Five in a row. Beaverton won its fifth straight District title when they defeated Houghton Lake last week. To some it may feel like “old hat,” but don’t tell the Beavers that. They lost five key players from last year’s Final Four squad leaving several big holes to fill.
There was definitely a lot of uncertainty going into the season, we knew that we had a lot of talent we just didn’t know how the positions were going to shake out,” said Coach Steve Evans. “We had a lot of questions.” As the season progressed many of those questions were answered. Not only did they win another District championship, Beaverton also won its third straight jack Pine Conference championship.
“We really just wanted to be within a game of somebody in the second half of the conference season so we controlled our own destiny,” continued Evans. “We ended up going undefeated. We won two close matches with Gladwin that could have gone either way.” At times the Beavers make it look easy, but even with three straight undefeated conference seasons and back-to-back trips to the Final Four they never forget where they started and how hard they worked along the way.
“To win a fifth straight District title was kind of surreal. As I read about other teams that were winning their first district ever or teams that haven’t been there for years it reminded me of when we couldn’t win a district match,” said Evans. “The we got to a District final and couldn’t win the championship. It was so special when we finally got over that hurdle.”
Evans doesn’t take any win for granted. He can still remember when his team won their first conference match. It was in Roscommon at the site of their last District championship last week. That coincidence wasn’t lost on the coaching staff and caused them to reminisce about how far they have come over the years. Their first District championship was won in their own gym against Coleman. It was very special he said, and you don’t want to ever forget how special it was because it is so hard to do. Even after five in a row you realize how many things have to go your way to get it done.
High school teams have holes to fill every season, but most aren’t as big as those the Beavers had following last season. They lost two All State selections in Molly Gerow and Mady Pahl along with key contributors Becca Wirt, Logan Mathews and Rayne Myers. Luckily for Beaverton they returned a core group of players that knows what it takes to get to the top. I got a chance to talk to three of their seniors, Hannah Stearns, Alexis Grove and Sawyer Gerow as they prepared to face Tawas in the first round of the Regional tournament. All three sound like they would make great coaches someday. They have an intimate knowledge of what the coaching staff expects, team culture, and how to pass it along to their younger teammates. All three feel that team culture is the key to their success.
“Our culture was passed down to us from previous players,” said Stearns. We really like to work as a team and include everyone. We make sure that everyone knows that they are important and has a job to do. Everyone values their job so they get it done.”
Grove mentioned that the coaches make sure we focus on one game at a time. “We never look ahead, we take care of that one game and do everything we can to win it. That helps keep us going.”
“We set clear expectations at the beginning of the year and we don’t change them,” added Gerow. “We make sure everyone knows we have expectations. Everyone meets those expectations, they actually go above and beyond what is expected.”
Evans and his staff, Karrie Mungin along with former players Macy Jerome and Molly Gerow also stress the importance of team culture everyday. They may not talk about it but as Gerow said the expectation is there. All of their players buy into it, which allows Beaverton to replace key players and still remain on top. “Our culture is healthy and our commitment level is high,” said Evans. “The girls know how hard they have worked to get here and what it is like to extend the season and take that bus ride home with a trophy.”
“Our girls give us everything they have everyday,” continued Evans. “Its up to us as coaches to recognize their talents and get them to trust us so we can push them through the comfortable level to the hard work level that lets us reach our goals. Being able to help them maximize their potential as individuals is our most important job.”
Obviously Beaverton has been very successful at doing that and again it goes back to the culture. Everyone knows their role even if they aren’t playing much this year. They are practicing against one of the best teams in the area, which will have them ready for next year. “After doing that everyday for three months you will be surprised how ready you are next season when it is your turn,” said Evans. “We are always pushing our younger players to get better.”
Gerow echoed those sentiments even though she had not heard my conversation with Evans. She said, “we have a lot more diversity this season. We have had to use a lot more players because we have so many different offenses. There were in a lot of dogfights this season in the Jack Pine and those tough games made us stronger because we play together.”
With the season going into the home stretch all three girls are confident and excited for the Regional portion of the tournament. “I think being in the longer sets this season is going to prepare us to be more mentally strong in the playoffs. When more is on the line, we focus on the game rather than what will happen if we lose, we have already been through the long sets so we know what is coming,” said Stearns.
“I feel like we are super prepared,” added Grove. “We have been to the final four in the last two years, so have many of the other girls on the team.” Faith Danielak and Leiyah Mungin played keys roles last season. “Even if someone didn’t play last season they were there, and they know the atmosphere. Everyone works so hard because they want to go back.”
The competition is tougher from here on out, but Evans isn’t worried about his girl’s mindset. Everyone that the Beavers play going forward will be ranked, but the Beavers have something that rankings alone can’t provide. Experience on the sports biggest stage can’t be discounted. “Mentally, this team is very strong’,” concluded Evans. “No matter where we are in the playoffs we won’t be rattled. We may have some ups and downs, but we won’t be scared or nervous. If someone wants to beat us they will have to take us out, they are going to have to take us out.”
Beaverton played Tawas last night after this week’s edition went to the printer. If they beat Tawas the Beavers will play the winner of the McBain/Sanford Meridian match in Houghton Lake on Thursday evening.