Prep girls basketball: Viitala, Johnson taking part in 3-point, free throw contests at state

MARQUETTE – Two Marquette County high school girls basketball players and another from Escanaba have been invited to a pair of shooting competitions this weekend that will take place during the MHSAA state championships at the Breslin Center at Michigan State University.

Junior Hunter Viitala of Marquette Senior High School will take part in both of Saturday’s contests, the Free Throw Challenge and 3 Point Top Shooters Championship, while freshman Aleda Johnson of Negaunee will compete in the free-throw shooting event after their coaches nominated them.

The competitions are sponsored by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan, of which coaches Ben Smith of Marquette and Brandon Sager of Negaunee are members.

Junior Michelle LaFave of Escanaba has also been invited to participate, according to Smith.

Viitala and Johnson were picked as among the top 20 shooters in the state from those who were nominated, according to Sager, and will participate wearing their school varsity uniforms.

Viitala made 79 percent of her free throws and 40 percent on triples for the regular season, while Johnson sank 78.4 percent from the free-throw line, though that statistic increased to 81.5 percent by including the Miners’ two district tournament games.

“Aleda has been stepping up to the line in tough situations,” Sager said about his freshman. “She blocks everything out.

“She changed her style over the summer. She’s stopped dribbling before taking the shot.

“In the last week in the gym, we’re trying not to have her leave before she makes 25 in a row, and she’s been able to do it.”

Smith said good shooting was one facet of what made Viitala the Great Northern Conference Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

“Hunter sets up the tempo of our play with her defensive abilities, but her ability to shoot well just makes her so efficient at the offensive end,” her coach said.

The finals of the Free Throw Challenge take place during halftime of the day’s first championship game, the Class D contest, at about 10:40 a.m. That game will include Forest Park and its star, Miss Basketball Lexi Gussert.

While the finals will be held on the court where the championship game is taking place, earlier rounds that morning are held in an auxiliary gym in the Breslin Center.

Participants get a chance to start practicing at 8 a.m. before the first round commences at 8:30 a.m. Each contestant takes 25 free throws before the field is cut to the top half. Competitors attempt another 25 shots before the top two are chosen for the halftime finals.

The finals format changes to a best-of-five, with up to five more single-shot, sudden-death rounds taken if needed, and co-champions declared if they are still tied.

The 3 Point Top Shooters Championship begins warm-ups at 10 a.m., competition at 10:30 a.m. and the finals during halftime of the next championship game, Class A, at about 12:40 p.m.

The format is similar to the free throw contest with shots taken from spots around the 3-point arc. The top half of shooters advance to the second round before the final two are chosen for the halftime finals.

What could be interesting for Viitala is if she has success in the first contest, those finals will be held about 10 minutes into the first round of the 3-point contest. There was no indication what accommodation would be made in this case.

Both Class A and D title games will be televised by Fox Sports Detroit, though no word was available about whether any or all of these shooting competitions will be carried. The Class B and C games, which take place later in the day, will be carried live on Fox Sports Detroit Plus.