By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
On the heels of a 9-4 (7-3 Oakland Activities Association Blue Division) regular season, the Oxford Wildcats girls’ basketball team traveled to Grand Blanc High School to face the host Bobcats in a Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) District No. 4 semifinal on March 24.
With Grand Blanc entering play at 10-3 (9-1 Saginaw Valley League), the Wildcats had their work cut out for them and delivered a strong first quarter before fading down the stretch, ultimately falling, 55-30.
Oxford led, 15-13, after the opening eight minutes, but the offense dried up in the second quarter, as the program did not register any points in the frame, allowing the Bobcats to take a 25-15 lead into the halftime break.
The Wildcats tallied 15 points after the half, but it was not enough to keep pace with Grand Blanc, who went on to win the district with a 47-42 victory over the Davison Cardinals on March 26 and advanced to Regional No. 1 at Herbert Henry (Midland) Dow High School, which began on March 29.
Freshman Chelsea Bishop led the Bobcats with a game-high 17 points off the bench, while senior Mackenzie “Mackie” Methner rounded out a stellar, four-year varsity career with 14 points for Oxford.
Sophomore Miranda Wyniemko registered eight and freshman Payton Richter and senior Brooke Zeiter pitched in six and two, respectively, to complete the scoring for head coach Rachel Bryer.
“Two of my starters (Richter and Zeiter) both were in foul trouble in the first half,” Bryer said of what of helped Grand Blanc pull away. “Not getting those second chance rebounding opportunities from them, and not having their defensive presence on the inside, changed our game up. Also, our shots just weren’t falling. We were getting open layup opportunities, but they just didn’t fall.”
Due to the challenges presented by the coronavirus (COVID-19), this season was unlike any other. The team did not begin play until February 9, about two months later than usual, games were canceled or rescheduled on short notice, the regular season was only about two-thirds the length of a normal campaign, and the student-athletes were required to wear masks while playing.
Despite all this, the 2020-21 season should be classified as a successful one for the Wildcats, as, even with the reduced slate of games, the program improved their win total by three over 2019-20.
“Like I told my girls, you don’t lose if you’ve done everything possible to win, and this team does exactly that,” Bryer said.
“Coronavirus or not, they stayed ready, prepared for every game, and gave their all every day in practice to improve with the little time that was given. This is the type of preparation and drive that some teams will never be able to develop, but it is instilled in our program, and it is because of these young ladies that it continues.”
The tilt with the Bobcats represented the final game in the career of seven Oxford seniors, plus team manager Madison Pileski. Methner, three-year varsity shooting guard Emma Morris, and Makenzie Brown, Jordan Hung, Charlotte McClenaghan, Payton Szymanski, and Brooke Zeiter, all of whom were two-year contributors, were responsible for a large share of the team’s success this season.
“I have known these eight seniors since middle school, and with the blink of an eye, they’re now graduating,” shared Bryer, who teaches sixth grade math at Oxford Middle School, of what this class means to her and the program.
“Still feels surreal … These girls have given so much to the program and will leave a legacy that others will have to uphold. From the dedication in the offseason, showing up and staying late, planning team gatherings, and encouraging each other to be the best they can every day, are only a few things that make this group so special. I am beyond proud of each and every one of them and thank them for making these past years so memorable.”
Taking an early look ahead to the 2021-22 season, Richter and Wyniemko figure to be two of Bryer’s leaders, as well as junior guard Kayla Casper, who projects to move into the starting lineup.
Freshman Lexy Yankee was on the team this year as a reserve guard, and fellow Class of 2024 member Braydee Elling, the top player on the junior varsity team, was called up with two games remaining in the regular season and saw her first varsity action late in the Grand Blanc game.
By Teddy Rydquist