

Townsend started the 2019-20 basketball season in great form, consistently scoring points and dishing out assists while leading a young Cardinals squad near the top of the Ski Valley Conference standings.

Unfortunately for Townsend and the Cardinals, her season ended early with a torn ACL. Townsend said Thursday before her signing that she feared her basketball career had ended.

Yet, out of the ashes sparked new life to Townsend's promising basketball future, and a chance to play at the next level.

“I was just looking forward to getting on the court again, and overall my goal was to play college basketball," Townsend said. "I’m really thankful I accomplished that goal and I got to where I am now.

“Hope is one of the best schools, and they have a great team. I know I’m going to have to work really hard to play and prove myself on the court. I’m really looking forward to taking that next step in my game and realizing I have to be working twice as hard and have to be super quick on defense. Everything is a whole new level and I’m looking forward to finding that in myself.”

While Townsend was recovering from her knee injury, the rest of the world was forced back in their homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic. High school, college and professional sports were cancelled due to the rapid spread of the virus.

Townsend utilized that time as an opportunity to reach out to schools; stay in touch with some colleges she was interested in.

“All throughout high school, I looked at colleges through my travel (basketball) program, but I heard about Hope and I’ve been to some Division 3 basketball games, and I heard a lot about the school," Townsend said. "Through quarantine I got a hold of admissions and took a visit there; fell in love with it and knew it was the place I wanted to be.

“I was looking at Calvin and Hillsdale as well, but Hope stuck with me and in the back of my head I knew this is where I wanted to go.”

Basketball has been a big part of Townsend's life for a long time. Her family helped introduce her to the game, but it has since become one of her main passions.

“I have always been super passionate about basketball," Townsend said. "My family played it, and I love the feeling of shooting, getting a steal; pretty much everything about it makes my heart beat. Even playing through hard practices and sprints, I’m still really happy and looking forward to it. Basketball is what I want to do all the time.

“As a kid growing up, I was manager for the girls varsity team, and I grew up watching the legacy; J-L has always had good teams. My aunt has always coached them, so my family has been a part of it. It’s great to be a part of the team I always watched growing up.”

Now that her knee is again healthy, Townsend and the Cardinals look like a team poised for big things this season. Townsend runs the point, but forwards Tara Madej and Kennedy Johnson are also formidable offensive threats. Freshman Jayden Marlatt should also make a profound impact.

“Our team this year is pretty good," Townsend said. "We didn’t lose anyone from last year, so we are coming back pretty strong. We definitely have the goal of winning the conference this season and making it pretty far in the tournament. Individually, my knee has been feeling pretty good, but I’m still working on getting that quick first step back and upping my offensive game a bit this year.”

Townsend will try to help J-L on one last long postseason run before turning her focus to the new opportunity awaiting her at Hope.

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Cardinals cruise to victory
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

The Johannesburg-Lewiston girls basketball team kicked off their season in style Tuesday with a 65-24 victory over Forest Area.

Cardinals senior Tara Madej scored a game-high 27 points, dominating in the paint. Kennedy Johnson and Jayden Marlatt added 13 points apiece, and Sydney Townsend scored four points with seven assists and four steals.

“Mostly I was impressed with our defense, but our offense looked pretty good, too," Cardinals head coach Heather Huff said. "We gelled really well, mixing it up between the inside and outside. I thought our defense looked pretty good as well. 

“They didn’t have a great way of stopping Tara. We looked good on both sides of the ball.”

Cardinals fans also got to see Marlatt play her first basketball game after a terrific volleyball season. The freshman didn't disappoint, getting off to a quick start.

"Jayden plays with poise," Huff said. "She doesn’t get rattled, and she goes strong to the basket. She’s a physical player with great instincts. I challenged her. She had two fouls going into halftime, and I challenged her to not pick up any more, and she ended with the two fouls.”

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 J-L girls basketball preview:
Cardinals ready to contend for Ski Valley title

By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

JOHANNESBURG — The Cardinals’ girls basketball team has the whole band back together this season.

After having no seniors on last year’s roster, Johannesburg-Lewiston girls hoops will enjoy some continuity this winter, as they look to contend for a Ski Valley Conference title.

The Cardinals have three seniors on the roster this time around. Point guard Sydney Townsend returns from a torn ACL suffered during last year’s basketball season. She enjoyed some late-season success in cross country and should be ready for a big role.

“I think Sydney is a key leader; she steps (right back) into that leadership role,” J-L head coach Heather Huff said. “She brings shooting and defense, and also leads both vocally and by example. Everyone sees her running around playing with her heart on defense and feeds off that. It will be great to have her back filling that role.”

J-L also returns Tara Madej — last year’s Herald Times Player of the Year — who, last season, developed into one of Northern Michigan’s better all-around post players. Morgan McVannel rounds out J-L’s seniors. She should be a steady back-court presence who can help Townsend get the ball up the court.

“Tara is the leader of the post players,” Huff said. “(Tara and the other post players) are learning to play together and be a force together. They can be unstoppable. Tara does a good job directing the post players. She stepped into a leadership role last year, which will benefit us this season. Morgan has become more vocal as well. Her biggest talent is defense.”

Junior Kennedy Johnson also returns for the Cardinals. Johnson provides energy and versatility as a player who can contribute anywhere offensively and guard multiple positions on defense.

The Cardinals get another glimpse into the future with five sophomores on the roster, all of whom are expected to contribute. Gloria House, Cadence Wertman, Jocelyn Tobias, Sophie Townsend and Adelaida Gascho all earned valuable experience as freshmen and should take another leap this winter.

