By Mitchell Boatman

EGELSTON TOWNSHIP – Three years is a long time, especially in the world of sports.

In January of 2013, the Philadelphia 76ers were competing for the playoffs, theLSJ Logo incert Baltimore Ravens were starting their Super Bowl run and the San Francisco Giants were still celebrating a World Series title.

It was also the last time the Oakridge girls’ basketball team lost a West Michigan Conference game.

McKenzie Davis gets up for the opening tipoff against Ravenna, which turned out to be the Eagles 50th straight league win. Photo/Sherry Wahr

McKenzie Davis goes up for the opening tip-off in the Eagles’ 50th straight league win. Photo/Sherry Wahr

The Eagles have not lost to a conference opponent since Jan. 15, 2013, a 48-38 loss to Shelby. They picked up their 50th straight conference win with a 50-16 domination of Ravenna last week.

Oakridge has a perfect 14-0 record in conference play each of the past three seasons under head coach Terry DeJonge, now in his 14th year. They have won five straight conference titles, including this season.

DeJonge has built a consistently winning program at Oakridge, quite the opposite of the one he took over in 2002.

“I believe there were three wins in the previous three seasons,” said DeJonge, whose team is 17-2 overall this season. “I think they won one, one and one.”

DeJonge quickly turned the program around, winning 17 games and capturing a conference title in the 2005-2006 season, his fourth as head coach.

A big part of the success at the varsity level comes from the feeder programs in place for elementary and middle school players.

“We have a program, Junior Hoopster, and most of the girls start in first grade and then they’re in the program for 12 years,” DeJonge said.

Of course Oakridge, like any consistently great team, has had many star players come through the system. They include Morgan Giddings, who now plays basketball at Muskegon Community College, and Hannah Reinhold, a sharpshooting junior guard on the current Eagle squad.

But DeJonge said success has come from a total team effort.

“You can’t win with two players,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of nice role players that have helped all through the process.”

One up-and-coming star, freshman guard Sophia Wiard, said keeping the streak alive is very important to her.

“Just the fact that my sister, Keyara Wiard, started the streak her senior year just builds on how much it means to me,” said Wiard, who is already a starter and a standout in her ninth-grade season. “It’s also a sweet thing to say when teams ask how your season’s going.”

Wiard said DeJonge’s dedication to the team is a big factor in its success.

Oakridge guard Tiara Thompson shoots for two in the lane. Photo/Sherry Wahr

Oakridge guard Tiara Thompson shoots for two in the lane. Photo/Sherry Wahr

“He evaluates film more than anyone I know could or would want to,” she said. “He always stays humble and knows that every team wants to beat us, which will bring out their best game.

“Practices are always getting us ready, never are there easy practices. He pushes us every day, which is something we need.”

With the state tournament starting next week, the Eagles are turning their attention to the postseason, which has been a sore spot in recent years.

Oakridge has failed to make it out of districts each of the last two seasons, ending a streak of four straight district titles. Part of the challenge for the Eagles is playing in a largely Class C conference during the regular season, then competing against bigger schools in Class B in the tournament.

DeJonge says he hopes to change his team’s fortunes in districts this year, but still views the regular season as being equally important.

“(I’m) really adamant about taking it one game at a time,” the coach said. “We don’t overlook anybody. We’ve beefed up our non-conference (schedule) to get ready for postseason play.”

Oakridge faces Grand Rapids Covenant Christian is district play next Wednesday, with the winner advancing to Friday’s finals.