The first time the Hartland girls basketball team met Wayne Memorial, the Eagles fell 45-41 in the semifinals of the KLAA tournament.
Tonight, the teams meet again, and the stakes are much higher — a berth in the Class A semifinals.
“We’re excited for the opportunity,” Hartland coach Don Palmer says. “I still think it’s a tall order.”
Taken literally, that’s a bit of a misnomer.
The Zebras (21-4) are led by Camree’ Clegg, a 5-6 playmaker who is their point guard and leading scorer.
In the first game, Hartland (20-5) shut her down in the first half, but she scored 14 of her 15 points in the second half.
Clegg was helped by Jaenae Terry and Jayah Hicks, who consistently beat the Eagles to rebounds.
“It seemed like Wayne had several second and third chances, and we just didn’t rebound with them,” Palmer said. “If we can do a better job on that (tonight), I think we’ll have a good shot here. But you have to do it. Saying and doing are two different things.”
In the four days since the Eagles upset Walled Lake Western to win their second regional title in four years, Palmer has worked to keep his players’ focus sharp while making sure they get rest.
“The district was intense, and the regional final was intense,” he said. “The bus rides coming back were quiet. They were happy, but they’re tired kids right now. We’ve been emphasizing rest. We’ll see what happens.”
But he’s also impressed on his players what’s in front of them.
“This is maybe a lifetime opportunity at a young age,” Palmer said. “What you have to embrace here is that, well, 10 years from now you’ll look back at this game, and what’s important is that you don’t have any regrets about how you prepared or how hard you played, regardless of the result.”
The Eagles are led by Graysen Cockerham, the first Hartland player ever to play in two quarterfinals. She was a starter as a freshman in 2015.
“It’s a special thing, Graysen going to two quarterfinals,” Palmer said. “That’s just unbelievable for public schools, that’s for sure.”
It won’t be the same Hartland team that met Wayne the first time. The team added Kamryn Gerecke from the JV team and Madi Moyer returned after missing several weeks with a broken ankle.
“I think we’ve improved in several areas,” Palmer said. “Emily Messner has been playing solid, Whitney Sollum is coming off her best game in high school (25 points against Walled Lake Western), and Graysen is Graysen.
“We’re just going to have to do two things,” Palmer said. “We have to handle the ball a little bit better, and we have to neutralize the glass.”
How well they do that will determine whether a sophomore-dominated Hartland team merely shows its potential or writes a new chapter in Eagles lore.