LAKE LEELANAU — When Lake Leelanau St. Mary faces once-beaten Frankfort — the third-ranked Class D girls basketball team in the state — in Tuesday’s regional at Buckley, the odds would appear to be stacked pretty highly against the Eagles.
Then again, St. Mary has been overcoming huge hurdles all season to get to this point.
Consider that the Eagles are playing in the regional in a season where they didn’t have their coach until two weeks before the season began, watched as a teammate’s mother was diagnosed with bone cancer in December, and saw the school’s athletic director Bill Hendry die of a sudden heart attack in January.
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster,” said senior Megan Popp. “It’s been our most challenging year with everything that’s happened. We keep fighting back and I think we’re doing pretty well.”
The Eagles bring a 12-9 record into their match up with Frankfort, after a 2-4 start. They defeated Leland and Suttons Bay on the way to capturing the district crown, which followed a Cherryland Conference championship.
“It’s coming together at the right time,” said head coach Pete Finch, who took over as the team’s coach two weeks before practice started after the old coach, Paula Korson, resigned to focus on her full-time job. “The girls listen and they integrate. I said, ‘we will be playing our best basketball at the end of February,’ and that’s what our plan was. We appreciate what it took to get here. Great team chemistry, great togetherness, great respect for each others’ abilities. I think that’s what helped us get it all together. I don’t want to discount the faith. There’s a lot of prayers that go on, a lot of meditation — quiet time that the girls appreciate. This year is the kind of thing that makes them appreciate their faith.”