By: Daniel Stickradt
GIRLS BASKETBALL: Saginaw Heritage remains contender in Class A
BY DAN STICKRADT
SAGINAW — The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The personal has switched slightly each year, but Saginaw Heritage is once again one of the top girls basketball programs in the state in 2016-17.
Heritage is currently ranked third in the Class A in the Jan. 24 Associated Press polls. The Hawks hit the mid-point of the season unscathed at 12-0, including 8-0 in the Saginaw Valley League North Division — one game ahead of Midland Dow.
“Every year is a little different,” said Heritage coach Yvonne DeLong, who has coaches multiple schools to success in Michigan. “Last year we had a 6-4 girl and a lot of height and depth. This year we are not as tall — we do have some decent height. And we are not as deep. But the chemistry is there. We have different girls stepping up to lead us.”
Saginaw Heritage finished as the state runner-up in 2001 and the state finals in 2002. The Hawks have enjoyed plenty of success in recent years as well.
Heritage reached the state quarterfinals in 2013 before falling to Dexter by a point (34-33). In 2014, the Hawks were upended in the district finals by Midland.
In 2015, Heritage made another lengthy run in the postseason with a third appearance in the Final Four, falling to DeWitt (44-36). Last season, the Hawks were upset in the regional finals by St. Johns (46-43).
Gone from those recent teams is Kayla Belles and her 6-foot-4 presence in the paint, as the All-State player graduated. The Hawks took another hit when 6-0 junior guard Jaya Richardson moved to the Denver, Colorado, area, last summer, which hurt Heritage’s depth.
The team has only 10 players on varsity this season with a seven-player rotation in close games. Most have been blowouts.
Sophomore Moyra Joiner, a 5-9 guard, has shown to be a game-changer, while junior Jessi Bicknell (5-9) and sophomore Mallory McCartney (5-7) are fine complements in a talented three-guard backcourt. Senior Courtney McInerney and sophomore Shine Strickland-Gills are a pair of interchangeable 6-1 post players that can rebound, score on the low block and block shots with regularity.
Off the bench, senior guard/forward Haley Breaks (5-6) and freshman point guard Lauren Reed (5-4) provide immediate depth for a very talented squad.
“One of the goals is to try to win our division in the (SVL),” said Delong. “We’re in first place right now. But we have some tough games coming up. We have another game against (Midland) Dow coming up in a few weeks and we beat them in overtime.”
Heritage is beating teams by nearly 20 points an outing this season. The Hawks are averaging 49.5 points a game, yielding just 28.3 points defensively and even has a 57-point win to their credit this season.
The only two close games came against Solon (Ohio) High (38-35) and Midland Dow (50-47), a team ranked fourth in the state.
Heritage started 8-0 in conference play, one game ahead of Midland Dow. The two shared the crown last season.
“I think if we can win our district, we can make a run,” said Delong. “But it won't be easy because our district is so tough. There are no weak teams in our district. We would likely have to beat Dow just to reach the district finals. We open with Mt. Pleasant and they are solid. Midland is in our district and they are solid. As long as we stay healthy and if we can win our district, we have the talent to go a ways. But we have to keep playing the same way we have been playing — keep working hard and stay away from injuries.”