Although the Cardinals’ girls basketball team will mostly look the same as last season, they do introduce a new face. Freshman sensation Jayden Marlatt, who was named Herald Times Player of the Year for volleyball this fall, returns to the court for basketball. Marlatt is athletic and provides J-L with another perimeter threat on offense.

“Jayden will be a key in handling the ball this year,” Huff said. “She’s very confident and strong. She doesn’t get intimidated. She also played with confidence in volleyball, relying on her instincts and skills.

“Having multiple players who can handle the ball takes the pressure off one person to do it all the time. We can give different looks.”

With everyone back and healthy to start the season, the Cardinals are among the favorites to claim a Ski Valley title this winter. The conference season will be more condensed with teams only playing each other once counting toward the final standings.

“I’m really excited to see how the players all gel together,” Huff said of her team. “We’re going to have a lot of quickness, and our defense will be the key to our offense. This is one of the overall most talented teams we’ve had in a long time.”

Bellaire, the defending champs, and Gaylord St. Mary could be among the Cardinals’ main competition for a conference title this season, but Huff thinks multiple teams will present a challenge.

“I think it’s going to be key for our veteran players to play with the experience they have, leading the younger players through challenges,” Huff said. “Onaway had a good team, too, last year. Our conference will be tough this year. There will be some good competition and good games. I just hope our will, drive and talent will be enough to get us a conference championship. I think we have that potential, and the marks will be on our backs.”

Like all high school basketball teams throughout the state, J-L will have to work on conditioning, skills and chemistry before games start flying fast and furious once cleared to begin.

“I think they are going to be ready,” Huff said, regarding her team. “It’s a short season, and I think that will be an inspiration to give everything they have. A key will be keeping people healthy, and we have all the potential in the world this year if that happens."

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Basketball preview: Predicting the Ski Valley girls season
By Alec Brzezinski - Petoskey News

GAYLORD — The upcoming girls basketball season remains in the balance due to the recent COVID-19 surge, but the Ski Valley Conference should provide plenty of intrigue if allowed to play.

Bellaire dominated the Ski Valley last season, finishing a perfect 16-0 in league play. The Eagles went 23-1 overall and return six players from last season’s roster.

Gaylord St. Mary battled Bellaire, finishing second overall last season, but just couldn’t quite pick up a victory against the Eagles. The Snowbirds also return a number of key players from last year’s squad.

Johannesburg-Lewiston had a very young squad last season; no seniors at all on the roster. The Cardinals also battled some back-court injury woes, but still gained valuable experience which should pay off this winter.

Here is a prediction of what to expect from the 2020-21 Ski Valley girls basketball season:

The contenders

Every year, entering a new season, there are a shortlist of teams expected to contend for prominence. A plethora of factors make up these predictions — returning players, incoming freshmen, other teams losing key players and overall program success.

With that being said, here are a couple of teams seemingly at the forefront of the upcoming title race:

Bellaire — Although the Eagles lost a quartet of seniors from last year’s squad, they return one of the best players in Northern Michigan. Sophomore Jacey Somers displayed athleticism and poise as a freshman last season, showcasing her ability to score in the paint or from outside.

The Eagles also return Emersyn Koepke, Noel Mann, Delaney Goodwin and Katie Decker, which should be a solid nucleus to again challenge for a conference title. If Somers takes another leap, this team could make a long postseason run.

Johannesburg-Lewiston — The Cardinals return everyone from last year’s roster; that’s always a nice place to start. Senior point guard Sydney Townsend will again lead the offense. She missed most of last season with a torn ACL, but returned to competition midway through the cross country season. Her quickness, passing and shooting could make her a breakout star in the conference this season.

Fellow senior Morgan McVannel and Tara Madej provide scoring and leadership. Madej became one of the best post players in the conference last winter. Junior Kennedy Johnson plays with energy and athleticism. She could be a key piece from the small forward position.

The Cardinals will call on sophomores Gloria House, Adelaida Gascho, Cadence Wertman and Jocelyn Tobias to provide quality minutes while they continue to gain experience. All four made positive contributions last winter and look poised for a big jump this season.

Gaylord St. Mary — Like the Cardinals, St. Mary has the added bonus of returning most of its team from last winter. The Snowbirds did lose star shooting guard Megan Grusczynski, but have plenty of talented players ready to step up.

Senior Kinzie Jeffers looks poised to contend for player of the year and all-state honors. Quick off the dribble, Jeffers excelled at getting in the paint last season, where she would either finish with a layup or kick it out to a shooter. Jeffers also showed an improvement from beyond the arc. Expect Jeffers to give opposing teams headaches all season.

Sophomore forward Ava Schultz learned on the job as a freshman last winter. She used her height and athleticism to snatch rebounds and score near the basket. Schultz also displayed a solid mid-range jumper, which could be an even bigger asset this season with Grusczynski no longer on the team.

Junior Bailey Murrell adds athleticism and elite defense, while Eliza Handley and Macey Bebble add scoring and defense. If the Snowbirds can find another outside shooter, they may be lifting a conference trophy at the end of the season.


Mancelona — The Ironmen went 10-6 in conference play, but just 1-4 out of it. If Mancelona can build on last year’s Ski Valley success, it might be able to push for a title.

Onaway — After tying Mancelona for third in the conference last winter at 10-6, Onaway has the depth and athleticism to remain in title contention.

Projected Ski Valley finish:

1. Bellaire

2. Johannesburg-Lewiston

3. Gaylord St. Mary

4. Mancelona

5. Onaway

6. Central Lake

7. Inland Lakes

8. Pellston

9. Forest Area

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Updated 3/27/21