HEMLOCK, MI – Sometimes Chloe Watson still loses her sense of smell.
It took almost as long to lose a mistaken sense of responsibility.
Watson, a 5-foot-9 junior, averaged over 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists during the 2020-21 season, leading the Hemlock women’s basketball team to the semi-finals of the division 3.
“It gives us confidence and something we can be proud of that we have arrived at Breslin,” said Hemlock coach Scott Neumeyer. “And we are proud of it. But we never got to Breslin. We never got on the bus.
After beating Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 53-46, in the Division 3 quarterfinals, Hemlock was forced to withdraw from the tournament when a player tested positive for COVID. That player was Watson, who led the Huskies through the tournament, upsetting No. 9-ranked St. Charles and Reese, No. 10 ranked.
Watson became a leader for the Huskies when sophomore star Regan Finkbeiner sprained his ankle and missed seven games. When Finkbeiner returned before the playoffs, Hemlock became a playoff force.
At least until the semi-finals.
“I think I could have blamed myself subconsciously,” Watson said. “Logically, I knew it wasn’t my fault. Logically, I knew it was something I couldn’t control… that it was just happening to me. It was hard.”
Hemlock, who lost his first four games of the season, finished with a 14-8 record. They were scheduled to face Grass Lake at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center in the Division 3 semifinals.
“No one blamed Chloe, but she’s a naturally calm person, and from what I’ve heard she didn’t say anything but you can tell it bothered her… that she felt she was was to blame, ”Neumeyer said. “Nobody blames Chloe. Without her we would not have made it to the semi-finals. It’s just something unfortunate that happened to Chloe.
“The hard part is that we didn’t really see each other until our banquet in May. We were in our forties, then spring break, then spring sports. In fact, we didn’t talk about it until July, when we started summer basketball. We tackled it as a team for the first time and, in our opinion, the last time.
Grass Lake won the state title, 52-50, against Kent City.
“We understand it would have been a big shock for us to win… Grass Lake was so good,” said Neumeyer. “But we wanted this experience. We wanted to play Breslin. We wanted to take this trip. We wanted our daughters to benefit from this experience. Chloe and Regan are both juniors. We think we have the potential to be in this position for the next two seasons. “
Watson, at 5-9, is one of the tallest players on Team Hemlock, with sophomore Mayden Mallek at 5-11. But her stature grew over the season when she was forced to become a solo leader during Finkbeiner’s absence.
“I got more aggressive because I didn’t have Regan to pass on,” Watson said. “Before, I knew I could drive and miss, knowing Regan was always there. I started to focus on the finish, on finding ways to get my shot right.
“So I had more options. And when Regan returned, it gave our whole team another option. “
The Huskies do not play in the first week of the season, starting at home against St. Charles on Tuesday, December 7th. The Huskies also feature new faces on the coaching staff, familiar faces with impressive resumes.
Karli Herrington, a former Hemlock star, is an assistant coach after playing at Central Michigan University and Northwood University. Taryn Taugher, a former Freeland all-state who has played in Northern Kentucky and Grand Valley State, also joins the staff.
“The kids love them and they bring so many new ideas with them,” Neumeyer said. “I separate the groups, Karli taking the post players and Taryn taking the guards. The thing they have is girls can’t question them. They are former DI players. They know what they are talking about.
“They are young and new and are still getting used to our system, but I told them to make suggestions, to give me their opinion. They learn coaching, but they bring so much expertise, so much experience. We want them to learn, but we also want to learn from them.
The goal, at least for the Huskies, is to win a state title.
“Every team has that goal, and we had it last season as well,” Watson said. “But there is a difference between goals and expectations. After last year, we have expectations. We know what we are capable of. “
Neumeyer would like to end the season with a win, despite having finished the last two seasons with a win. In the 2019-20 season, Hemlock beat Sandusky, 48-30, in a Division 3 regional semi-final, only to see the season come to a halt before a regional final against Flint Hamady.
And last year’s season ended after a quarter-final victory over Bishop Foley, with a positive COVID test ending the season ahead of a semi-final game against Grass Lake.
“Two years in a row we’ve ended the season the same… and that’s an unusual feeling,” said Neumeyer. “You are proud of what you have accomplished. We have had two great seasons in the past two years with accomplishments to be proud of.
“But we have nothing to show for that. We didn’t have the chance to finish what we started. It was not an opponent who eliminated us. It was a virus. “
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