Muskegon Heights Academy is playing some inspired basketball

By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal

Last summer, no one really knew whether or not Muskegon Heights Academy would even have sports teams.

Then – after it was announced the school would indeed continue to offer some sports – a mass-exodus of players, particularly from the basketball team, seemed to seal the deal; the Muskegon Heights the area had come to know would never ‘be’ again.

And yet here sit the 4-0 2012 Tigers, a nifty 60-59 win over Rockford placed firmly in their pockets, and now, another win over a bigger school. The Heights defeated a spunky Whitehall squad 78-45 Tuesday night, turning an 11-point halftime lead into a rout behind the brilliant play of Tigers’ juniors Edrick Tornes  and Jeffrey Jordan, pouring in 25 and 23 points, respectively, and 11-point efforts from Carlos Hudson and Aaron Sydnor.

Whitehall got 13 points from junior Matt Russell, who has nicely adjusted to the varsity game, nine from junior Matt Rohen and eight more from senior Isaac Love.

Heights head coach Dale Stewart, who, after coaching the past few years the Reeths-Puffer boys basketball team, wasn’t sure what he was getting into when he accepted his current position. Now, nearly a quarter through the season, Stewart is pleased with his squad’s fast start.

“I’m very happily surprised, with the young talent we have,”said Stewart. “Our key guys are juniors and sophomores, so I was expecting peaks and valleys – probably more valleys than peaks – but I will take it.”

For Whitehall head coach Nate Aardema, the decision to take on as powerful a program as Heights has as much to do with wins and losses as it does laying the groundwork for future success.

“We play Muskegon Heights with the idea of developing as a team and hopefully having more success in our league,” said Aardema. “It’s a great test for us every time.”

The Tigers never trailed, opening on a 5-0 run and to a 22-13 lead after one quarter. Whitehall stayed in it behind the fine post play of Russell, who took advantage of the Tigers’ overall height disadvantage, and with consistent hustle.

Heights led 38-27 at the break.But mid way through the third, the bottom fell out for Whitehall, as the Tigers’ lead ballooned over 20. A 19-6 Heights’ scoring edge in the fourth turned a competitive non-league contest into a blowout. The early Muskegon Heights Academy success has been propelled along by the players who stayed.

“I can feel that the kids are playing for a little bit more than just a game,” said Stewart. “Jeff Jordan came to me and said, ‘I want to play so well that I want to make people stop talking negatively about us.” Stewart also described a change in the team’s rituals; instead of breaking on ‘Tigers’, now the squad breaks on ‘True Tigers!’, celebrating the kids who stayed with the team despite this past summer’s uncertainty.

The Vikings, on the other hand, are using the game as preparation for other high-tempo, high-pressure teams they will face in the future.“(Heights) speeds up,the game and you play a little faster than you are necessarily comfortable with,” said Aardema. “That gets us ready for a (team like) Montague, who wants to run.”

Along with 23 points, Jordan also pulled down nine boards, seven assists and seven steals.Rohen finished with seven rebounds for the Vikings, with teammate Frank Owens finishing with six boards in the loss.

Muskegon Heights Academy 78, Whitehall 45

Muskegon Heights Academy
Jeffrey Jordan 9 2-3 23, Carlos Hudson 4 3-4 11, Aaron Sydnor 4 3-4 11, Edrick Tornes 10 0-0 25, Javen Harvey 1 0-0 2, Dominic Green 0 0-2 0, D’montae Crosby 2 0-0 4, DeQuaries Love 1 0-0 2. Totals 32 8-13 78.

Patrick Johnson 2 0-0 4, Dylan Medendorp 1 0-0 2, Tell Sutton 0 2-3 2, Frank Owens 2 0-0 4, Matt Rohen 3 2-2 9, Matt Russell 6 1-3 13, Isaac Love 4 0-0 8, Jevonte Sims 1 1-2 3. Totals 19 6-12 45.

MHA 22-16-21-19-78
Whitehall 13-14-12-6-45

Three-point field goals: Jordan (3), Tornes (5), Rohen. Total fouls: Muskegon Heights Academy 13, Whitehall 13. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none. JV: Muskegon Heights Academy.