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Column: Cole gets my vote for Miss Basketball

Nate Thompson • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:20 PM

Abby Cole took a few steps back, got a bit of a running start and skied towards the rim, putting her spectacular wing span to good use by swatting the ball away.

No, it wasn't one of her 15 blocked shots during Grand Haven's victory in the Class A quarterfinals at Lansing Eastern High School's Don Johnson Fieldhouse — Cole was simply prying the ball loose after it became wedged between the rim and glass following a Grand Ledge shot attempt in the second half.

For a player who did so much so well in the Buccaneers' 43-35 triumph over Grand Ledge on Tuesday and throughout their perfect 26-0 season, what more can Cole do this season to impress us, the loyal fans of Grand Haven? (OK, besides a breakaway dunk).

After Tuesday's dominating performance of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 15 blocks, matching her triple-double in last season's quarterfinal thriller on the same court, I'm surprised Cole didn't drive the bus back home to Grand Haven.

I obviously can't compare Cole to other standouts across the state because my hoops channel is limited to West Michigan. And I'm not trying to stir up any controversy over the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan's selection of Freeland's Tori Jankoska as the Miss Basketball award recipient. The Falcons' star guard averaged over 30 points a game and has scored more than 2,300 points in her career. She's more than a worthy winner. 

But as far as being an elite game changer on the floor and an irreplaceable catalyst to her team's success, in my humble opinion, Cole stands out from the rest. She sure made a believer out of Grand Ledge coach David Jones, who faced another 6-foot-5 Miss Basketball finalist in the regional finals in Mattawan's Allie Havers.

"Abby Cole was the difference tonight," Jones said. "The way she dominated the middle, making it hard for us to score. She's a tough player to go against.

"I've seen some great guards and some great forwards who could do some things, but for a 6-5 center like that, a female athlete that can just jump and contend (shots) from everywhere, she just makes it so hard to get a shot near the basket. And that's what we've had a lot of success on this year."

Coaches always game plan to try to slow down opposing offensive weapons, but it's a stretch to say they have to alter their own offensive game plan because of one dominant defensive player. Cole's shot blocking ability almost requires that.

Grand Ledge tried to attack Cole all evening and hopefully get her in foul trouble with talented post players Cori Crocker, a 6-3 sophomore center, and Codie Drake, a 6-1 junior forward. Crocker did have some success, scoring on a few nice turnaround shots over Cole's extended reach. Instead of getting frustrated by allowing a couple buckets, Cole simply adjusted at the half, thanks to some fine coaching from Bucs' head coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer.

"That Crocker girl is a good player. She hit two or three in there and she knows how to create space," Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. "So I told Abby she needed to get into her, but don't jump (and draw a foul) and make her finish over the top. And she did a good job at that. I don't know if (Crocker) had many open looks in the second half."

"That was hard for me because I'm not used to lunging at players to try to get a block," Cole said. "But it repeats itself and you learn how to defend it. Coach K pulled me aside and talked to me about that at half.

"I think it worked," she added with a smile.

What's different with Cole this season is she's been asked to become the Bucs' go-to scorer, which was never the case in her two previous varsity seasons. It helps that now she's wiry and sturdy, not skinny, which is a huge difference when you're attempting to gain position on the blocks. She's obviously added a tremendous amount of strength these past three years on varsity, allowing her to bang for position and showcase her deadly drop step move that was so efficient against the Comets.

Her 10- to 12-foot jumper is still silky smooth, meaning she's as much of a threat to dictate the game offensively as she is defensively.

"Watching her before this year, it was always like, 'Wow,'" said Bucs' teammate Mallory Beswick. "But now that we're on the team together, it's just Abby being Abby. It's just something you're used to."

I don't want to say it's a shame that Cole's time in competitive basketball is winding down to minutes rather than days, because I expect her to have a stellar career on the volleyball court at the University of Michigan. But one can’t help but think what she could accomplish in the sport if she stuck with it full time.

I knew Cole was going to be special on the basketball court from the first time I saw her play. It was during her freshman season at a preseason intra-squad JV scrimmage at Grand Haven Fieldhouse. She blocked a shot on one end, picked up the loose ball, dribbled nearly the length of the court and pulled up for an easy bank shot off the glass. My jaw nearly dropped.

"Wow, this girl is going to be good," I thought to myself.

Now four years later, I've never thought otherwise.

I overheard a few people comment to Cole following Tuesday's win at how she always had a big smile on her face, even in the most stressful stretches of action. How big would that smile be if Cole was able to hoist another Class A state title on Saturday?

"(Making it back to the Breslin Center) is really special, especially because it's my senior year," she said. "Other girls may go on to college, but this is my last basketball season. So it's been an emotional season for me and I want to go all the way to end it."

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