By: Scott Keyes
Area players on tap to keep Miss Basketball in Tri-Cities
Through his 27 years of coaching at the AAU and high school levels, Midland's Mark Juengel has coached his fair share of talented players.
However, this year's senior class might just be his best.
There is the potential of sending seven, and possibly eight, alumnae of Juengel's Midland Fastbreak AAU girls basketball team on to the next level, with at least four of them signing with Division I schools.
Jess Walters, Midland High (University of Indiana); Karli Herrington, Hemlock (Central Michigan University); Lexi Gussert, Forest Park (Michigan State University); Grace Coughlin, Benilde-St. Margaret's School (University of Minnesota); and Lindsay Winter, Clare (Michigan Technological University) have all played for Juengel and Fastbreak in recent seasons.
Coughlin played for Juengel until the seventh grade before moving from Midland to Minnesota, but Walter, Herrington, Winter, and Gussert continued the amazing AAU ride until it ended last summer. However, the next phase of their careers is about to begin.
It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that the 2014 Miss Basketball winner will be a former member of Fastbreak. Alma's Maddy Seeley could also garner consideration for the honor.
"To watch either Jess, Karli, Lindsay, or Lexi win Miss Basketball would be a tremendous honor for either one of them," Juengel said. "Those girls have worked so hard to become the best players they can be. I couldn't be prouder of a great bunch of kids."
Gussert has only played for Juengel the past four seasons, but she believes it is safe to say that she wouldn't have garnered the attention on the court that she has gotten if it wasn't for Juengel and Fastbreak.
"Joining that team was the best decision of my life," Gussert said. "He [Juengel] helped me through everything from my game to contacting all the coaches. Being put on a team with such amazing athletes help me work on other aspects of my game besides scoring, such as rebounding and passing."
Juengel noted that Guessert was a quick study. "Lexi has a very strong basketball IQ," Juengel said. "When she was looking at an AAU team to play for, I was thrilled about having the opportunity to work with her. Her family dedicated themselves, driving 10 hours to come down from the U.P. for days at a time so Lexi could play. She was such a joy to coach."
On the other hand, Herrington, Winter, and Walter practically grew up on the courts with one another since the fourth grade. Each of those girls, along with Gussert, has enjoyed strong seasons thus far, and there is a possibility that Miss Basketball wouldn't be traveling too far from Freeland, the home of last year's winner Tori Jankoska. That's unless Gussert stakes claim to the honor, then a 10-hour drive north is in its sites.
Needless to say, all four girls are worthy of the an honor. Here is a look at their impressive resumes.
The Lexi Gussert File
Early in the season, Gussert eclipsed the 2,000-point mark in her career and became the upper peninsula's all-time leading scorer. As of press time, Gussert had led Forest Park to an 11-0 record and a No. 1-ranking in Class D. She has 2,209 points and is averaging 29 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists.
Gussert said it would be such an honor if any of her Fastbreak teammates wins Miss Basketball. "I would love to see Miss Basketball in any one of our hands."
"I believe we all have worked just as hard for it. Karli and Jess are amazing girls. Bringing it back to the U.P would be such an honor, and if that would be the case, good for me, I guess. I know whoever wins it will deserve it, though, and that's all I can say about that."
The Karli Herrington File
Herrington is putting up incredible numbers in the post this season for the Huskies. She is averaging close to 23 points and 16 rebounds a game for Class C No. 2-ranked Hemlock. A year ago, Herrington averaged 19 points, 15 rebounds, and 4 blocks a game and was named First Team All-State in Class C. She will be attending Central Michigan University in the fall.
She was a huge contributor in knocking off previously unbeaten Bullock Creek 46-43 earlier this season.
"Coach Juengel instilled in us the attitude of winning and losing, and sometimes your shot might not be falling, but you win and lose as a team," Herrington said. "Winning Miss Basketball would be a tremendous honor, but you wouldn't be in that position if you didn't have a strong team behind you."
The Lindsay Winter File
Lindsay Winter became Clare's all-time leading scorer earlier this year, surpassing the old mark of 1,374 points. Currently Winter is averaging close to 24 points a game while leading the Pioneers to an 11-1 record. Playing through double and triple teams most of the time, Winter uses her speed and quickness to find open shots and secure wins for her team.
Here is what she said Miss Basketball would mean to her: "Seeing Tori win Miss Basketball last year, it's so nice to see smaller schools like Freeland or Clare getting recognition now for what we are doing on the court. I would be so happy if any of us four girls would win the honor. It would be a true testament of the body of work we have all put in over time."
The Jess Walter File
In a recent victory over Bay City Central, Walter scored 22 points and went over the 1,000-point mark for her career. She became the first girl in Midland High School history to reach that mark.
Walter, who burst on the scene as a freshman, has been a driving force for the Midland program ever since. At the halfway point of the year, the Chemics were 10-1, with their only blemish coming against Powers Catholic. Walter, an Indiana University commit, is averaging 22 points a game.
"You know coach Juengel taught us so much about the ins and outs of what it takes to win as a team," Walter said. "Obviously, there is so much more than shooting the basketball. The instinct to win as a team and lose as a team is so true. It's the choices you make on the court - passes, rebounding, hustling, everything that can determine winning and losing."