Projecting the All-UP girls Dream Team

4/1/2020 | Column | By Eden Laase
Eden.Laase@TheUpbeatSports.com

I f you’ve spent time reading Upbeat, you’ve probably noticed that I don’t tend to write columns. Bryce usually does all the opinion-related articles, but this is one that I’ve been looking forward to all season.

Despite the Coronavirus-related chaos that halted things, this was an incredible season of girls basketball. The UP was filled with talent, meaning the Dream Team is tough to select. But I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about who I would vote into the top 5 spots and discussing the options with Bryce.

Here is the rundown of who I plan to vote for, and who could also be considered, starting with my Dream Team.

Emma Anderson, junior, Menominee

18.3 points, 7 rebounds

Anderson’s selection to the Dream Team should be a no-brainer. Across the UP, there was no player more dominant or more versatile than the Menominee junior.

Since I know someone will bring it up, yes, Menominee did lose to Gladstone in the first round of district play, but that doesn’t change what Anderson did all season long.

At 6-1, Anderson obviously provides a big body in the post on offense and defense. She is such a good rim protector that Menomonee coach Lucas Chouinard told me during the season that one of his team’s biggest weaknesses was perimeter defense, in part because the girls trusted Anderson to take care of things at the rim if they got beat.

Offensively, she showcased a combination of strength and skill in the paint with plenty of post moves to score off of. And, if she missed, there is a good chance Anderson would grab her own rebound.

But the thing that made her so dominant all season was Anderson’s ability to shoot from long range.

In a win against Westwood on Dec. 19, Anderson scored 28 points on seven 3-pointers. She started the game with a four-point play, swishing a 3 and a free throw before making a back-breaking contested 3 with two minutes left in order to give Menomonee a nine-point lead.

It was just one of countless performances that should make Anderson’s spot on Dream Team indisputable. There is no other player in the UP that can dominate inside and stretch defenses like she can.

Anderson finished the season shooting 56 percent from inside the arc, 48 percent from 3, and 84 percent from the free-throw line.

Tessa Leece, senior, Westwood

12.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 3.3 steals.

Leece was one of the most dynamic players in girls basketball this season. She was named the West-PAC Player of the Year and to the defensive team. Plus, she was Dream Team last season, so giving her the nod once more makes sense. The Patriots were on their way to a regional final contest before having to turn their bus around, and Leece was a big part of their success.

One of the things that makes her stand out to me is her defensive ability. Leece is the focal point of opposing defenses due to her sharp shooting and ability to create on the dribble, but she is just as good defensively as she is on offense. She’s long and athletic, and is capable of getting in passing lanes. Westwood often put her at the top of a zone press, and her defense led to many fast-break points.

“She is long, she’s lanky and she reads the floor well,” Westwood coach Kurt Corcoran said. “She anticipates what’s going to happen. Part of the reason she is such a good defender is because she has quick hands. She is able to get deflections and get her hands on a ton of passes, which leads to steals by her other teammates.”

The argument that a player was on Dream Team last season so they should automatically get it again isn’t one I agree with. The best players deserve the spots, regardless of last year’s squad. But, Leece’s numbers are nearly identical to the 2018-19 season, where she was named Division 1-3 Player of the Year. Her team was just as successful, and she put up those numbers with even more pressure. Leece definitely earned her spot once more.

Madelyn Koski, senior, Westwood

12.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.5 steals.

Last year’s Dream Team broke precedent by giving both Leece and Koski the nod, something I anticipate should happen again this time around.

Just like Leece, Koski earned her spot once more, and her case for Dream Team doesn’t rely on last season’s accolade. From her first game to her last of the season, the Ferris State signee was a woman on a mission.

In Westwood’s season opener against Kingsford, Koski scored 23 points and dished out eight assists without even seeing the court in the fourth quarter. In a district contest against Bark River-Harris, Koski had a similar outing. She scored 20 points and ignited her team to overcome an early 10-5 first-quarter deficit.

The games in between were peppered with similar performances as the point guard commanded her team with poise and determination.

Westwood (22-2) faced a ton of high-caliber competition this year — Negaunee, Gwinn, Menominee, Gladstone, Calumet  — and Koski was the calming force in each of those contests. She knows when to push, when to bring the ball back out, and how to direct her team. A great point guard is crucial to a team’s success, and Westwood certainly had that in Koski.

Nicole Kamin, junior, Escanaba

19.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, 3 steals, 2.5 blocks

Averaging a double-double plus 2.5 blocks per game is impressive enough, but Kamin’s prowess is only increased due to her extreme athleticism. She is one of the most athletic players in the UP — boys or girls. The things she does on the court for Escanaba are unmatched. Countless times I’ve seen Kamin leap over opposing players, grab a rebound and take it coast to coast for a bucket. She defends, rebounds, scores and possesses a keen understanding of the game.

Her 19.2 points a game come against a variety of defenses, all designed to limit her scoring.

