Tournament preview: Cousino chasing Class A repeat
Warren Cousino entered the girls basketball state tournament last year under the radar, unranked and never before playing at the Breslin Center with a state championship on the line.
Cousino shocked the world — at least state girls basketball fans — by not only making it to East Lansing, but by knocking off perennial state power Detroit King in the Class A title game.
Now, Cousino enters as the favorite. That happens when you return four starters, including tournament MVP Kierra Fletcher, who enters the postseason as a Miss Basketball finalist and her college future already solidified (Georgia Tech).
Fletcher has earned everything she has, which started with her incredible showing in last year’s tournament run. She had a 37-point effort in a semifinal win over Hudsonville followed by a 27-point, eight-rebound and five-assist performance in a 67-65 state final win over King.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time because we’re not saying the goal is to get to Breslin. I feel like if we do that than we might look over a team and get upset, so we’re taking it one game at a time like last year,” Fletcher said. “I’m definitely going to enjoy it, especially since the 11 girls I’m with have become my sisters and this is the closest team I’ve been on. We’re just a family on and off the court, so it’s going to be fun.”
Fletcher, a 5-foot-9 combo guard, is averaging 22 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals. She has also displayed the ability to get to the free-throw line with 125 attempts, which is more than five a game.
Cousino enters postseason play on a 13-game win streak and an 18-2 record, including a perfect 10-0 mark in the competitive Macomb Area Conference Red Division.
“We are shooting the ball well and with confidence,” Cousino coach Mike Lee said. “I actually think we are playing better defense than we did last year at this time. I think we, one through 12, have bought in defensively this year and its showing.
“We know that target that has been on our backs all season is going to grow even bigger now that the playoffs are here. We are excited for the challenge and know having 10 returning from last year’s team is priceless. You know what it took to get there mentally, physically, emotionally but most importantly you know what it felt like last year.”
Detroit Public School League champion King (19-1) has the talent to return to Breslin, led by the backcourt of Alicia Norman and Tia Tedford.
Saginaw Heritage could make a deep run, but first it has to get out of its district with Midland Dow. The teams have split the season series, with Heritage winning, 50-47, on Jan. 17 and Dow coming out on top, 46-44, on Feb. 10.
Heritage (19-1) defeated Detroit Country Day on Feb. 18, which was unbeaten and ranked No. 19 nationally by USA Today heading into the game.
And don’t forget Hartland enters the postseason much in the same way Cousino did a year ago — under the radar.
Hartland (19-1) won the Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship and has the firepower with gritty point guard Michelle Moraitis and 3-point shooters Lexey Tobel and Graysen Cockerham. Tobel made eight 3-pointers last week in a KLAA Lakes Conference championship game win over Howell and Cockerham scored 20 in the association championship win over Wayne Memorial.
Defending champion: Warren Cousino
Contender: Detroit King
Dark horse: Hartland
Toughest district: At Saginaw Heritage with ranked Heritage and Midland Dow in the field
Final Four: Cousino over Heritage, King over Muskegon Mona Shores
Championship game: Cousino over King
Player to watch: Kierra Fletcher, Warren Cousino. A Miss Basketball candidate, Fletcher led Cousino (18-2) to the state title last year and is averaging 22 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals.
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep won the Class C state championship last year, then moved up to Class B this season and has dominated the competition.
Arbor Prep (20-0) is averaging 65 points and allowing 30 per game while playing a tough schedule, which includes wins over Class A schools Muskegon Mona Shores, Ann Arbor Huron and Flushing.
“The experience from last year has helped us understand we have a target on our back every game,” Arbor Prep coach Rod Wells said. “We return four starters from last year. They truly understand the process. Five of my seniors have been with me four years, so they understand how things go at A.P.
“Our closest game has been 10 points. Our team strength is our constant defensive pressure. We also shoot the ball pretty good. Most of our starters are shooting close to 50 percent. We have played in some tough environments this season and that will prepare us for the state tournament.”
Arbor Prep has a balanced scoring attack with Adrienne Anderson averaging 13 points, Rozhane Wells and Lasha Petree scoring 12 apiece, and Cydney Williams tallying 10 points and nine rebounds.
“Anderson and Wells’ defense is the best in the state,” Rod Wells said. “They have shut down all guards.”
While Arbor Prep is the favorite, Detroit Country Day will also be a force and the teams could meet in the final.
Country Day won the Class B state title two years ago and has the majority of its starters back from that championship team.
Country Day (19-1) is led by Miss Basketball finalist Destiny Pitts (Minnesota), who is averaging 23.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists, along with guards Kayla Webb and Jasmine Powell and post players Tylar Bennett and Maxine Moore.
And don’t look past Williamston (19-1), which has an early season win over defending state champion Marshall.
Defending champion: Marshall
Favorite: Ypsilanti Arbor Prep
Contender: Detroit Country Day
Dark horse: Williamston
Toughest district: At Midland-Bullock Creek with unbeaten Freeland and Bay City John Glenn (16-4) in the field.
Final Four: Country Day over Marshall, Arbor Prep over Freeland
Championship game: Arbor Prep over Country Day
Player to watch: Destiny Pitts, Detroit Country Day. Pitts knows what it takes to win a state title, leading Country Day to the Class B championship two years ago. She is averaging 23.4 points, 6-2. Rebounds and 3.7 assists for Country Day (19-1) with its lone blemish being a loss at Saginaw Heritage when it failed to protect a 10-point lead.
With Ypsilanti Arbor Prep up in Class B, there is no clear cut favorite to win the Class C championship but Sandusky is the next closest thing.
Sandusky is 20-0 but has to get by Reese (17-2) in the district at Sandusky. Sandusky defeated Reese, 38-23, earlier this month.
Reese has a win over Class B Bay City John Glenn and is also capable of making a long run.
And don’t forget Traverse City St. Francis and St. Ignace, two schools used to taking long trips to East Lansing to compete for the state title.
Detroit Edison is also a team that will be a tough out, giving Ypsilanti Arbor Prep a solid game before falling, 55-41, earlier this month.
Defending champion: Ypsilanti Arbor Prep
Contender: Traverse City St. Francis
Dark horse: Ithaca
Toughest district: At Sandusky with Reese and Sandusky in the field
Final Four: Sandusky over Detroit Edison, St. Francis over Centreville
Championship game: Sandusky over St. Francis
Player to watch: Kayla Belles, Ithaca. Belles, a 6-foot-3 junior, is a double-double machine and has the ability to take over a game, a reason Ithaca could play deep in the tournament.
Pittsford is the defending state champion and has its top two players back in last year’s tournament MVP Maddie Clark and Jaycie Burger.
Clark had 23 points and 10 rebounds in the championship game and has played well all season to help Pittsford to a 20-0 record.
How good is Pittsford? It has limited opponents to 15 points or fewer in 10 of its wins.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart has also been dominating opponents this season after falling to Pittsford, 48-30, in the title game last year.
Defending champion: Pittsford
Contender: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart
Dark horse: Waterford Lakes
Toughest district: At Gaylord St. Mary’s with Bellaire and St. Mary’s in the field
Final Four: Lakes over Hillman, Pittsford over Sacred Heart
Championship game: Pittsford over Lakes
Player to watch: Maddie Clark, Pittsford. Clark put on a dominating performance in last year’s state finals and has continued right where she left off to give her team a chance at repeating.