Chassell falls to Lenawee Christian in Class D finals

Chassell's Meg Hokenson goes up for a layup as Lenawee Christian's Bree Salenbien defends. (Jason Juno/Ironwood Daily Globe)

GRAND RAPIDS — The tears flowed as expected — that’s what happens when high school seasons and careers end for athletes.

But with their runner-up medals around their necks,the Chassell Panthers managed to force a smile as they posed for their portrait photo before receiving the runner-up trophy Saturday at Van Noord Arena. 

The tears dried and at least a small part of them was able to take pride in completing the greatest season in school history following a 57-36 loss to Adrian Lenawee Christian in the Class D state finals. It was a memorable run as the Panthers earned their place in UP lore with a state finals appearance. 

“I think at first, the sting is always the worst part,” Chassell coach Brandi Hainault said. “Eventually, it goes away, and you realize it’s something to be proud of.”

“It’s hard to lose, but you have to realize how far we’ve come to get here,” junior Jenna Pietila added. 

Chassell (26-2) traveled 493 miles to the Calvin campus. It was a trip that came after wins over No. 3 Munising and No. 4 Gaylord St. Mary before the Panthers had the state’s full attention with a victory over traditional power No. 8 Waterford Our Lady to earn a shot at Lenawee Christian. 

And at first, it was typical Chassell: a stifling defense holding Lenawee Christian (26-1) to 2 of 8 shooting in the second quarter, while Sydney Danison and Milly Allen combined for 19 of the 23 points as the Panthers trailed by a single point at halftime. They were in this thing.

But if Chassell forced Lenawee Christian to be at its best, the Cougars were up to the challenge. Lenawee Christian converted 5 of its first 7 shots of the second half, including a 3-pointer and midrange jumper from Libby Miller to cap an 8-0 run for a 38-29 lead with 4:49 left in the third. 

It was a stark contrast from the final 5:38 of the second half when the Cougars went without a field goal. Now, they were swinging the ball around with such precision that Chassell was left disjointed in an attempt to cover shooters. 

“We just tell them that if they’re in their range, and if the time and score is correct, let it go,” Lenawee Christian coach Jamie Salenbien said. “I could sense we were getting in a rhythm. I told (assistant) coach (Randy) Porter that this is good. You could see in our body language that we were in a rhythm.” 

If a high school team is going to hit mid-range jumpers and 3s repeatedly over the course of a game, then it probably deserves to win a state title. Lenawee Christian was 3 of 6 from beyond the arc in the third quarter, with the last one coming from Bree Salenbien for a 45-32 lead. Then, Caitlin Anderson and Miller hit two more jumpers, pushing the Lenawee Christian advantage to 53-34 with 5:35 left in the game. The Cougars were too crisp and too efficient, assisting on nine of 13 made field goals in the second half while making 12 of 26 attempts. 

“It’s hard because you try to close the inside, then they started hitting outside shots,” Hainault said. “We started coming out, then our inside was open. It just seemed like we were scrambling a little bit.”

That can happen when attempting to limit the 6-2 Salenbien, who is Lenawee Christian’s leading scorer at 21 points per contest. The freshman already has Division I offers, including Minnesota and Toledo, but the Panthers made her work for hers early on. She shot just 3 of 11 in the first half while dealing with an ankle injury she suffered in the second quarter. But foul trouble to Meg Hokenson, who drew the assignment of Salenbien, altered Chassell’s defensive plans, and Salenbien took advantage to finish with 20 points and 11 rebounds.

Hokenson exited the third quarter at the 3:54 mark with four fouls after picking up three in the first half.

“(Salenbien) is a great player,” Hainault said. “We kind of let her control the second half a little bit.”

While Lenawee Christian’s offense hit tough shot after tough shot, its lengthy, athletic defense stifled a Chassell team that had not been shut down like this all postseason. The 6-2 Salenbien protected the rim, and for once, a team was able to limit Chassell’s explosive guards on the perimeter. 

The Panthers scored just 13-second-half points and were 6 of 24 from the field after the break.

“(Chassell’s) guards were fast. We said, ‘Keep them in front of you, switch screens and just work,’ “ Jamie Salenbien said. “We had to take good angles, because they can get an angle on you and you’re in trouble … All year, we try to preach the fundamentals of defense, help-side and taking good angles. The girls just put together a real good job of that scheme.” 

For the third time in four games, a slow start doomed the Panthers. Chassell had 13 turnovers in the first half, including eight in the opening quarter. But timely layups courtesy of Danison kept Chassell within a single-digit deficit, and a late flurry that included a putback by Danison and a 3 from Allen managed to trim Lenawee’s lead to 24-23 by halftime. 

“That’s when we calmed down and were like, ‘OK, we’re in this,'” Allen said. 

Danison led Chassell with 17 points and eight rebounds and Allen recorded 10 points to close out their careers. The leading senior duo is joined by Hokenson, Sophia Huhta, Rebecca Markham and Gabrielle Olson as those who finished their careers on the most accomplished team in school history.

“We battled and did what we could,” Hainault said. “Some things just didn’t go in our favor, and that’s how it goes. 

“We made it to the place that no ever girls team in Chassell has made it to. I’m losing a bunch of seniors that I’ve had for four years; for me, that’s the hardest thing. It’s not the game. It’s what comes after.”

Lenawee Christian 17 7 21 12 — 57

Chassell 12 11 9 4 — 36

LENAWEE CHRISTIAN (57): Miller 11, Dani Salenbien 10, Bree Salenbien 20, Anderson 10, Gordon 2, Lilly 4. F: 14. FT: 10-15. 3PT: Bree Salenbien 2, Dani Salenbien 2, Miller.

CHASSELL (36): Pietila 5, Huhta 2, Allen 10, Danison 17, Rautiola 2. F: 16 (Hokenson fouled out). FTs: 3-7. 3PT: Allen 2, Pietila.