photos courtesy of Rockford High School
Rockford — Sometimes it’s the little things as much as the big heroic moments that add up to success, and that’s most certainly the case for Rockford High School’s now-legendary girls basketball team.
The Rams won their very first state title on March 18 after a last-minute 3-point shot from junior Grace Lyons all but sealed the deal with her first bucket all night, in a gritty state championship game at MSU’s Breslin Center. The dramatic 40-36 win over West Bloomfield capped a historic 28-1 season that will be talked about for years in this sports-loving community.
The players’ heroics will forever be enshrined in Rockford’s athletic lore, but what most fans don’t see? Those crucial daily practices and workouts, team bonding activities and pregame rituals that launched Grace and her fellow players into the greatest game of their lives.
Details That Make a Difference
Grace, Rockford’s all-time 3-point scoring leader, and other top Ram scorers like sisters Anna and Alyssa Wypych have been putting in hours on the court since early childhood.
“I probably got interested (in basketball) when I was like 4,” said senior Alyssa, whose mom played for Michigan Tech in the late ‘90s and early 2000s.
Alyssa is also heading to Michigan Tech to play basketball — and to study biomedical engineering. And while her hard work in the classroom most certainly helps her prepare mentally for her work on the court, things like music and chanting before the game are just as important, she says.
“Before games, to help with the nerves — especially this year — we played a lot of music, but it’s more like scream-singing to get all the energy out,” Alyssa said. “Honestly, that’s helped me a lot.”
The Rams had a lot on the line this year after they were bumped out of the championship game in 2022 by West Bloomfield, ending their first trip to the Final Four. Grace agreed that using music before their playoff games was essential to achieving their state victory this time around, adding, “Getting fired up for the game I feel like helps us play harder.”
‘Before games, to help with the nerves — especially this year — we played a lot of music, but it’s more like scream-singing to get all the energy out.’— senior Alyssa Wypych
She said players building each other up is also key.
“When we’re doing our warmups, right at the end of it, we get together and say encouraging stuff to each other,” Grace said.
Ashley Remtema, assistant to head coach Brad Wilson and a 2009 Rockford High grad, sees her role as much as an encourager as a person who drills team members to improve their play. She put that in play after last year’s heartbreaking semifinal loss to West Bloomfield.
“I told them last year sitting in the locker room and crying with our seniors, I looked at the rest of the girls and said ‘Remember what this feels like because we can be back here next year,’” she said.
Ice Baths and Other Unpleasant Things
Remtema says she has a special rapport with team members as a fellow female who’s been in their place in recent years. But she does have to push them hard sometimes.
For Grace, that means being literally pushed into frigid ice baths that help elite athletes like her recover more quickly after a game. She prefers recovering in the hot tub and visibly shudders at the thought of the special baths.
‘Getting fired up for the game I feel like helps us play harder.’— junior Grace Lyons
Both Anna and Alyssa don’t mind the ice baths, but they’re not fond of the biweekly runs they have to do for their daily athletic conditioning class. They prefer heavy lifting, which is on their schedule on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the elective class taught by Rockford’s football coach Brent Cummings.
The opportunity to cross-train daily in a well-equipped facility gives Grace, Anna and Alyssa an extra edge on the court, said Remtema.
“Alyssa might not be the biggest statured girl on the court, but she’s strong,” she pointed out.
A Break and a Bridge
After years of work to make it to the state championships, Alyssa will have the chance to take a break from play before ramping up for her collegiate career at Michigan Tech. And though Grace and Anna have enjoyed a week off, they’ll soon be playing together on the West Michigan Drive, a travel team that starts play on Saturday, March 25.
All three players say — emphatically — that they do it all because they love the game. The state title is something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, making the grueling runs, ice baths, and long practices worth it.
“I literally don’t have words to describe how amazing this feels,” Anna marveled at the post-game press conference. “We’ve been working so hard all year and it paid off.”