“It is tough to guard her without fouling,” Marquette’s Maddie Carter said of Kamin. “Nicole is a phenomenal player who is intense. To guard her we really have to focus on keeping our hands off and helping on defense.”

Kamin battles double teams every contest, but two aspects of her game make her nearly unguardable.

The first is her step-through. Kamin covers so much ground with her step-through and gives such a convincing head-fake that often the only way she is stopped is when a ref incorrectly calls her for a travel. No one in the UP does the move as well as she does, and since it isn’t often seen, officials aren’t used to it. If an incorrect travel isn’t called, chances are Kamin is scoring.

The second is her rebounding ability. She’s crafty and athletic, so Kamin is able to sneak around defenders and use her vertical to grab rebounds even when she gets boxed out. I really can’t say enough about her abilities, but Kamin certainly deserves a spot on Dream Team.

Hallie Marshall, junior, St. Ignace

13.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 steals

Marshall may be the hardest player to get on Dream Team. Last season she was overlooked for a First Team spot because her stats weren’t as impressive as other players. But if you watched Marshall at all, it was clear that she was a First-Team talent. Her numbers didn’t say so because of Emily Coveyou, the UP’s top girls player who averaged 23 points per game while taking on the bulk of her team’s scoring. This season, Marshall should jump from Second Team all the way to Dream Team. The fifth spot is going to be tightly contested, for good reason. Girls basketball was bursting with talent this season, and I can name four or five other girls that have strong cases to be on the Dream Team (I’ll get to that later), but I think Marshall deserves the spot for three reasons.

1) Defense. If you’ve made it this far in my column you know that defense holds a ton of weight in my picks. And Marshall is the best of the best. In fact, she is one of, if not the best perimeter defender in the UP. Her teammate, Emmalee Hart, is the only player who might be better. Marshall can stay in front of anyone. I know last season’s accomplishments don’t weigh in on this year’s voting, but to give you an idea, Marshall even locked up Bree Salenbien of Adrian Lenawee Christian in the state title game. Marshall picked her pocket multiple times. Salenbien has already received multiple Division I offers from places like Gonzaga, Michigan and Indiana. So, yeah, Marshall can defend.

2) Scoring. This is an obvious reason to pick someone for Dream Team. Marshall’s 13.3 points aren’t as impressive as other players on the ballot, but it’s her consistency, and ability to score in big situations that make her stand out. Marshall regularly scored in double digits for St. Ignace, but her best games always came against the best competition. She scored 34 points in a win over Ann Arbor Huron —  a Division 1 team that went 19-4 on the season.

3) Leadership. This isn’t something that often factors into All-UP voting, because chances are, the top players are also leaders on their teams. But Marshall’s is taken to another level when you understand the circumstances around this season’s St. Ignace team. The Saints started the season with just six players, as four girls who were expected to play significant varsity minutes were out with injury. To top it off, every injured player was a post, meaning St. Ignace battled all year long with a team of only guards. And who led the charge? Marshall, the team’s trusty point guard. She ran the offense and made up for things her team was lacking with smart execution. The Saints were poised for a state title run before the season was halted, and none of that would have been possible without Marshall.

So, those are the five players that I think deserve to be on the Dream Team, but there are several others who could easily earn a spot. Here are just a few of them:

Elise Besonen, junior, Ewen-Trout Creek

Besonen has climbed the ranks of All-UP over the last few seasons, earning Second Team honors in eighth grade and First Team as a freshman and sophomore. It would make sense for her to be named to the Dream Team this year. The junior put up great numbers (16.6 points, 3.4 steals, 2.8 assists, 2.3 rebounds per game) and commanded E-TC’s offense. She is a great scorer and facilitator. If Besonen was to be named to the Dream Team over someone like Marshall, I wouldn’t be upset about it. I think both girls are deserving.

Megan Crow, junior, Gladstone.

Crow is another player that is hard to argue against. But the thing that makes voting so difficult this season is that there are at least 10 girls who are hard to argue against, but only five spots. Crow also put up monster numbers, with 14 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.3 blocks a game. She drew double and triple teams every time she caught the ball, and her ability to pass out of the paint accounted for a huge part of Gladstone’s offense.

Emily Nelson, senior, West Iron County

Mercedes Simmons, senior, Forest Park

I’m mentioning these two together because based on skill alone, both could easily be considered for Dream Team. Nelson averaged 13.2 points, 12 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game all while nursing a twisted ankle for pretty much the entire season. Simmons posted unreal numbers this year, speaking to her abilities — 19.4 points, 14.9 rebounds, 3.6 steals, 3.1 blocks per game. But both players are hurt because of the teams they play for. WIC finished the year at 10-11, and Forest Park was 7-14. It is harder to argue for players on losing teams, no matter their talent.

Eden Laase

Co-founder
Eden is a co-founder of Upbeat. She has covered pro sports as a Sports Illustrated intern and chronicled Gonzaga’s Final Four run. Recently, she covered Michigan Tech hockey for the Daily Mining Gazette. Eden graduated from Gonzaga with a degree in journalism.

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