Five lady Eagle cagers earn All-TVC East honors
Tom Keller lost a lot of senior talent – and height – with the 2015-16 Frankenmuth varsity girls’ basketball team graduates.
The 11th year head coach was up to the challenge, as well as the rest of the Lady Eagles who outperformed themselves on the court for 2016-17 season.
‘Muth went on to win another Tri-Valley Conference East Division title at 13-1 and compiled a 15-6 overall record. The lone real blemishes on yet another great season was the Class B District semifinal loss to Swan Valley and the program’s first TVC East loss since February 2009 to Birch Run.
FHS went on to win many nail biters, refusing to lose in the game’s final minutes
“I did not know what to expect or think and I became less confident with our pre-season scrimmages. We were so young, they had to learn to play at a varsity-level pace and those who did return to the team had new roles or needed to expand their roles,” Keller said.
Senior Lindsey Mertz was one player who had to fill in for last year’s departed “twin towers,” Bray Benner and Keri Frahm. She and fellow senior Hannah Karwat earned first-team All-Tri-Valley East honors. Sophomore Kaylee Kujat was named to the East’s second team and freshmen Brooklin Karwat and Kelynn Kujat landed on the honorable mention list.
Mertz was also on the Associated Press Class B Al-State honorable mention list and earned Michigan High School Coaches Association Academic All-State kudos. Keller was named the AP Class B Coach of the Year.
Lindsey Mertz . . . was a four-year varsity player and she scored 222 points this season. She hauled in 167 rebounds, dealt out 47 assists, and had 51 steals.
“Lindsey is one of the most accomplished, all-around athletes I’ve seen at this school in the last 15 years, being a three-sport varsity athlete for four consecutive seasons,” Keller stated.
For the last four years, he told Mertz she would have a much different role the following season. This year was much larger and more involved than ever.
“Lindsey started every game this season for us. Although she was listed as the starting forward, she played valuable minutes at point guard, shooting guard and center as the season progressed,” Keller said.
Mertz average 11 points a game, scored in double figures 13 times and had a season-high 17 points against Davison.
Hannah Karwat . . . was a third-year varsity player, averaging over eight points and nine rebounds a game as a 5-foot-4 post player. She led the team with blocks (12), rebounds (185) and steals while scoring 181 points.
“The growth that Hannah has shown since her first year on varsity as a sophomore is pretty incredible. For a girl who really just played ball because her mom really likes basketball to become the player she has become – one with multiple offensive skills and with a great awareness on the court that allows her to overcome her physical limitations,” Keller said. “She has the leadership characteristics that very few girls I’ve ever coached can match. She is a cheerleader, an encourager, a motivator, a worker and a coach on the floor.”
Three other seniors played key roles on the Lady Eagles team this season.
Sara Aldrich . . . was a second-year player who had one of the best games of the season in the first game against Bullock Creek, scoring seven points while the younger players were still getting their feet wet.
“To me, Sara is what I hope our basketball program is about. Girls that improve their skills, have a role and work their tail off to fulfill it, and learning how to become a leader in the process,” Keller pointed out.
“This year, even though her stats do not necessarily reflect it, Sara became a part of the regular rotation, contributing in various ways,” Keller added.
Kayla Kueffner . . . was a second-year varsity player who was sidelined early in the year by a powder puff football injury. She got back into the swing of things by mid-season.
“Once she did, she was a regular contributor for us, starting nearly half of the games this season and always being in the rotation of our guards,” Keller said.
Kueffner had her best game against a key opponent, Millington, scoring nine points on a trio of three-point shots. She was also crafty around the basket.
“Kayla has had a nice couple of seasons on varsity – giving us another guard in the rotation that we could always count on to play hard and compete,” Keller said.
Emily Janson . . . was a second-year varsity player and a knee injury – with a long recovery – kept her off the floor the whole season.
spite how these two seasons ended for Em, all the injuries and rehabbing she had to do, I’m really glad she was a part of our program. With the toughness and positive attitude she has had through all of this, I know she’ll battle through anything else that comes across down the road,” Keller stated.
Janson was allowed to start in the final home game against Caro. The opening tip was passed to Janson, who made a layup and then came out of the game.
𠇎ven though it was just for a few moments, you could tell on her face how meaningful it was. She kept her warm-ups off the rest of the game, hoping I was going to put her in – I almost did!” Keller exclaimed.
Two juniors were also part of the team’s success this season.
Courtney Aldrich . . . was a first-year varsity player who was brought up for district action last year.
𠇌ourtney had a little of an up and down season and she started out a little slow as a first-year -player. But she quickly figured things out – she’s really an intelligent player – and started to get more minutes in the middle of the season,” Keller said.
Keller believes Aldrich will work on her game over the summer to improve.
“When she was playing well, she did a good job of being another ballhandler on the floor and was decent at finding her teammates in position to score. She also worked hard on her outside shot, and knocked down a few threes throughout the season,” Keller added.
