GLADSTONE - Things may have begun to look a little shaky for the Gladstone jayvee boys after dropping two of their first three basketball games this season.
They bounced back in fine fashion, however, and finished 15-3.
The Braves, who opened with a 63-39 triumph over Big Bay de Noc, then bowed to Marquette (43-36) and at Escanaba (45-30).
"That was a wake-up call because these guys were coming off an undefeated season from a year ago," said coach Dane Quigley. "I was a little worried about how we were going to do. This is a team that traditionally posted a good record, but I think those losses made us re-focus. The kids just needed to adapt. They took it to heart and really went on a run."
The Braves responded with 11 straight victories before falling to Negaunee (53-40) on Feb. 12.
"Negaunee had heck of a team," said Quigley. "They have some good athletes. They're pretty stacked."
Gladstone was fortunate enough to avenge two of its losses, taking a 56-43 decision at Marquette Feb. 5 and topping Esky at home (66-62) on Feb. 22.
"Our kids wanted to show they improved," said Quigley. "For us, it was all about perseverance. Every game in our (Great Northern) conference was a battle. The kids were fighting tooth and nail to win, which is a compliment to our conference. I think this is going to be a tough conference in the future."
The Braves were led by sophomore point guard Justin Jurek.
"Justin kind of controlled the flow of the ball game," said Quigley. "Everything ran through him, including our fast break and every offensive set."
Helping in the backcourt was sophomore guard Tyler Wells.
"Tyler is very passionate about the game," said Quigley. "He was probably our best defensive player. He did the little things we needed him to do."
Playing major roles under the basket were 5-foot-11 sophomore center Axel Maddes, 6-5 center Derek Bernson, 6-3 forward Andrew Olesak and forward Jake Peterson.
"Axel is as tough as nails," said Quigley. "He was our workhorse underneath. Derek was a defensive presence in the lane and rebounded well. He had a knack for making a post move or a big bucket in some of the closer conference games. Andrew is extremely athletic. He took his lumps in the beginning. I think he realized the game was a little faster and more physical than he was used to. Jake probably had the biggest heart on the team. He was one of our smallest kids, but he didn't play that way. He tried to rally the troops when things weren't going well."
Also helping in the paint were 6-1 sophomore center Jack Carey and 5-9 forward-center Ryan Hubert.
"We refer to Jack as one of those guys who brings the team together," said Quigley. "He lightened up the mood when we needed it. Ryan has a pretty good physical build. He's a good rebounder and does a good job boxing out."
Helping at guard were sophomore Spencer Pederson and Dylan Bowie, who also played forward.
"Spencer was another scoring option off the bench," said Quigley. "He could shoot from outside and had a knack for hitting a big bucket. Dylan is also a good shooter. He knew his role and was always positive no matter what happened
"Our kids basically knew their roles coming into the season. They accepted them and excelled in their positions."
The Gladstone freshman finished 5-10 under first-year coach Clayton Castor.
"I would say the guys more than exceeded my expectations," he said. "They matured physically and mentally as the season progressed. We were definitely playing our best basketball at the end of the season and finished with a win at Manistique. We also won our first game (54-36 over Marquette), which was like a dream win."
The freshmen were led by 6-1 center Hunter Garling, who averaged 15 1/2 points and 10 rebounds.
Helping underneath were 6-0 forward Kyle Pouliot, 5-10 forward Chandler Husby and Matt Chenier, who played multiple positions.
"Hunter is a phenomenal kid and athlete who did a real nice job," said Castor. "Kyle was very consistent and always ready to play. Chandler is an extremely hard worker. We could always count on him to give it his all. Matt is real athletic and doesn't mind the contact."
The Braves also had a 6-3 center in Avery Wiltzius, who was hindered by leg problems much of the season.
"Avery was at every practice and contributed in other ways," said Castor. "He laid the groundwork for next year."
Directing the offense was point guard Jacob Greenfield, with Elliot Danhoff as his backcourt mate.
"Jacob did a real nice job getting everybody involved in our offense," said Castor. "He and Chandler really stepped up during the course of the year. I think they could see the value of hard work. Elliot played at point guard for a while, but felt more comfortable at off guard. He really flourished at that position."
Those providing quality minutes in reserve roles were 6-0 forward Adam Scheeneman, 5-8 forwards Alex Deveer and Tyler Krause and guards Mas Strasler and Nick LaRose.