Steve Ernst made his intentions known before the start of the season — his Comet basketball team was on a mission to make school history. On Wednesday, Feb. 14 the team made its mark on Olivet College, capturing at least a share of its first MIAA conference title in 45 years.
The Comets, led by their second-year head coach, defeated Hope College 70-49 in a battle for first place. The Comets can win the title outright with a win at Calvin College on Saturday, Feb. 17. Regardless of Saturday’s outcome, Olivet will host the MIAA tournament Friday, Feb. 23 and Saturday, Feb. 24, which was also a goal of Ernst’s before the season began.
“The most important thing for us right now is to head into the tournament fresh,” Ernst said. “We have to win the tournament to get into the NCAA’s. So we’re looking at what is the best way to get us ready for the tournament.”
Ernst said he is proud of the transformation his team has made throughout the season. The team started the year with 11 transfers getting used to playing together.
“We really emphasized playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back,” Ernst said. “These guys really care about Olivet, which is what really matters.”
Ernst said they learned to play together in a “trial by fire,” playing an extremely tough non-conference schedule.
“Some of the road trips we made really made all the difference in the world,” he said.
The Comets have been led this season by potential All-American Jalen Adams, who is currently fourth in the nation in scoring and in the top 25 in rebounding.
At the end of the season, the support of the college community and the “tri-cities” (Charlotte, Olivet, and Bellevue) as Ernst calls them, made them a tremendous difference as well.
“You have to start with the support of the Charlotte people, they have been coming on over and have been great,” he said.
In fact, Charlotte High School’s student section, The Flight Club, made a road trip to Olivet Feb. 7 to help cheer the Comets to victory over Alma. More than 60 members of the Flight Club attended the game.
“The west side of Eaton County loves good basketball,” Ernst, who graduated from Charlotte High School in the mid-80s said.
As the No. 1 seed, the Comets will play the 7:30 p.m. game Friday, Feb. 23 at the Cutler Student Events Center in Olivet. If they win, they will advance to the MIAA championship game Saturday, Feb. 24.