POSEN-For the second straight year, the Posen girls basketball team will have to beat the top team in the state to keep its season alive.
A year after losing to No. 1 St. Ignace in the regional final, the Vikings have drawn another 1-2 matchup. Only this time the No. 2 Vikings are playing in their first ever Class D quarterfinal and the opponent is No. 1 Crystal Falls Forest Park (24-0).
The two teams will tip off at 7 p.m. today at Sault Ste. Marie High School.
"It was a big advantage playing against St. Ignace and now here we are again in the biggest game in Class D this year, so this is as big as it gets," Posen coach Karl Momrik said. "They've got Miss Basketball, Lexi Gussert. She's going to firing up threes, she handles the ball well and is the focal point of everything that team does."
Posen (25-0) has already held one of Class D's top players in check this season after the Vikings limited Brimley's 6-3 center Hana Vasela to nine points last Thursday. But the Vikings likely haven't seen a player of Gussert's caliber yet this season.
Gussert, a 6-1 Michigan State commit, is averaging nearly 30 points a game this season and also posts double digits for rebounding.
Class D quarterfinal at
Sault Ste. Marie
Posen vs. Crystal Falls Forest Park
7 p.m. today
How they got here
No. 1 Forest Park (24-0)
def. Watersmeet 82-38
def. Wakefield-Marenisco 66-23
def. Dollar Bay 56-21
def. Superior Central
No. 2 Posen (25-0)
def. Hillman 63-45
def. Rogers City 49-32
def. Onaway 62-36
def. Pellston 66-28
def. Brimley 56-37
Gussert has shined on the big stage before; she scored 34 points in a semifinal loss as a sophomore and has led the Trojans to their third consecutive quarterfinal appearance this season. But Gussert remains driven to helping her team win above all else.
"One thing is she's a tremendous team leader. She's concerned with the team and winning. She's trying to pad the team's stats," Forest Park coach Jeff Syrjanen said. "But she's also more physical, she's quicker, stronger and she's a better shooter."
On the flip side, Posen has 6-1 senior Korynn Hincka to counter Gussert, someone who also averages double digits in points and rebounds, has been the focal point of her team's offense for several years and is the time of game-changing player the Trojans will have to contain.
The stakes for tonight's game may be high, but the Vikings are trying to approach the contest like a normal game.
"I'm feeling good. I'm excited to play and it's a different environment," senior Austin Sharpe said. "We've never been to this kind of game before, but we've got to go in like its a regular game."
The Gussert-Hincka matchup may be the marquee showdown of the evening, but the game could ultimately come down to defense and depth. Both teams favor pressure defense and have a good deal of depth.
The Trojans have modeled this year's team on the St. Ignace team they saw last season: a well-balanced squad that keeps coming at opponents in waves of depth. Forest Park usually has nine or 10 players in its rotation for a game and its paid off for a team that favors an up-tempo offensive game.
Sharpe, Jenna Hincka and Ashley Meyers have been among those leading Posen's defensive charge and the Vikings came up big defensively last week. Posen turned in arguably its best defensive effort of the season last week to beat Brimley. The Vikings forced Brimley into tight spots, created turnovers and hounded the Bays up and down the floor.
Those three and others like Anjelica Patterson, Kayla Lenard and Cami LaTulip have given the Vikings some crucial depth and also come through with some big offensive moments. Meyers canned two triples as part of a third-quarter run against Brimley and finished with 14 points. LaTulip sank two key free throws which helped Posen pull away from the Bays.
"I've grown a lot better. Last year I wasn't as tough and I'm feeling more confident in myself," Jenna said. " It's been really fun and I think it's cool that we're 25-0 and I'm just ready for the game. It felt cool and awesome that we actually won because last year we didn't quite get that far."
Even with a lot riding on tonight, Momrik said his team won't be playing scared.
"(It's been) incredible. A lot of teams will be unbeaten and they'll try to protect a perfect season. These girls have never thought that way," Momrik said. "They've never feared losing and it's really a rare thing to find a team like that."
The winner of tonight's game will advance to a semifinal on Thursday against either Athens or Lansing Christian.
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.