STANTON — The Central Montcalm Green Hornets girls basketball team this year did something it hadn’t in more than 10 years.
But that was only one part of what defined the team’s successful season.
The Hornets finished 17-6 overall, winning five more games than they did last year and finishing second in the Central State Athletic Association Gold Conference, behind Big Rapids.
And, for the first time in more than 10 years, the team won a districts playoff game, beating Belding in the first round.
The Hornets went on to win their second districts playoff game against Shepherd to earn their way to the districts final against Ithaca, where Central Montcalm lost, ending its successful postseason run.
But to coach Rob Putnam and his players, how the program has grown in the last two years and how this season has set up a pathway to success for the coming years have been what they deem as the most successful part of this season.
“This season was really awesome. I’m going out with more wins than most from Central Montcalm,” said senior forward Kenzie Rutz, one of the team’s leaders. “It was always in our heads to turn things around for this team.”
When Putnam, in his third season as the Hornets’ head coach, brought up a few freshmen last year to help bolster the team — Hannah Putnam, his daughter, Libby Ledford, Kiley Guelzo and Kiara Wernette — he saw them as building blocks of a program that longed for winning seasons again.
He immediately saw succcess as the Hornets went on to win 12 games, which was the first time the Central Montcalm girls basketball program had a record better than .500 in 20 years.
Expectations were even higher thisyear.
“I thought we could play for the league championship and we wanted to win a game in districts,” Putnam said. “We hadn’t done that forever.”
Though it didn’t win a league title, this year’s team did win a school record 17 games and finally broke its longstanding postseason losing streak.
“For the most part, I thought we reached our goals. The girls played up to their potential,” Putnam said. “They strived hard every day. I’m happy with their commitment, which they showed every day and after our losses.”
In only her second year on the varsity team, Ledford said this year has been the most exciting.
“We seemed so much better than last year. We are much improved,” the sophomore sharp shooter said. “Our defense really stepped up this year. It’s been really exciting to see this program going in the right direction.”
With success brings stronger support and both Rutz and Ledford were flattered with how the community and the school supported the team throughout the season, especially during the playoffs.
“We preach family on this team, and what I will remember most will be that we were once complete strangers and then, on this team, we made a complete, cool bond,” Rutz said. “I’ll always remember my last game. Even though we lost, the atmosphere, the community and the school was phenomenal. That’s why I play athletics, because in that last game, I know we fell short of winning the game, but to go out like that with so many people behind you, supporting you, it was awesome.”
Ledford echoed Rutz’s words.
“We had great support. Everyone sees what we’re doing with this team. The support has been just incredible.”
Rutz had some sound advice for her teammates who will return to the team next year.
“Keep the gas pedal down,” she said. “Don’t blink and don’t take it for granted because it will go by quicker than you think.
“It might sound cliche, but I was able to make my mark with this program and leave the girls returning with unfinished business,” Rutz added. “I am really proud to to have been a part of it.”