By Shane Madden
The Grand Rapids Community College women’s basketball team turned the page on their storybook season with a valiant run in the district tournament, falling just shy of a Division II National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship tournament berth.
After completing the season sweep (3-0) of Glen Oaks Community College in the quarterfinals, the Raiders moved on to the semis to face their biggest obstacle of the season, the Jackson College Jets. Having lost to them twice during the regular season, the stakes couldn’t have been higher.
“I think our kids knew that we were right there with them even in the regular season,” said GRCC head coach David Glazier. “So we came in with a lot of confidence.”
They played like it. Freshmen guards Sally Merrill and Marlene Bussler each notched a points-rebounds double-double. Merrill scored 22 with 13 rebounds, while Bussler scored 11 and grabbed 11 boards. Freshman center Grace Lodes had a quiet night offensively but was her usual self on defense, blocking seven shots and making it clear the Jets weren’t welcome in the paint.
The Raiders finally beat the Jets when it counted, blowing them out 55-34 and effectively ending their season.
The Raiders moved on to the finals to face the Muskegon Community College Jayhawks, a team they had split with during the regular season. After a high-scoring back and forth first quarter, the Raiders struggled to keep up with the Jayhawks high-octane, sharp-shooting offense. The Jayhawks doubled their points total in the third quarter and ran away with it, defeating the Raiders, 70-50.
“Muskegon has got four or five kids that can really score,” Glazier said. “If you can’t control the tempo with them, they get moving and have kids coming off screens from four or five different angles it feels like. We played well, just couldn’t get some of those shots to fall. That’s a talented team and we have nothing to hang our heads about.”
Runner-up is never the goal, but the Raiders played hard, plucked a season-long thorn from their side (Jackson), and even landed a few players on the all-tourney team with Merrill and Bussler receiving the honor.
Only one team gets to end the season on a high note, the champion, but the Raiders had a season worthy of praise. After being tested early in the season by some of the best Division II teams in the country, GRCC found themselves with a 1-5 record and a lot of work to do.
“That’s all me,” Glazier said with a chuckle, regarding the early season schedule. “I’ve always respected what (Michigan State head coach Tom) Izzo does every year. He challenges his kids early. I know what our conference is going to be like. There’s going to be four or five teams that are going to be really good. Teams that have had tough fourth quarter battles before, final four teams with sophomores that have been there and have experience. So, it was about challenging our kids early so that they have a quick understanding of what it takes to win tough games at this level.”
The Raiders responded by dominating the remainder of the season, going 19-6 and throwing down an eight-game win-streak for style points.
“Our regular season was about a group of freshmen coming together, trying to find their way, and consistently finding ways to win basketball games.” Glazier said. “That resulted in a 20-win season and these kids have nothing to be ashamed of. We all want to go on and play in the national tournament, but these kids left it all on the floor and that’s how I’m going to remember them.”