Kuzewski, Tigers ready for district opener

News File Photo Hillman’s Saige Flaugher, right, guards Atlanta’s Shaelynne Lance during a girls basketball game in Hillman in January. Flaugher and the Tigers open district play tonight in Rogers City against Johannesburg-Lewiston.

ALPENA — John Kuzewski always likes to keep his focus on the next opponent at hand.

But as his Hillman girls basketball squad kept winning games this season, Kuzewski knew he was edging closer to a career milestone that he finally reached last week.

With Hillman’s 52-40 win over Oscoda last Friday, Kuzewski earned his 200th varsity win as the Tigers’ coach.

“I knew going into this season I had 181 wins, but I’m a team-first coach,” Kuzewski said. “We were able to run the table and that’s a credit to this team. There’s no way a coach gets a milestone like that without great players, great teams, great assistant coaches and great support.”

Kuzewski’s accomplishment is just the latest feather in the cap for a Hillman team that’s having fun and keeps on winning.

The Tigers put together a 15-game winning streak to end the season, running the table in conference play to win the North Star League’s Little Dipper division, and ultimately finishing the regular season with a 19-3 record.

“They play well together and they play well together on both ends of the floor,” Kuzewski said. “It’s been a fun season. It’s fun to be the coach of this team and I think that’s evident in the way we’ve played.”

Now with district play in full swing, Hillman hopes to keep its momentum rolling in their playoff opener tonight. The Tigers play Johannesburg-Lewiston at 5:30 p.m. at Rogers City in a Division 4 district semifinal.

Kuzewski has coached his fair share of big games with Hillman, but tonight’s game will be a special one, regardless of the outcome. The Cardinals’ coach Ryan Marlatt is a longtime friend and had Kuzewski on his staff for four seasons at Atlanta once upon a time.

Friendships aside, Kuzewski believes his team matches up well against the Cardinals (17-6) as it begins its quest for a second straight district title.

“I agree Johannesburg-Lewiston is a very tough matchup,” Kuzewski said. “They’re a well coached team. Very evenly matched. Fans will be pleased with the brand of basketball they see.”

Hillman’s varsity roster has numbered just eight during the regular season with just two seniors. But the Tigers have made quick work of many opponents thanks to the experience on the roster and their chemistry.

Offensively, Hillman has four players averaging at least eight points and a multitude of scoring options.

The Tigers also have two players averaging at least five rebounds and multiple players with multiple assists and steals a game.

“As a coach, you look out there and you see coaches on the floor,” Kuzewski said.

The winner of tonight’s game faces either Rogers City (12-10) or Onaway (16-6) in Friday’s district final.

Either way, Kuzewski knows it won’t be a cakewalk. The host Hurons defeated a talented Posen team on Monday and the Cardinals held their own in a competitive Ski Valley Conference, which included two wins over Joburg.

“This time of year, every game is tough,” Kuzewski said. “You practice that. You prepare for that.”


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