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East Lansing High School Girls Basketball Team Embracing Youth

Robert Smith
Robert Smith, head coach of the East Lansing Girls Basketball Team.

The Trojans won a lot of games and titles, doing it with a young roster.


EAST LANSING, Mich. – After falling short in the Division I Class A state championship last year, the East Lansing high school girls varsity basketball team came into the 2018-19 season with a renewed goal – give its best performance and get better as a young team. 


They won the district championship last weekend. The Trojans finished the year with a stellar 20-3 record and 11-1 regular season conference performance. The group also clinched the CAAC Blue league title for the 15th time under 17-year veteran head coach Robert Smith. 


Unfortunately, East Lansing fell at the hands of Coldwater (22-2) in the regional semifinal Monday at Caledonia. However, the season was still very successful. The most stunning thing is that there are no seniors on the Trojans roster. 


“Coach treats us as seniors because a lot of us have been on this team for a while, so we kind of know the ropes,” said junior Kalaia Hampton. “It’s just been bringing the young ones along and growing up by taking leadership and ownership of our team because it is our team.” 


East Lansing Girls Basketball
Credit Alexis Downie
Members of the East Lansing girls basketball team.

The roster consists of six juniors, three sophomores, and three freshmen. This has challenged the older group to take on the role as leaders for this year and next. 


Two of the juniors, Sanaya Gregory and Aaliyah Nye, are three-year starters. With the experience, this helps the team on the court, after following in the footsteps of a graduated, accomplished senior class. 


“Last year, we graduated the Michigan 2018 Miss Basketball winner, Jaida Hampton, and two all-state players, Aazhenii Nye and Amelia McNutt,” said Smith. “Those were three huge losses because they were four-year players. We lost a number of other seniors that were an integral part in the process of helping us get to the state championship game.” 


Great chemistry between the players has been one of the keys to its success. With the addition of new, younger members this season, the junior class has worked to have team bonding outside of practice time. Those moments are some of the players’ favorite memories.


As more wins were earned throughout the season, the goals for the team changed according to Smith. 


“Once we started playing, and we started playing well, we realized we could really be a special team,” said Smith. “We started to look at our goals more focused around winning the conference and who knows, if the stars a line right, maybe we can get back to Calvin College.” 


Calvin College in Grand Rapids served as the site for the Division I girls basketball state semifinals and finals last season and does so again this year. All games held at VanNoord Arena in the Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex.


The journey back to Calvin College is not easy and many of the teams in the tournament are ones that they had played at least once before. 


A poster was created with a picture of the team on a golden brick road that leads to Calvin College, with the motto ‘The Road to Calvin’. The poster served as a piece of motivation as they went into the post-season. 


There are always still areas of improvement, particularly after late-season losses to DeWitt and Saginaw Heritage. The losses are the first two in regular season play of the past two seasons. 


“One thing that we really need to work on is our defensive side of things, and getting the younger players to be more confident,” said Nye. 


Its ability to press and attack the basket are two areas Smith emphasized that the team does well. Other opponents have had trouble with its fast-break, adding to its quick ability to score. The team has had over 60 points in 14 of their 20 games this season. 


Smith agrees that there are still a few things he is working on as a coach with the team, to prepare for their post-season run. 


“It’s trying to figure out what strategies best fit the team, but we have a lot of kids that can play and there’s only five that are on the court at one time,” said Smith. “So, the biggest thing is going to be trying to find the right amount of time for each kid based on what they earn and what we need at the time.”


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