ESCANABA - There were plenty of question marks surrounding the Big Bay de Noc and Rapid River jayvee girls prior to this basketball season.
Big Bay had just one returner from a year ago, and low numbers made fielding a team seem doubtful for a while at Rapid River.
Big Bay, comprised mainly of freshmen and eighth-graders, finished 5-14.
"We were inexperienced for the most part, but in the second half of the season we were very competitive," said Big Bay coach Mike Lang. "Early in the season, it was a struggle for us to score 25 points. Then, we started pressing more and it sparked us a little. We averaged more than 40 points a game in the second half of the season."
Rapid River, which finished with eight players, was 3-17.
"It took a little while for us to develop team chemistry," said Rockets' coach Jennifer King. "A week before the season, we didn't know if we'd have a team. The most challenging part was getting kids interested in playing, although we picked up a few kids at the last minute. Some of the girls had never played before. But once we started, they all wanted to play."
Lang says Big Bay's three-point victory over Engadine in late January was little bit of a turning point.
"We had good balance in that game," he added. "That's one thing for us that was promising. Our scoring was pretty balanced."
A 59-41 triumph over North Central (on Jan. 14) was also a highlight, according to Lang.
"That's when the girls started reacting more than thinking," he said. "Everything became more second nature. That's when the light bulb came on."
Sophomore guard Ilana Cooper was the lone returner, with 5-foot-9 sophomore Brianna Martinez the inside leader.
"Ilana really came on at the end of the season and Brianna played good defense and rebounded pretty well," said Lang.
Freshman guards Ariel Cousineau and Marissa Rochefort played jayvee ball for 12 games until moving up to varsity.
"Their ballhandling improved quite a bit during the season," said Lang. "They showed lot of hustle and enthusiasm. Ariel played tough defense and distributed the ball well, and Marissa was very aggressive. After they went up to varsity, we still had a good group of freshmen and eighth-graders remaining. We played man-to-man all year and became pretty aggressive by the end of the year. We also cut back quite a bit on turnovers. It was a case of brushing up on the fundamentals. There's potential for a quality team to develop, if the girls put the time in during the off-season."
Remaining freshmen were 5-7 forward-center Halle Potvin, a transfer from Manistique who averaged more than six points, 5-7 center Caitlin Sefcik and forward-guard Brianne Halvorson.
"Halle was a good rebounder and had a decent shot," said Lang. "Caitlin was probably our best defensive player. She was also a pretty good scorer at times. Brianne did very well off the bench. Once she learned a spot, she didn't have to be reminded what to do."
Also providing help were 5-7 forward Lexi Mercier and guards Brooke Dalgord, Maddie McPhee and Kaitlin Halvorson, all of whom were eighth-graders.
Megan Evans, a 5-7 sophomore, and point guard Dominque Pavlat were Rapid River's leaders.
"Megan is a real versatile player who likes to play big in the post," said King. "We made some personal goals for Dominique, who grew as a player. She was definitely solid on defense and a very go-to player."
Evans averaged 10.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals, with Pavlat averaging 6.8 points, 6. 2 boards, 4.1 steals and 1.1 assists.
Brittany McNally, a 5-9 sophomore forward, averaged 9 1/2 rebounds and nearly two blocks, with 5-9 junior forward Lily Johnson averaging 4.7 boards.
"When Brittany figured out rebounds were fun to get, she started coming around and developed into a nice inside player," said King. "Lily wanted to learn the game, which made her a pleasure to coach. Anything we asked her to do, she wanted to do."
Freshman back-up point guard Ashlynn Pryal, who averaged 2.3 steals, pounced on a loose ball in the final two seconds on Jan. 10 to preserve a 31-28 triumph over Big Bay.
Rapid River's ranks were thinned a few times during the season as freshman Adrianna Breault sprained an ankle in a loss at Forest Park on Jan. 23 and didn't play as much in the second half of the season. Freshman guard Alexandra Viau then suffered a concussion in a 69-24 loss to the Trojans Feb. 11.
Also, freshman forward/guard Carolyn Hamill became an outside threat.
"Carolyn loved to shoot the 3-pointers and sometimes sparked the team," said King. "Ashlynn became comfortable enough at point guard to enjoy it. Adrianna averaged nearly an assist and a steal per game, which are pretty good numbers for not playing a lot. She also did a nice job boxing out, and Carolyn was another one who loved to play defense."
The Rockets also posted a 38-20 victory at North Central on Feb. 14, despite having just five available players, and beat Engadine 45-37 at home four nights later.
"Every week we figured out what we needed to work on," said King. "Our rebounding definitely improved, and the girls gained confidence in their shooting. Ball-handling was an issue early in the season, but the kids gradually got more comfortable. I'm just happy it happened for them."