THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo
This is the first year in Michigan that girls basketball is being played during the winter season like most other states.
Fall ball is no more in Michigan.
And while the change has not been completely received with positive opinions, a change in seasons has produced superb results for Bedford s girls program.
The Mules motored to their best regular season in four years, capturing the Southeastern Conference Red Division championship with a 15-1 conference record while finishing the regular season 18-2.
We returned everybody from last year, which was kind of unique, said Bedford coach Bill Ryan, who is in his fourth season in charge of the Mules. I would say we re right about where we thought we d be.
They ve managed to play their best against tougher competition all season.
The Mules, who entered the season with six seasoned seniors to lead the way, have had the kind of year that has drawn comparisons to the best team in school history the 2003 team that reached the Class A state quarterfinals.
I expected us to be really good but I was impressed that we lost only two games, said Heather Goodwin, one of three senior tri-captains. We re so well-rounded.
There are so many people that do so many different things for our team that every person is a threat offensively and defensively. We re 10 to 12 deep.
The Mules are made up of many interchangeable parts. Often, Ryan spreads the playing time equally among 10 players. It has led to a balanced attack headed by junior forward Kaylee Foster, who averages a team-leading 10 points. Amelia Davis, a junior guard, has averaged seven points and six rebounds while senior tri-captain Chelsey Labadie averages six points and three assists.
Goodwin (6 points, 8 rebounds) and senior center Jennifer Redmond (5 points, 6 rebounds) have also been steady statistical contributors in the Mules efforts.
Senior tri-captain Elizabeth Newsome and senior guard Tiara Fernandez have been instrumental with their veteran leadership.
Ryan said this year s team can be defined as a blue-collar team. There s nothing real fancy about what they do when they step on the court.
We don t have a bona fide center, he said. Our centers are 5-8 and 5-9. We ll have some people playing at the next level, but maybe not Division I.
Ryan, who was not in favor of moving the season from fall to winter, previously served as the Bedford boys coach because the two seasons were not at the same time. The change forced him to make a choice.
Ryan opted to keep his job as the girls coach.
Each of my girls came out and asked me if I d stay on as coach, Ryan said. I just couldn t go away from all of that.
Outside of a season-opening loss to Walled Lake Western and a league loss to Saline, the Mules have provided Ryan and Mules fans plenty to be excited about.
This is the best season since the Mules marched to a school-best 25-1 record in 2002-03 with a team that included Laura Hall (who played at Michigan State) and Tara Breske (Bowling Green).
Ryan s first season four years ago resulted in a 10-11 record, followed by a 13-9 campaign. A year ago, Bedford finished 18-6 and won the SEC championship with a 14-2 record, then won a district title.
This year s team closed out the regular season with 13 straight victories.
Labadie, who recently surpassed the school record of 47 3-pointers (Ali Davis) made in a season, said the Mules came into the season pretty optimistic about improving on last year.
We ve been able to build off last year s success and dominate teams from around our area to show people that we play good ball up here, Labadie said.
The Mules are also looking to become arguably the program s all-time best defensive team. The 2003 team limited its opponents to 35 points per game. This year the Mules have held the opposition to only 32 points per game.
That should become a school record if nothing bizarre happens the rest of the way, Ryan said. The dynamics of this team is we re not that loaded. We just do it with hard work and some gimmick defensive schemes.
No matter what defense the Mules apply during a game, Newsome explains all the defenses require a common denominator to make them successful.
We dig in and work hard and get on the floor for loose balls, said Newsome, a four-year letter winner who averages six points and three assists. We work harder than other teams and don t get outhustled. That s what we hang our hats on.
Along the way, the single-season record for limiting their opponents scoring per game became a team battle cry.
It wasn t one of our goals at the beginning of the season but once the coaches told us we were close to the record, we went out and got it, Newsome said.
Goodwin takes pride in the Mules defensive effort. They have beaten teams by an average of 13 points per contest.
That s really exciting because we want to leave our mark at our school for this season as the best defensive team, so it s exciting that we can do that and still score a decent amount of points, Goodwin said.
The 2003 team has served as motivation for this group of seniors, who were eighth-graders then.
When I saw what they did and how much they accomplished I knew that I wanted our team to be that good if not better than their team, Newsome said. I knew we had the ability to do it. We had the people coming up.
I think we ve accomplished a lot as a team. We ve grown together as a team a whole lot the past two years and I think we ve done really well.