By Keith Shelton
For The Daily News
EAST LANSING It was a season of success that bridged a generational gap for the North Central Jets.
Paul Girard Photo
North Central manager Bryson Mercier participates in pre-game introductions with Tyler Polfus at Thursday’s Class D state semifinals.
Nearly 30 years after the last North Central team to play this deep into the state tournament, this edition of the Jets equaled the achievement. A remarkable feat that brought the community and Jets alumni together.
"We had a really good following with the whole community and some people on that 1984-85 team," said head coach Adam Mercier. "They've been following us and it's nice to see that support from everyone. The future of North Central is pretty bright and I hope everyone keeps following us next year too."
The program was mired in mediocrity for a number of years before Mercier, now in his seventh season with the team, took over at his alma mater.
"I never left the program realistically when I graduated," he said. "I assisted the program for a number of years, but I think back to where we were at when I first started. There wasn't a real interest in participating in offseason drills and workouts. I think that's happening a little more often now.
"We're also getting some good genetics. With a public school, I think you'll go through peaks and valleys with the genetics you have, and right now I think we're in a nice peak because we have some second generation players coming through with a high interest in the game of basketball."
Though Wyoming had just over an hour of travel time to reach the Breslin Center, the Jets have made such a buzz in the community that they had a formidable presence that made the nearly seven-hour trip. The North Central numbers easily doubled that of Tri-Unity.
"We hadn't won a regional since 1985. Winning a regional gave us a lot of hope and brought the community together," said North Central forward Travis Vincent. "It's big to come down here to the Breslin Center and it brought a lot of cheer to the community and picked us up. It's good to have a lot more fans (than Tri-Unity)."
Mercier said "We were talking about it before the game how we wanted to represent the U.P. and we took a lot of pride in that as the week progressed. We wanted to be the U.P. representative for Class D and show teams what we got," he said. "I thought our kids did a nice job of putting it all on the floor tonight."
Mercier said even after the loss, no tears were shed in the locker room and the team, all of which will return in 2013-14, remains as hungry as ever.
"We had a good talk. It was the first end of the season speech I've given where I didn't see any tears and that says a lot about our kids. They're hungry for more," he said. "If we do the right things in the offseason, pick it up and get better, I hope our kids are right back here in the same position next year. It was a great experience for our young players against a great team. They were ranked No. 1 in the state and our kids held their own for three quarters. There was some hunger in their eyes.
"As for our community, I think they'll be hungry to come down here as well. For our community,it says a lot to come seven hours with the weather not being the greatest up near us. What a great turnout. Our kids have nothing to be ashamed of and I'm proud of their effort."
(Keith Shelton is with The Daily Press in Escanaba)