Revival of the Ravens: Girls basketball eyeing school history

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Royal Oak Review | Published February 20, 2024

 Royal Oak junior guard Maddie Lawrence drives past a  Bloomfield Hills defender as the two teams square off Feb. 16 at  Royal Oak High School.

Royal Oak junior guard Maddie Lawrence drives past a Bloomfield Hills defender as the two teams square off Feb. 16 at Royal Oak High School.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


ROYAL OAK — It was just a matter of time before their wings could fly.

For the past two seasons, Royal Oak High School girls basketball has been through the trials and tribulations of varsity sports that plague any school — graduating players and hitting rough patches.

In 2021, the Ravens appeared flightless and without a sense of direction, and it was due to an Oakland Activities Association Red league that swallowed the team whole.

West Bloomfield was the Division 1 state champion, Clarkston was at the top of its game, and Troy advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to West Bloomfield. Royal Oak, on the other hand, scratched and clawed to a 3-18 record.

Royal Oak was young, and as the offseason approached and the Ravens were demoted to the OAA White for 2022, the team members stayed motivated, keeping the focus on what they felt the team’s true potential could be.

“There were definitely times where morale on the team got low, but nobody ever stopped working,” senior captain Anna Waterstredt said. “That was motivating, just seeing the team not give up on the three games that we did win. That made it worth it.”

The Ravens immediately flipped the switch in 2022, finishing 13-10 and in the middle of the pack of the White, but close loss after close loss throughout the season portrayed a picture of how much more successful the season could have been.

After losing four games by one possession last year, Royal Oak has improved this season, showcasing a team that knows how to finish an opponent who is on the ropes.

“Last year was kind of a heartbreaking year, where we were in a lot of close games that we were underestimated in, and we were right there, and then we’d lose by 1 or 2 points,” senior captain Megan Haun said. “I think those close battles where we didn’t execute we used as motivation and knowledge for this year. In close games, we’ve learned to pull away and not be in those situations again.”

Currently 13-4 and second in the White by 1 1/2  games, the 2023-2024 season has brought a feeling unlike anything this group has felt before.

The Ravens are led by a veteran-heavy squad starting with Haun and Waterstredt as the captains and seniors Ceci Irwin, Emilee Austin, Emmy Walden, Riley Danaher and Kat Malinich rounding out the class of 2024.

This senior class doesn’t lead with offensive firepower; it makes its money playing a heavily defensive-minded brand of basketball, and it starts with Walden’s eagerness to check any player on the opposing team.

“She’s been the most consistent kid defensively for us,” Royal Oak head coach Brian Sopata said. “We ask her to play the center spot at 5-8, but literally anyone that is a center, and the game has changed where there’s less back-to-the-basket kids than years ago, but we’ve asked her to play against literally anyone’s biggest kid that’s their best player. She’s just been steady.”

Royal Oak’s defense is as good as anyone’s in Oakland County, holding teams to just under 33 points per game this season.

Alongside Walden in the defensive effort is Haun, a high-IQ defender who can guard multiple positions.

When the starting unit isn’t on the court, Irwin picks up right where Walden and Haun left off as an athletic spark plug off the bench.

Even if they’re not filling up the stat sheet with points each night, the seniors know their roles and they play them to perfection.

“I like to step off the court feeling successful even when I haven’t scored, knowing I had an impact on the game,” Haun said. “That’s something I can control. Sometimes you just have bad shooting nights and the ball doesn’t go in the basket, but you can always be a good defender, and you can always put your heart out on the line.”

The Ravens returned their top offensive scoring threat from last year in junior Lucy Freytag, who is the current leading scorer on the team.

Freytag was a sophomore sensation on the offensive end for Royal Oak and has only elevated her game to another level this season.

A pure scorer who is a threat from just about anywhere on the floor, Freytag credits her dedication to the game as a key factor of her shot-making ability.

“In practices, I tend to stay after and get up extra shots, working on shots I know I need to take in games, as well as watching myself on film and seeing why I’m missing these shots or ways to improve my game,” Freytag said.

Junior guard Maddie Lawrence typically is the second scoring option, but the top seven scorers seem interchangeable on a nightly basis. Whether it’s Freytag, Lawrence, Waterstredt, Haun, Walden, Austin, junior Hannah Saunders or sophomore Lydia Dickens, it can be anyone’s night at any given time. Junior Jordan Hills and freshman Vivian Lawrence have been consistent contributors as well for Royal Oak.

With their balanced attack on both ends of the court and riding the momentum of a storybook season, expect Royal Oak to be a district threat when the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 State Tournament rolls around.

Out of the four teams in Royal Oak’s district, only one currently carries a winning record so far this year.

For a school that’s never lifted a district championship trophy, and only two years removed from a three-win season, history could be on the horizon for the Ravens.

“Royal Oak girls basketball has never won a district, so adding that on really is just our chance to do something where we can see how everything we’ve done has paid off,” Waterstredt said.