A year to remember
CARNEY — The 2021 basketball season will be remembered for years to come at Carney-Nadeau school.
After waiting three months to hit the court, the boys and the girls of the Wolves fought through the challenges of a brutal schedule, COVID-19 restrictions and the constant looming of uncertainty surrounding it, to bring district and regional trophies back to Carney.
“First of all, we felt pretty great about just being able to play,” said Carney-Nadeau Athletic Director and boys’ basketball coach Paul Polfus. “When we went about starting out putting our schedule together, we just decided that we were going to try to play as many as possible.”
As the teams made it further into the season — and eventually postseason — the excitement could be felt through the school, Polfus said.
“As the season went on with the girls being successful throughout the year and the boys sort of being up and down, once we got to the tournament part of it the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and even Friday for those three weeks was incredible really,” he said. “Every day, we were going someplace, and spirits were high in school. School pride was up. It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal.”
As the boys’ coach and athletic director, Polfus made sure not to get lost in the moment.
“I think I made it up in my mind that I was just going to sit back and enjoy as much as I could, and I did,” he said. “I wasn’t going to get all stressed out. I was just going to go along for the ride, so to speak, and try to do my job the best I could.”
Polfus credited the administrators at Carney for the work they did with travel arrangements, among other things, throughout the season.
On the girls’ side of things, the Wolves finished the regular season undefeated at 17-0. Overall, they were 22-1, with their sole loss coming against eventual state champions Fowler in an MHSAA state semifinal at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids.
“Having an undefeated season was pretty special, and sweeping our rivals is always good,” girls’ coach Ken Linder said. “Just how we came together as a team throughout the year … I thought we were at our best going into tournament time.
“At the beginning of the year, I thought we were going to be a pretty good team. We lost some pretty good seniors but we had some good juniors coming in and we added Chloe Grand — who came in as a foreign exchange student — so, she added quite a bit to our team.”
Linder thought a district title was within reach when the season started but was unsure of where things could potentially go after that.
“I thought we could repeat as district champions, but I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying (we would be) getting to the final four,” he said. “At the end of the season, I couldn’t have been more happy with the way we went. We lost to a really good Fowler team, and they showed it in the state championship game … they were just a fantastic ball club.”
Leading the Wolves in scoring this year was Tessa Wagner whose accolades this year include Division 4 All-U.P. First Team and Division 4 All-State First Team. She averaged 23.3 points per game, 17.9 rebounds per game and 5.3 blocks per game.
In addition to that, she also hit the 1,000 point mark on her career against Munising in a regional quarterfinal.
“That was a great accomplishment for her, and she deserves it,” said Linder. “She works really hard. I think she had 490 points this year. So, I’m hoping she can get to 1,500 by next year.”
Taylor Kedsch (10.6 ppg) was also a big part of the Wolves’ success late in the year with a solid 3-point shooting that complimented Wagner’s inside attack.
Kedsch was named to the second team All-U.P. while Wolves’ seniors Chloe Grand and Haley Ernest and sophomore Shae Linder received honorable mentions.
It had been 20 years since the Wolves had gone downstate to represent their school. Linder said the opportunity was special.
“At the end of the year, it became one of our goals,” he said. “I think it had been since 2004 since we had won a regional, and we wanted to break that streak of not winning a regional and, of course, get into the final four.
“It was very rewarding, and I couldn’t be more proud of our girls.”
For the Carney-Nadeau boys, it was the first time since 2012 that the Wolves won a regional title.
One of the kids watching that team was a young Beau Koffman who said watching Wade Schetter – a member of the 2012 team – hit 1,000 points inspired him to reach the same goal.
Koffman (21.2 ppg, 4.5 assists per game, 5.2 assists per game and 2.1 steals) achieved that and much more, fittingly, in the first year the Wolves won a regional title since. He was named Skyline Central Conference MVP, earned second team honors for both All-U.P. and All-State and has signed to play college ball at Calvin University next year.
Surrounding Koffman, though, was a team of role players who supported each other through thick and thin.
“Somebody made a comment to me at one point and said it was so nice to see the kids on the bench standing up and cheering for the kids that are out there playing and that you don’t always see that. And that’s really true. This team was really one that worked pretty hard at picking each other up and doing the little things that they could control,” said Polfus. “They didn’t all buy into just, ‘I have to score points’ or so on. A kid like (Michael) Flanagan, Tim Hodson or Brayden Kakuk, it was their job just to play hard, and it paid off for them. Our thing was that you need to have faith in yourself for the 32 minutes that you play. You have to be able to control the things you can control.”
After defeating Bessemer in the regional final, the Wolves season came to an end against Rudyard in a state quarterfinal.
While the school has always had great support from its community, according to Polfus, this year was a bit different.
“They all came out,” he said. “With social media being out there, now, every day was different postings and so on about good luck. You see people around town, and everyone was saying, ‘great job and good luck’ or ‘we’re proud of you.’ There was a lot of community pride and school pride that went into the whole thing.
“For the boys and girls to be doing it at the same time made it even more special.”