When the horn sounded after the final game of the 2020-21 season, it also ended a difficult, challenging season for the Schoolcraft College women’s basketball team. The Ocelots finished 4-10 overall and just 1-6 in the Michigan Community Colleges Athletic Association (MCCAA).
One year later, the Ocelots are the champions of the Eastern Division of the MCCAA, sport an 18-6 record (13-3 in conference) and will take on Oakland Community College at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the semifinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Great Lakes District B tournament. The winner advances to Saturday night’s championship game, with the champion advancing to the NJCAA National Women’s Basketball Tournament in Port Huron, Michigan.
This amazing turnaround has its roots in some familiar, though not always easy, principles that apply as much to the real world as they do to athletics: Hard work, dedication and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.
“It’s all due to lots of hard work from our players and staff,” head coach Shay Lewis said. “We took two weeks off last year after our one-win conference season. Since then, we’ve been in the gym.”
Lewis took over in August of 2019 with a focus on improving the culture, recruiting and resources of the program. This includes adding veteran assistant coaches and other support personnel.
“I wanted our players and recruits to understand what our core values of the program were: Commitment, hard work, accountability, selflessness and team first,” she said. “Things couldn’t change until we started getting players who understood that and bought into it. I believe we have that now. We have a sisterhood that gets it’s bigger than them.”
The improvement was on full display in the season-opening game, a 70-60 win over No. 4 Owens Community College.
“We started five freshmen and got the win at their place,” Lewis said. “We – myself and the coaching staff – knew this could be a special team.”
This season’s success included an eight-game winning streak.
“We are very young and there has been a big learning curve,” Lewis said. “They had to learn how to work hard for this level, how to play hard and compete every night on this level and they had to learn that it’s bigger than them. It’s about ‘we’ and ‘us,’ not ‘me’ and ‘I.’”
Director of Athletics Cali Crawford, herself a former college basketball player, is pleased to see the program on solid footing again.
“Coach Lewis and her assistant coaches, Megan Murphy and Natalie Nowak, have done an amazing job,” Crawford said. “To go from the bottom of the conference to finishing first in the conference is a major accomplishment and a huge turnaround. I’m grateful for all the hard work our student-athletes, our coaches and our support staff have put in to make this a successful season.”