A team built to win is now a team ranked among the top 10.
The only thing able to stop a veteran Mendon’s girls basketball squad, which is undefeated in Class C and now tabbed No. 10 in the Associated Press poll, has been a polar vortex.
“Everybody is in the same boat, at least in this part of the state,” said coach Leasa Griffith, whose players have wrestled with a severe case of cabin fever. “We text back and forth and they tend to talk to each other quite a bit. I’ll even say to run up and down your stairs so many times or get that workout video out. Jenna [Griffith] was telling me she was doing a workout the other day just to make sure she didn’t lose anything. That’s what they’re afraid of — getting out of shape. We’ve only played nine games.”
Two of those were victories over state-ranked teams in Class D. The Hornets topped No. 7 Athens by nine points on Jan. 13 and crushed No. 10 Lake Michigan Catholic (38-19) on Jan. 21.
Up to that point, Griffith said, Mendon’s schedule wasn’t exactly murder’s row, which is why she wasn’t surprised to go unranked late into January.
“Sometimes it goes by strength of schedule, and at the beginning of the season we weren’t really playing anyone that anyone would take notice of necessarily,” she said. “Then we played Athens and Lake Michigan Catholic, who were both ranked, and I think that’s why now we’re starting to get some attention.”
However, this is a program very aware that rankings don’t mean much. Mendon finished last season 19-2 after losing to Athens in the district semifinals. The Hornets were ranked No. 7 at the time.
“It’s a nice feeling; past seasons for both volleyball and basketball we have been ranked pretty early,” said senior forward Alexis Russell, who is averaging 7.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. “It’s something we try to keep in the back of our heads. It’s been proven anyone can beat anybody, so that’s always something to remember.”
Added Grace Leighton: “It’s a great feeling. Our team has worked hard together, and we have been able to play together for years, so it’s always nice to be acknowledged as a hard working team.”
With four All-St. Joseph Valley League players back this year in seniors Russell, Jenna Griffith, Leighton and Brooke Howard, who was also named to the Class D All-State team last season, Mendon entered this winter with major expectations.
In order to accomplish such lofty goals, Coach Griffith knew there were a few areas that needed polishing. The Hornets are glimmering on defense, allowing just 22.7 points per game.
Offensively, Griffith would like to see a couple more players pull the trigger. Howard, who said she’s been running around the house while doing chores to stay in shape while off from school, is averaging 20 points per game, including a ridiculous 90-percent shooting (44 for 49) at the foul line and a 56-percent make rate inside the 3-point arc. She’s also made 8 of 20 triples (40 percent).
Jenna Griffith is scoring 7.3 points per game to go along with 4.3 assists and five steals each outing. Leighton is averaging 7.3 points.
“We’ve all maybe taken baby steps,” Leasa Griffith said. “There is certainly room for improvement; we all know it. It would be nice to have some more girls scoring so it would open some things up. If another team feels they can focus just on one girl to stop us, then you’re in trouble. That’s why it’s a basketball team.
“You have to have your role players, but when you’re open, it’s going to help everyone else if you take that shot.”
Getting back on the court is the next step.
“It has seemed like forever,” Leighton said.