EAST LANSING - Forest Park's Lady Trojans basketball team arrived here yesterday afternoon. They hope not to leave for a couple more days.
Making their first trip to the state finals since 1995, Forest Park (21-5) takes on Athens (20-5) in a Class D semifinal tonight ay 6:50 p.m. (Central) at Michigan State's Breslin Center, with the winner playing for a state title Saturday morning.
"I really like our chances," Lady Trojans head coach Jeff Syrjanen said of tonight's matchup with Athens. "If we play our game, we should be OK."
Defense-minded Athens, located 15 miles south of Battle Creek, has allowed five postseason foes just 33 points per game.
"We've been telling the girls when they're going after a loose ball, 'Don't be like a grandma bending down and picking a flower get down on the floor and go and get it,' and they really scrapped hard tonight," Athens Coach Calvin Quist told the Battle Creek Enquirer after beating Climax-Scotts 48-34 in the regional final.
In the quarterfinals, Athens derailed Lansing Christian 31-30 as guard Payton Wood, part of a sophomore backcourt, scored a team-high seven points.
"I'm just happy we got over the hump," Quist told the Lansing State Journal. "This is the third year we've been here. It's tough competition. Lansing (Christian) is a tough team. They're well coached and they've got some good athletes and to beat them to finally to get to the Breslin, it feels great."
Forest Park has seen its share of tight ballgames this postseason, something that Syrjanen says gives his team an edge.
"I like our chances in a close game," he said. "We've been in so many. The girls don't quit. You have to have breaks of course, but when it comes down to the final seconds, I don't think we can be denied."
When the Lady Trojans left Crystal Falls earlier this week, they were told to pack for five days. After winning the quarterfinal at Sault Ste. Marie, Forest Park headed straight down state. A short practice was held this morning at a Lansing area high school. After taking in some of the earlier games and a light dinner, the focus turns their contest.
"Athens is very deliberate, very patient," Syrjanen
said. "We're going to try to push the tempo. We want to play the same style we've been playing. It's worked against some real good teams in the U.P."
Sierra Stevens, a 5-foot-5 senior forward, leads the Indians in scoring with a 10-point average. Five other players average at least five points per game.
Two of the Indians' losses came against Concord (52-42, 50-40), a Class C team ranked second in the state.
"Their win over Lansing Christian was an upset," Syrjanen said. "But when you get down to the last four teams, they're all pretty good."
Forest Park's Lexi Gussert, an all-state first-team sophomore with 571 points this season, averages 21.8 per game. Tanner Bartczak, 10.7, is next on the scoring chart, followed by Audrey Sholander, 8.2, and top reserve Kendra Campbell, 6.9.
School was cancelled at Forest Park today and tomorrow, so folks could make the trip down state. Syrjanen called the fan support on the road "amazing."
Those unable to head to the Breslin Center can watch online. The MHSAA Network and Fox Sports Detroit wil provide coverage streaming the game live at MHSAA.tv and FoxSportsDetroit.com.
Saturday's Class D, C and A finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit, with Class B live on Fox Sports Detroit Plus channels.
All postgame press conferences will be viewable online at MHSAA.tv. All finals also will be archived on MHSAA.tv
Class D state semifinals tip off tonight with Portland St. Patrick (19-6) meeting Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes (21-4) at 5 p.m.
Class D state championship tips off at 9 a.m. Saturday.