Game of the week: Pioneer travels to Father Gabriel Richard in unlikely Ann Arbor girls basketball yearly matchup
Father Gabriel Richard’s girls basketball team secured it season-opening win over Royal Oak Shrine Monday with strong play early on, but it was what happened in the fourth quarter that stood out to coach Matt Carroll.
With the game well in hand, his players, many of whom are new to the team this season, were still diving across the floor and out of bounds for loose balls.
“That tells me that they understand that aspect of the game,” Carroll said.
Carroll is working with a younger team than the one that won a district title last year, but said his players have bought into the importance of Richard's pressing defense.
“I’m happy with how quickly they’ve picked things up,” Carroll said. “There’s just a different intensity level.”
With a strong opener in hand, Richard is gearing up for their annual showdown against against Pioneer in AnnArbor.com’s first basketball Game of the Week, 7 p.m Thursday at Father Gabriel Richard.
While the two schools share a city, their yearly early season series is still an unlikely one, considering Pioneer’s enrollment is more than three times Richard's.
Yet the series has proved competitive. Richard won last year’s game, breaking a three-year winning streak for Pioneer.
“We look forward to playing them because they’re good competition,” Pioneer coach Crystal Westfield said.
The game also features multiple connections on both coaching staffs.
Westfield spent her freshman year at Father Gabriel Richard before transferring to Pioneer, the team she has gone on to coach for the past 21 seasons.
One of the players she has coached during that time is Katie Carroll, Matt Carroll’s sister.
So when Matt Carroll became Richard's head coach seven seasons ago, the Pioneer game was one he wanted to make sure was on the schedule.
“It’s just a really great test for us, in terms of things we need to work on,” Carroll said.
And while the enrollment disparity may lead to an underdog mentality for Father Gabriel Richard, that's not something the coaching staff emphasizes.
“I think naturally just because of the size of the school, that’s something that creeps in,” Carroll said. “We emphasize that it’s not the size of the school.”
Girls high school basketball around the state officially opened last week, but the Pioneers and Fighting Irish didn’t get underway until this week.
After the Irish opened the season with a 49-25 win over Royal Oak Shrine Monday night, Pioneer topped South Lyon, 44-41, Tuesday night, pulling out a win out of a back-and-forth game.
After losing the first four games of last season, Westfield said winning this year’s opener was particularly important.
“That’s the one thing we talked about, last year we started off 0-4, so this was really good for us,” Westfield said.
And looking ahead to Father Gabriel Richard, the Pioneers know that dealing with a tenacious full-court press will be a challenge.
“We want to be a team that pushes the ball up the floor, so we know that Gabriel Richard has a nice full-court press,” Westfield said. “One of the things that we have to work on is pushing the ball up the floor and making sure we make the right decisions. We don’t want to have a lot of turnovers against them.”
Game of the Week coverage
As the Game of the Week, the Father Gabriel Richard vs. Pioneer game will be staffed with two reporters and a photographer providing multiple stories, photos and a live chat from our first Game of the Week.
You can still vote for next week's Game of the Week until Saturday at noon.