'He would have been very happy,' said the defense in the match. On the night dedicated to former coach Mattawan, the team preps a team that runs the Mattawan girls to a standard
Troy Wright, who was an assistant coach of the Mattawan girls basketball team for 24 years, was very difficult to describe.
Conklin, who took the lead from Wright in 2016, couldn't help but smile when thinking about what his late friend and colleague would have thought about the Wildcats' performance on the night in which Mattawan officially named its gym the Troy Wright Memorial Gymnasium.
He would have been very happy, Conklin said of his teams 43-35 victory against Stevensville Lakeshore. We switched some things up, went to a 1-3-1 zone to give them a little different look, and it helped us out. Were certainly going to be working on that, and that would be one thing that Troy would make sure we do is rebound the basketball better next game.
In Wright's 25 years on Mattawan's sideline, he built a reputation as a hard-nosed, defensive-minded coach who anticipated his players to make 100 percent effort every time down the court, but he also wasn't afraid to inform his players about his care.
After a year-long battle with cancer, Wright's death has devastated the Mattawan community, but his lasting impact is evident Friday, when former players, parents of former players, and fellow coaches flocked to the game.
A lot of emotions were going through my mind, Conklin said of the game's lead-up to the game. We had a lot of former players that were here tonight, a lot of former coaches that coached with Troy that were here tonight and a lot of parents of former players who haven't played in a while.
"It was so amazing to see a larger student section here tonight, too. Troy always said: 'No matter what, find the joy in every day,' and tonight we found the joy, and it was such a great night around Troy and the things hes done for this school and this program."
Mark Loehrke, a former public address announcer for Mattawan, has returned to the gym to read several memories and insights from former players, including Carley Loehrke, a 2003 graduate for the Wildcats, until Wright began bringing her off the bench because he wanted to get more attention and effort from his star player.
I was devastated, I was embarrassed, and I was mad, Carly Loehrke wrote. For four more games and at least twice as many practices, I worked harder than ever to earn my spot back until it was finally mine once more. Although the initial lesson learned was about playing strong off the bench and having pride for teammates, the deeper lesson learned was that you must do more than just show up; you must put in the effort.
Coach Wright has reshaped his life in many ways, but this is perhaps the most profound. He taught me that just walking through life isnt good enough, you have to put in the work. Through my professional career and through my life as a daughter, a friend, a wife, and a mother, I have done my best to abide by this philosophy and life the lesson. I dont always succeed, but I do always get back off the bench and keep doing it.
On January 14, 2021, Mattawan's gymnasium is named in honor of Troy Wright at the basketball game between Lakeshore and Mattawan at Mattawan High School. (Photo by Carlin Stiehl | MLive.com)Carlin Stiehl | MLive.com
A third-year varsity athlete who graduated in 1999 shared a memory of Wright instilling confidence in his players until they believed in themselves.
"I think we finished 6-15, but he never imposed a big measure on us," Gibson wrote. "If we weren't pushing ourselves, we'd do it over and over until everybody knew we were giving each other 100 percent of what we had."
Coach Wright, up until his very last days, stayed true to us and to himself. Lean on your faith, never give up on yourself and push yourself each day to be better than you did the day before.
Every time you walk into the gymnasium at Mattawan High School, you can think of those things and smile when someone like Troy Wright was willing to give so much of himself to the people inside the four walls, and were all lucky that we got to be a part of something so great.
Yasmin Pirbhai, a senior at Mattawan, said between emotional pregame reactions and a crowd of Wright's former players.
That was our biggest crowd ever, by a mile, so non only was it the nerves of having a big crowd, but also we knew that a lot of the girls here were Troy Wrights players, and they loved him and were part of the program that he built, so that really put a lot of pressure on us, Pirbhai said.
Yasmin Pirbhai (30) at Mattawan High School on Friday, January 14, 2021, drives ball down court. (Photo by Carlin Stiehl | MLive.com)Carlin Stiehl | MLive.com
Mattawan jumped out to a 8-3 lead in the game's first minutes, but the Wildcats remained steady until after the turnover bug was discovered. Fortunately, shots that were falling early began rimming out, allowing the Lancers to stay close and eventually take a 28-23 third quarter lead off a 3-pointer from Riley Pifer.
With their backs against the wall, Mattawan beat the Wildcats in an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter, but Lakeshore beat the Wildcats by following a jumper from Isabella Chavez, while Zhia Martin drained a corner 3-pointer her only basket of the game to give her team a 41-35 advantage.
She has been really effective on the defensive end, and is sometimes a little loose with the basketball, but that was a big shot, Conklin said. Defensively, coming off the bench, she brought a lot of energy and did a good job for us tonight.
Mattawan is in a top 10 position thanks to Pirbhai, while Adelaide Douglass is in a top 10 position, while Delaney Elsmore is in a top 10 position.
Pifer finished the day above Lakeshore with 12 points, with Paige Lies and Ainsley Ashby each scoring six.
We definitely kept our heads up and kept pushing each other to achieve the win, Pirbhai said.
We have played a couple really tough teams, and we have lost to them, and to be able to fight through and not be down was a huge time for us to know that we can do it, Pirbhai said. To be able to do that on a night where there was so much pressure, and to be able to really live up to his memory, it... means a lot to me, and I know it... also to my teammates."
Mattawan (5-3) wants to remain undefeated on the Troy Wright Memorial Gymnasium when he prepares to face Plainwell on Tuesday, while Lakeshore (2-5) hosts Portage Northern on Thursday.