Grosse Pointe Farms
South girls hoops team makes first finals appearance
March 20, 2012
EAST LANSING — Before this season, Grosse Pointe South’s girls basketball team had never won a district title. By the end of the season, they nearly had won a state title.
The Blue Devils, the co-champions of the Macomb Area Conference White Division, caught fire in the postseason, making history and a name for themselves along the way.
Unfortunately, their historic run came to a close March 17 in the MHSAA Class A state final, as Grand Haven, one of the state’s top-ranked teams the past two seasons, edged them late 54-53.
“I just hope that they enjoyed the run that we had,” South coach Kevin Richards said. “There are top coaches, top players, some of them never get to this point.”
South topped Waterford Kettering in a March 13 quarterfinal to advance to the Breslin Center on the campus of Michigan State University — host site of the state semifinals and finals.
The big stage didn’t daunt the Blue Devils, as they proceeded to knock off Ann Arbor Huron in a March 16 semifinal to meet Grand Haven in the final the following day.
And South (23-4) came out firing on all cylinders against the favored Buccaneers (27-1), taking a lead as large as 18 points late in the third quarter.
But the Blue Devils’ momentum wore off, and Grand Haven came charging back as the teams staged a thrilling back-and-forth fight to the finish, which the Buccaneers eventually won.
“What can you say, we made plays for all but right to the very end,” Richards said. “I’m proud of the girls. We had great effort.”
Although the team was mostly teary-eyed on their way out of the Breslin, they had plenty of reasons to hold their heads high as they look back on their accomplishments.
“It was quite an experience,” Richards said. “We had great senior leadership. We played some young kids, and they really took them along, and hopefully built some friendships.”
South will graduate a senior class led by starters Carmen Engel and Caitlin Moore, along with reserves Catherine Palazollo and Arielle Wilson.
Moore ended her career with the Blue Devils by recording a double-double in the final, scoring 12 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Richards said Palazollo probably played her “best game of the year,” finishing with a double-double as well, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 boards. The coach said her effort was indicative of how his team played all season and why he was so proud of them.
“She definitely laid it all out there for her last game,” he said. “She gave us a tremendous boost. We just had great effort. I thought we just outworked them for the majority of the game. That’s what got us in that position.”
While the seniors will be missed, the Blue Devils remain in pretty good position to duplicate, if not surpass, this year’s accomplishments.
South returns three starters in juniors Claire DeBoer and Christina Flom, as well as freshman Cierra Rice and key reserve Aliezza Brown. The Blue Devils might have one of the best inside-outside combinations around next year in DeBoer, a center, and Rice, a guard. DeBoer had 13 points and 10 rebounds in the final, while Rice led the team with 14 points.
“We do have the majority of our roster coming back,” Richards said. “Hopefully, we can pick up right where we left off. We’ve got to get better. We’re going to have a big target on our backs, and I look forward to that as a challenge.”
Richards noted that Grand Haven came back this year after losing a heartbreaker at Breslin, as well, falling last year in the semifinals.
“Grand Haven came back with some unfinished business, and they got the job done,” he said. “And I just hope that we’re that fortunate enough next year.”
Buccaneers coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer was impressed by the Blue Devils.
“They’re certainly a well-coached team, and they’ll be back,” Fulmer said. “They’re very young; they’re out there playing with freshman. We’re playing with seniors.
“We’ve been here before,” she continued. “I have nothing but good things to say. I anticipate seeing that team back here next year and probably years to come.”