OSCODA – It is safe to say that Monday, March 22 day that was a day that Oscoda girls basketball head coach Mark Toppi wishes would have never happened. After finishing the regular season with a 17-1 record, their third straight North Star League Big Dipper championship and even dipping into the division three top-10 rankings at times, the Owls had high hopes to add a third straight district title to the mix. While they were heavy favorites to do just that, those thoughts came to a screeching halt when the school’s administration announced it was pulling the team from the post-season due to COVID-19 complications.
“I got a call Monday, early afternoon from our athletic director Mike Buchinger,” Toppi said. “He told us that we were done for the year, that the girls had to quarantine and that we were out of the tournament. It was pretty shocking.”
The Owls didn’t just win this season, they won often times in convincing fashion, with only two victories coming by less than 10 points. Every other victory came by at least 20 points, with their lone loss coming at the hands of John Glenn, a team ranked in the top-10 in division two.
“I am happy, everyone thought we were going to take a big fall because of not having our all-time leading scorer and rebounder (Lauren Langley),” Toppi said. “We started working on changing our style last year in practice, but on one really noticed that. We actually took more threes than we did twos this season and that is kind of odd for a team in this area.”
The new playing style certainly paid dividends for the team. The Owls sent through an impressive 170 three pointers this winter, ranking them in the top 20 for any girls team in a single season. Oscoda had numerous games where they hit double digits in three pointers and twice hit 15 shots from three point land in a single game; and all this in just 18 contests.
“That’s pretty impressive,” Toppi said. “They bought into it and we were working on our shooting a lot and we also wanted to be good on defense in case our threes were off. We were either taking it to the rim or taking a three. Our first goal was to win the league and we did that easily.”
The Lady Owls were driven by senior standouts Macy Kellstrom and Izzy Hulverson this winter. Kellstrom, who finished with 905 career points, hit a school record 55 three pointers this season and averaged 17.7 points per game, 6.8 assists, six rebounds and 3.7 steals. Hulverson had 12.6 points per game, 9.2 rebounds and 2.6 steals.
“They were huge for the program, they were both brought up as freshmen and they finished with 72 career wins,” Toppi said. “They were both captains this year and both great leaders for our younger girls. They were tough and they worked so hard in practice and they always made big shots in big games; I was super proud of both of them. I was bummed they didn’t get to finish out with another district championship. They will be missed.”
Owl fans should take comfort in the fact that the cupboard will be anything but bare in future seasons. They’ll return five members from this year’s squad to the fold next winter and will add in several players from this years’ JV team that only lost one game. Toppi also noted that the talent level at the junior high level is brimming as well.
“I think we are going to keep getting better and better and some of our best teams are one, two or three years away,” he said. “We have a lot of girls with a lot of varsity experience in Jessica Montgomery, Megan Myles and Olivia Toppi. Mia Whipkey and Kaylin Griggs got a lot of experience this year too. We will just have to spread around the shot attempts, I think we will still score in the top 60’s; we have really good players that can fill those roles.”
While last off-season was anything but ordinary with the COVID-19 pandemic changing the athletic landscape, the coach is crossing his fingers that things return to normal, or at least near normal, somewhat soon.
“We are hoping that we can have a summer season, we have a lot planned and already signed up for a camp and we want to have a lot of open gyms,” Toppi said. “We have a lot of talent coming up and we want to make our schedule as tough as we possibly can next year and get some good non-conference games.”
As excited as Toppi is to get to the off-season and as firmly as he believes that the next few years could be even better, the pain of not getting to finish this season out will linger for quite some time.
“Our next goal was to win districts, and there is no doubt in my mind that we would have done that,” he said. “Then, we thought we had a really good chance at beating St. Ignace (in the regional semi-finals). We had been working on them for the last week and a half in practice, getting ready for that; but we’ll never get to play it.”