GLADSTONE - A strong start set the tone for the Gladstone freshman boys, who recently completed a 9-6 basketball season.
The Braves started 4-0, a run which included victories over Marquette and Escanaba.
"We beat a couple of real strong teams in our (Great Northern) conference," said coach Clayton Castor. "We started the year with 12 kids, then two moved up to the jayvees after four games and we stumbled a little bit. But once the kids learned their new roles, everything got back on track. They responded well and it turned out to be a positive experience."
An example of Gladstone's improvement was evident in a victory over Kingsford on Feb. 7.
"We lost to Kingsford up there and beat them by 15 points when they came here," said Castor. "That really showed how far we had come. Our chemistry came back. We tried to prove to the kids they were great players and that proved we could play with anybody."
The Braves split with Esky, winning 37-36 in overtime at home on Dec. 20 and dropping a 41-39 decision at Esky Feb. 21. They finished in a 73-35 rout of Manistique.
"Both games with Escanaba could have gone either way," said Castor. "Everybody scored and contributed in our last game. That was a great way to end the year."
Gladstone was led by 6-foot-1 power forward Tanner Brown, who averaged 12 points and six rebounds a game.
"Tanner's scoring stepped up after the two guys went up to jayvees," said Castor. "He's just a hard-working kid who's a great player."
Point guard Hunter Botruff averaged six points, four assists and two steals, with backcourt mate Jack Stephenson averaging six points, three rebounds and two assists.
"The second time we played Esky, Hunter sank four 3-pointers in a row," said Castor. "He missed a game early in the season due to a broken arm and another because of the flu, but took it upon himself to do well. Jack was a consistent player who also benefitted from our two guys moving up to jayvees."
Helping inside was 5-10 center Bryce Douglas, who averaged five points and five boards.
"Bryce usually got one of the harder assignments on defense," said Castor. "He set the tone for us inside."
Sharing the fifth starting position were forwards Casey Wolf and Owen Carlson. Wolf averaged six points, a block and a steal, with Carlson at four points and a steal.
Serving in reserve roles were 6-2 center Austin Bergquist, 6-0 forward Andrew Lundberg and guards Tyson Seymour and Conner Powell.
"All of our kids worked hard and played a vital role on our team," said Castor. "We ran a half-court trap (defense) all year and mixed it up with a 2-2-1 zone. We also sometimes used a full-court press, but the trap was the most effective. We had a nice core group.
"Lorrie Botruff and Jim Gibbs worked with these kids a long time. They've shown great dedication and bring it to another level."
The jayvees won three of their last four games to finish 6-12.
"That was a real positive note to end on," said coach Dane Quigley. "We had a real good February. We talked about playing to compete and the guys didn't give up."
"We had trouble scoring at the beginning of the year, but we were able to kind of remedy that when we pulled up some freshmen. Ben Schwalbach (6-2 freshman center) and Joe Gibbs (freshman guard) helped share the scoring load. Before that, Hunter Garling (6-2 sophomore forward/center) was basically the only one scoring on a consistent basis. We did expect to win a few more games, but we competed with some teams we didn't early in the year."
Quigley believes the Braves showed a sign of things to come in a loss to Marquette on Feb. 4.
"Marquette beat us by 20 points the first time, but we gave them a run for their money at home," he said. "We put them at the line and they hit their free throws in the end.
"We also lost at Kingsford by nearly 30, then by one point at home, and Menominee beat us by 20 here and later by three at their place. We didn't have our whole team intact until January, then we had to find our identity."
What did the Braves' three leading scorers bring to this team?
"Hunter was probably our most consistent player," said Quigley. "Joe was a real nice post player and Ben was a consistent threat from outside. He had a nice jump shot and was one of our better defenders."
Jake Greenfield handled the point guard duties, with guard Elliot Danhoff and guard/forward Kyle Pouliot sharing the fifth starting position.
"Jake did a nice job running the offense," said Quigley. "Eliot had a real nice floater and could score from outside, and Kyle could do little bit of everything."
Providing quality minutes in reserve roles were guard/forward Chandler Husbye, guard Nick LaRose, forward Tyler Krause and forward/guard Drake Draze, a transfer from Bark River-Harris who became eligible in the second semester.
"Chandler was one of those kids who played with a lot of heart," said Quigley. "Nick had the potential to shoot well from outside. Tyler brought a positive attitude and got a lot of playing time when we were shorthanded at the beginning of the year. He did a lot of little things that sometimes get overlooked, and Drake was a threat from outside."