HARTLAND — Hartland’s girls basketball rivalry with Howell was supposed to be on hold for a year.
The Highlanders were in full-out rebuilding mode after graduating three seniors who are now playing in college. The 2018-19 season was going to be all about Hartland vs. Brighton when determining supremacy on the court in Livingston County.
But after a 44-23 victory over Fenton Wednesday night, Hartland will need to get past a familiar rival to win its eighth district crown in the last nine seasons.
Once again, it’s Hartland vs. Howell with a championship on the line.
The M-59 rivals will meet at 7 p.m. Friday in the district final at Hartland after both teams blew out Flint Metro League opponents in the semifinals. Howell beat Holly, 58-27, in the first semifinal.
“Howell, they’ve gotten a lot better, but I think we have gotten a lot better as a team, too,” said Hartland junior Whitney Sollom, who had eight points, 12 rebounds and six blocked shots.
“I think it’s going to be a really good game on Friday. It’s very competitive with them. They bring their ‘A’ game with us. We like playing good teams. It’s fun playing against them.”
Hartland eliminated outstanding Howell teams in districts the last two years after losing in the first round to the Highlanders three years ago.
“I always tell our kids we’ve had a slight advantage the last couple years in regards to wins, but there’s never been any easy games,” Hartland coach Don Palmer said. “It might be their turn.”
Howell was blown out by Hartland in the teams’ first meeting on Dec. 20, 63-36, but was much tougher in a 50-38 loss in the rematch on Jan. 29. It was a similar pattern to Howell’s two games with Brighton, which beat the Highlanders 56-25 the first time and 38-29 in the second game.
“I told Tim (Olszewski, Howell’s coach) the other day when we had all the team practices, ‘In our league, your team has improved the most,’” Palmer said. “’That’s a credit to you guys (coaches) and the kids.’”
In order to earn a third game against Howell, Hartland (19-3) had to gets its second victory of the season over a Fenton team that came in with a 17-3 record and won the Metro with a 15-1 mark.
Much like Howell’s victory over Holly, in which star Rebecca Fugate scored 18 of her team’s 27 points, Hartland allowed 13 points to Fenton star Chloe Idoni, but only nine to the rest of the team.
“She’s a handful,” Palmer said. “You’ve got to distort your defense to slow her down a little bit. They had some open shots; they didn’t really hit enough of them. You had to pick your poison. We felt if (Erin) Conroy or Idoni had average games, we would have a good shot. I thought they played well, but they weren’t great. Our defense had something to do with that I think, I hope.”
Hartland, on the other hand, enjoyed balanced scoring. Nine Eagles scored, with Sollom and Madi Moyer leading the way with eight points each.
“We pass the ball very well,” Sollom said. “None of us are selfish. … We have good chemistry on this team.”
Hartland scored the first eight points, leading 12-2 after one quarter, 22-9 at halftime and 29-15 after three quarters.