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Fruitport Calvary girls basketball team ready to cement elite status

Josh VanDyke • Dec 7, 2018 at 12:48 AM

The Fruitport Calvary Christian girls basketball program has been one of the most consistently successful programs in the local area over the course of the past decade.

The Eagles have won at least 19 games per season dating back to the 2011-12 campaign, compiling a 140-20 overall record during that span. More impressively, the majority of those wins have come against Class B and C schools, while Fruitport Calvary finds enough athletes out of their 60-student enrollment at the Class D level to field a powerhouse program on the basketball court.

After finishing 20-4 last season, including an undefeated Alliance League run (their sixth straight), a district championship (sixth in seven seasons) and a Sweet 16 appearance (fifth time in six seasons), the Eagles are hungry for more.

A regional championship has eluded the small-school dynasty during their rise to power, but that could change this year, as the team returns all five starters from last season.

"This is probably the best team chemistry around a team that I've seen in my time coaching," said Fruitport Calvary head coach Brad Richards. "People always talk about our two 6-foot juniors, Kelsey Richards and Lizzie Cammenga, but our three seniors — Emily Wesner, Kristina Warren, and Brionna Johnson — are an amazing trio who are fierce competitors.

"All five of these girls were voted all-conference last year. We are also really happy to have freshman Cate Anhalt, sophomore Kyra Hamilton, and eighth-grader (MHSAA Class D exception) McKena Wilson, joining us this season. All three have very bright futures on the basketball court. We're small in numbers and praying for no injuries, but the players we do have our coaches are happy to go to war with against anyone."

KEY PLAYERS

Junior wing Kelsey Richards leads the way for the Eagles, as the do-it-all standout averaged 26 points, nine rebounds and four assists per game last season, on her way to a first team All-State selection.

Cammenga, a junior forward, serves as another scoring threat for the Eagles. The 6-foot post player averaged 13 points, six rebounds and two steals per game last winter. Brionna Johnson, a senior center, is the defensive anchor for the squad, averaging 15 rebounds and four steals per game.

That trio of frontcourt players, mixed with the veteran backcourt of senior guards Kristina Warren and Emily Wesner, give the Eagles enough balance to be a difficult team to gameplan for.

"This year, we're going to make you pay for double and triple-teaming Kelsey," said Richards of his team's attack. "If you leave Emily open, she can knock down some outside shots. Kristina can drive the lane and cause problems there, and Lizzie and Brionna are both very active on the boards, so they'll have no problems in the paint.

"Every girl on our roster has put in the time at practice and during the offseason to get better. That's important, because we only have eight girls on the roster. My biggest concern is injuries. We are thin in numbers, so one injury can really put us in a tight spot. If we can stay injury free, however, we have a chance to do a lot of special things this season. I truly believe that."

One of the difficulties of being a successful small-school program is scheduling non-conference opponents. With the expectations sky high for the Eagles, not many teams are as willing as they used to be to pencil the Class D powerhouse in on their schedules.

"We're thankful for the teams that do want to play us, because most bigger schools want nothing to do with us at this point," said Richards. "It was a struggle at times to get a lot of Class B schools to schedule us a few years ago, but now it's almost impossible. It's a shame, because we just want to compete and get better."

One of those bigger schools, Mason County Central, handed the Eagles a season-opening loss Tuesday (47-43). The Class B Spartans extended their win streak over Fruitport Calvary to three games, in a game Richards believes will galvanize his group.

"We had an awful first half in that game, but then we fought our way back into it and had three separate attempts to win or tie the game in the last few minutes of play. That's a team that made it to the Class B regional finals last year, so that's about as tough as a test as you can ask for in the season opener.

"We got bullied a little bit in the first half, but we showed a lot of character in the second half. We need to do a little bit of a better job of passing the ball with precision and anticipating passes and being aware of what the opponent is doing on defense. If we can clean that up, I really like where we are at."

KEY GAMES

The Eagles' 42-game winning streak in the Alliance League will be tested this season with teams like Grand River Prep and Holland Black River returning enough talent to be contenders in the league race.

Non-conference clashes with Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, Western Michigan Christian and Fruitport are also marquee games on the Fruitport Calvary schedule.

"Grand River Prep has 600 kids at their school, they have a solid program and they are a really good team this year. I expect them to be in the mix in the conference race and that game is always competitive for us. Holland Black River has turned into a little bit of a rivalry lately. Those games are always tough and physical, and they throw everything they've got at us.

"We hate losing, and this is a group of girls that are going to compete to the bitter end and leave it all out on the court. They play for each other, for their coaches and for their community, and I know they're a motivated group. We feel blessed to have this opportunity, and we're excited to keep this thing going."

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