January 10, 2014 | Vol. 95, No. 8

U.P. scoring record ready to move from E-TC to Crystal Falls

At least for a few more hours, Allison (Bailey) Bottoms, a 1997 Ewen-Trout Creek graduate, holds the Upper Peninsula career scoring record.

Gerard Lauzon/Daily Globe file photo
Ewen-Trout Creek\'s Allison Bailey is swarmed in the post by, from left, Bessemer\'s Terri Olson, Jill Jackson (back), Amy Kern and Jen Malmberg during a 1995 district tournament game at Bessemer.

At 2,131 points, Bottoms, a 6-1 center, is one of just three U.P. girls basketball players to have scored more than 2,000 points. Crystal Falls Forest Park's Lexi Gussert will likely pass her tonight - she needs 13 - in the Trojans' home game against Bark River-Harris. She stands at 2,119 points.

Gussert, a Michigan State recruit, is a 6-0 do-it-all player for the Trojans, ranked No. 1 in the U.P. and Michigan in Class D.

Bottoms did her damage inside, and not only has the scoring record. She also holds the U.P. rebounding record at 1,357, good for fourth in the state, while leading the Panthers to the regional final in all four seasons of her career. The Panthers went to the state quarterfinal when she was a freshman.

Bottoms loved to play, hated to lose and worked hard, her former coach and teammates said.

No one was surprised when Bottoms broke the previous record of 1,897 held by Lisa Roell of North Dickinson, on Oct. 22, 1996 in a 58-43 win at Bessemer. She was that good.

"We were happy for her, proud of her, but it was like, 'Yeah. I could see it,'" said E-TC's Jacky (Staff) Besonen said. Every good post player needs a good point guard. That was Besonen, who is now the E-TC girls varsity coach. "She was just great to play with. She always gave us an advantage, having the size and skill underneath. That really helped us."

Bottoms received a note from Roell after she broke her record. Bottoms said it was a pretty neat thing when it happened more than 17 years ago, but it was never something she focused on. Even when she broke the record, she said the most important thing was a successful season and tournament, not history.

"I surely knew somebody would break it at some point," said Bottoms, who now lives in Hibbing, Minn. "I did not know how long it would take. It was just something that I don't feel like once I got out of high school and went to college, there was a lot more things going on in my basketball life than the U.P. scoring record. I definitely knew it would get broken sometime and I'm glad it did. Records are made to be broken. It just shows athletes in the U.P. continue to get better every year and I think it's great."

Three St. Ignace players have come close to Bottoms' scoring record since 1996. Krista Clement came the closest in 2003 at 2,060 points. Nicole Elmblad finished with 1,960 points (2010-11) and Randi Johnson totaled 1,938 (1999).

Nobody could quite catch Bottoms, until Gussert came along. Like Bottoms deflected attention from the record, no one has mentioned it around Forest Park practice, coach Jeff Syrjanen said.

"Lexi is such a team player. She would never bring it up, not in a million years," he said. "I think it's fantastic. I think it's one of those accomplishments, you always say when a record like that is broken, you never know if it will be broken again. She probably has 15, 16 games left. It's remarkable she's doing it this early in her senior year.

"I'm thinking she has to be going down as one of the best ever in the U.P."

What has made both of these players good scorers are rather different.

First, Gussert:

"She moves so well when she doesn't have the ball," Syrjanen said. "She does a very good job of getting open. Her ability to pass and drive is so good that the other teams have to respect what she can do all the time. Because of her height - she plays guard a lot - most of the time at our level, the guards are small and she can shoot over the top of them. If they put a bigger person on her, she can drive to the bucket because she's usually quicker than them.

"There's not hardly one or two people in the U.P. that can guard her."

And Bottoms:

"She had very good post moves," E-TC coaching legend Nancy Osier said. "She could go right or left hand. Allison was so good with her left hand, people thought she was left handed. She was a good defender. She holds some records for rebounding."

Bottoms said she was more comfortable with her left hand in the post. That couldn't have been easy to defend.

"From an early age, it was pounded in my head, make sure you can use your left hand as good as your right," she said. "I had older sisters who played basketball. I remember going to practice with them, one thing they always told me was, 'Practice your left, practice your left.' I maybe over practiced it, but it worked."

Did it ever. For the three years Bessemer's Jim Partanen coached against her, he figures she could have won the Helakoski Award every time, if it weren't the Most Valuable Senior award in the Porcupine Mountain Conference.

"Allison just opened up eyes, just as a freshman, it was just unbelievable," Osier said. "That was a time I wish we could have played seventh or eighth graders because she would have been playing then. She just had a terrific career and worked at her game. Alli worked every summer. She went to camp. She practiced every day. She worked on her game. Lexi deserves all her honors. She's going to go on and play at a Division I school. She's had a wonderful career and I'm sure Alli will be sending her a note or two."

Besonen said Bottoms also got looks from Michigan and Michigan State, but she thinks she wanted to stay closer to home. She went to Michigan Tech and had a solid four-year run, including her freshman year for Bessemer native Kevin Borseth. She said she scored a lot at Tech (1,581), also, but she didn't have to score as much with other scorers surrounding her.

Every time Bottoms touched the ball, teams like Bessemer sent at least three defenders to her. Then if she got rid of the ball, somebody like Staff would hurt them, Partanen said.

"Without Jacky Staff, Allison probably would not have scored as much," he said. "Jacky was a threat in her own right. She did have a good supporting cast all those years. Allison made a lot of them better. But they also made Allison better because you couldn't just concentrate on her."

But there was no doubt where the defense focused. One person guarded Bottoms and everyone who wasn't guarding the ball had to have a foot in the paint waiting for her to get the ball. Partanen said he believes Osier emphasized that during every possession, Bottoms should touch the ball whether or not she shot it, which opened up other players when teams collapsed on her.

"She was six feet tall when there weren't many six footers in the girls game," he said. "Her father (Russ) was a good basketball player. And she worked very hard. She had good teams, a good work ethic and she was a competitor."

Another E-TC name is on the all-time U.P. scoring list. Shana (DeCremer) Ojala is tied for 11th with 1,758 points (1992).

She was passed by Gussert already. It's Bottoms' turn tonight.