Shelby Schneider . . . was a first-year varsity player who spent much of the season trying to adjust to the pace of play.
“Shelby certainly didn’t get as many minutes as I know she would have liked, but did a good job knocking down the open shot when she got the chance,” Keller noted. “I loved Shelby’s attitude and desire to help the team in any way she could. 𠇊s a coach, you can’t ask any more from your bench – to work their tails off to make themselves and the girls ahead of them better, be a great teammate, supporting and encouraging the girls on the floor and be ready when called on.”
The summer months means golf practice for Schneider and she will likely be the team’s top player this fall. Keller hopes she finds time to work on her game.
“I’m hopeful she’ll make time to work on her game skills as well and look to grab a larger role on next year’s squad,” Keller commented.
Four sophomores contributed to the program, helping get those 15 wins.
Kaylee Kujat . . . was a guard who started 20 of the 21 games this season. She was the team’s third leading scorer, averaging over eight points a game and third leading rebounder from her point guard position. She also led the Lady Eagles by averaging three assists a game.
“People try to figure out how we kept things going this season, continuing to win games and the conference. Kaylee is one the biggest reasons for this. To be able to step in at the point and score, distribute, and on top of it all, be one of the top defenders this season,” Keller said.
Kujat led the team in scoring four times, including a season-high 17 points at home against Birch Run. She posted 12 points in the overtime home win against Millington.
“It will be her ability to improve her assist to turnover ratio, a huge statistic for a point guard, that will be key for growth next season and our team’s success,” Keller stated.
Claire Breinager . . . scored a season-high eight points at home against Caro.
“I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with Claire when tryouts were over – have her play another year on JV, playing a lot and growing her game, or bring her up to varsity, probably not play as much, but get used to playing with bigger kids and start to develop a better understanding of how to play basketball,” Keller explained.
In the end, Keller was really impressed with her leadership and love for her teammates, and her skill improvement as the year progressed.
“Looking at her now, it is very easy to see the improvement in Claire’s skills, as well as her understanding of the game, which is probably the more impressive part. She does not look lost on the floor . . . she understands her role as a physical screener, defender and rebounder, and is starting to figure out how to find her opportunities through these situations,” Keller said.
Madison Walter . . . spent the season trying to figure things out at the varsity level.
“I’m confident that she’s going to take what she’s learned this season and be a very different player next season. With our two senior starting forwards graduating, Maddie is certainly going to be counted on for much more next season,” the coach noted.
Keller said Walter has ambitious goals to improve her game this summer.
“Maddy is potentially the most athletic girl on this team. I really believe next year at this time, other teams are going to realize the same thing,” Keller added.
Julia King . . . is a second-year player whose season ended up a lot like last year – disappointment from a long-lasting injury.
“Julia has a ton of potential, due to her athleticism and love for the game. She loves being in the gym. She, too, is playing AAU ball this spring and summer. I know that experience will help her make up for some of the lost time she had this season,” Keller stated.
She will also be called on to fill the positions left open by Mertz and Karwat.
“She knows how important this off-season is for getting stronger and being able to play a full season next year. I still have very high hopes for Julia and completely believe that she’ll be a big contributor these next two seasons,” Keller said.
Finally, a pair of freshmen playing integral roles and were baptized by fire as ninth grade players.
Kelynn Kujat . . . was in the starting line up from day one, averaging seven-plus points and, two-and-a-half rebounds per contest and was third on the team in steals with 41.
“Kelynn had a really nice first year on the varsity, probably one of our best, if not top, perimeter shooters this season. When she was hot, she was hot. She had our two top scoring nights of the seasons, finishing with 20 points against North Branch and 22 points at Caro,” Keller said.
Kujat led the Lady Eagles with 25 made three-point shots and hit many big shots at key times.
“My favorite memory of Kelynn this season was at Birch Run. It came down to the end of the game and Kelynn looked more confident than anyone else out there. So, we ran some stuff to get her the ball and she stepped up to the line and drilled the winning free throws to close out that game,” Keller recalled.
Brooklin Karwat . . . started 13 games this season, with a season-high 10 points at Caro. She also led the team in steals five times.
𠇋rooklin had a pretty successful rookie year on varsity, despite battling a foot injury for a large part of the season,” Keller said. 𠇋rooklin showed glimpses of some really special abilities at various times through the season . . . I think we really just scratched the surface with how good Brooklin can be. Much like her sister a few years ago, she got a taste for how exciting basketball can be this season and actually liked it.”
Keller has fashioned a 197-55 record in his 11 years at the helm. He is 138-6 in the TVC East over the same time span. What made his work special this season was that he lost all five starters from last year’s squad.
Keller wishes to thank assistant coaches Missy McGovern and Rae Zink, as well as junior varsity Coach Walt Kujat and freshmen Coach Theresa Schafsnitz.