Howell senior guard Molly Deurloo forced a smile as she walked through a chorus of polite applause from family and friends Tuesday night after the Highlanders were eliminated in the Lake Orion Class A regional semifinal by the host school, 47-44
She gave her AAU teammate Maddie Ebbert, a senior guard at Lake Orion, a warm embrace. Finally she received off-season advice from Alma College assistant coach Antonio Capaldi who will coach her next season.
These were the final moments in a Howell uniform for Deurloo. But before hitting the bus for the final ride home, she laid a nugget of hope for younger former teammates. She predicted they would carry on the foundation of grit and toughness laid down by her and fellow senior Sophie Daugard.
But she went a step further. The run might be over for the seniors, but it is just beginning for the rest of the team.
“They are going to come back and win it all,” Deurloo said.
It is not that far-fetched to believe Howell can contend for a state title next year.
Sophomores Alison Farr, Kylie Pung, Audrey Martin and Rea Pennala will be a year older. Junior Lexi Le will be the grizzled senior. And freshman Gabby Piepho is likely to be the leader of the pack. The Highlanders will still be young. But oh so dangerous.
Piepho (16 points) ran the show for much of the night before Lake Orion devised a game plan to get the ball out of her hands. Deurloo helped her teammate out by bringing the ball up court and feeding Piepho at the top of the key to generate offense. Le played one of her best games on the biggest stage of the season, finishing with seven points and being a menace inside, defensively.
This run might not be over if not for early foul trouble that forced the usually aggressive Daugard to be somewhat pensive on defense. She fouled out during the final moments of a tight game and that was enough to swing the game into Lake Orion’s favor.
Lake Orion (20-5) has the tall task of playing defending Class A champion West Bloomfield (23-2) which is riding a 20-game winning streak and popped Lake Orion by 40 points twice in league play.
Howell coach Tim Olszewski asked under classmen if they were satisfied with the season or did they want more. It was the same question he asked Caitlyn Rayl, Deurloo and Daugard after losing to Hartland in the district finals for a fifth year in a row last season.
The young Highlanders said they want more, which means after a short rest the team will begin the task of working toward that goal.
“The hard work and the dedication begins now,” Olszewski said. “We got young talent here and I think we will be back challenging.”