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Posted on Thu, Mar 14, 2013 : 6:29 p.m.

Manchester may be the new kid on the block but it's making new heights look routine

By Pete Cunningham


Manchester's McKenna Erkfritz, right, hugs teammate Kendra Beasley after Manchester defeated Riverview Gabriel Richard 53-46 in the Class C girls basketball semifinal at the Breslin Center in East Lansing on Thursday, March 14.

Mike Mulholland |

EAST LANSING -- The Manchester High School girls basketball team missed its first 17 shots in the Class C semifinal game against Riverview Gabriel Richard, part of a 1-of-19 first quarter.

It was the first time Manchester looked uncomfortable in a while, if not all season.

Unfortunately for Gabriel Richard, the discomfort didn’t last long as Manchester reverted back to its old self with an 8-0 run to start the quarter en route to a 53-46 win.

This Flying Dutch team was the first to ever win a regional title, then the first to win a quarterfinal and advance to the Breslin Center and now, on Saturday, it will play in the program’s first-ever state title game.

Despite the fact that this team continues to reach heights never reached, outside of Thursday’s first quarter, Manchester has always had the look of a team that’s been here before.

“We know we belong here,” Manchester coach Cori Kastel said after Thursday's win.

Even that mentality is something new to the program. After the semifinal win senior All-State forward McKenna Erkfritz recalled watching the state finals from the stands her freshman year.

“I would say, ‘well, I don’t think we’re ever going to get there,’” Erkfritz recalled. “A couple years down the line, I realized we had the potential and this year from the very first game we knew we had a chance to get here and we weren’t going to stop until we got here.”


A member of the Manchester student section holds up a sign "Dirty thirty," in support Manchester No. 30, McKenna Erkfritz during their Class C semifinal game against Riverview Gabriel Richard at the Breslin Center in East Lansing on Thursday, March 14. Erkfritz finished with 19 points to help Manchester in a 53-46 win.

Mike Mulholland |

The girl that thought her team would never play in the Breslin Center three years ago put up 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds on Thursday.

But Erkfritz isn’t the team’s only star. Sisters Jessie and Taylor Manders had 16 and 11 points respectively, with Taylor contributing five assists and seven steals as well. Since regionals Manchester has had five different players score in double digits and three different players lead them in scoring.

"We just don’t have one player," Kastel said. "They have to pick and choose who they’re going to target but there’s always someone else that steps up on our team."

Manchester’s path to the state tile game hasn’t been one littered with adversity. Kastel said the district final win against Arbor Prep was some of the best defense the team has seen. They beat the Gators by 15.

Niles Brandywine came in to the quarterfinal game highly ranked and touted. Manchester won that one by 24.

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In the regional final Manchester was in uncharted waters for this season, entering the fourth quarter trailing, and they outscored Adrian Madison by 12 in the fourth quarter.

And then on Thursday, as Riverview Gabriel Richard tried to get its star player, Ashley Henderson, to take over, Manchester went into a full court press and built a 13-point lead that all but ended the game.

“We’re not always a full court, man-to-man team, but we do what we have to do to win the game,” Kastel said.

Going to a defense they don’t often run to win a game at a stage that they’ve never even been to? It’s not exactly a recipe for success. But with this team that seems to be overly comfortable with the unfamiliar, it looked routine.


Mark Manders hugs his daughters, Taylor (24) and Jessie (14), at the Breslin Center in East Lansing during the Class C state semifinals on Thursday, March 14, 2013. Manchester won the game, 53-46, to advance to the Class C final with the Manders sister combing for 27 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists and 11 steals.

J. Scott Park |

“That’s what kind of broke us last year, we kind of panicked (in unfamiliar situations),” Kastel said. “This year we have more of the veteran players, I mean I have my whole starting lineup back and they weren’t going to let it happen again.”

Manchester’s the new kid on the block, but that's not what it looks like on the court.

Waiting for the Dutch now is Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Central, which will be playing in its fourth state title game since 2003 and going for its third title after a 44-32 win over Houghton on Thursday.

After Nouvel’s win, coach Kris Hengesbach’s daughter Taylor talked about how she used to look at the pictures of the 2006 and 2008 state title teams and grew up wanting to add her own picture to the collection.

Just three years ago Erkfritz didn’t think her team would never play in the state finals. All that's changed now.

“The newness has worn off we know we belong here,” Kastel said. “We’ve been playing our game all season long and that’s why we’re, what, 25-1. And so we’ve gotta continue to do that and we’ve got one more game to play and we’re going to leave it all out on the line.”

Pete Cunningham covers sports for He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @petcunningham.