By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Armand Cartwright and Yante Maten were more rivals than friends during middle school.
But that relationship clearly has grown for the better over the last four years. After all, Cartwright allows Maten to raid his refrigerator, things like that – and together, they’ve led first-year Bloomfield Hills High to a basketball level the school’s predecessors never approached.
Bloomfield Hills – created when Lahser and Andover high schools combined last summer – reached the Class A championship game Friday with an 85-75 Semifinal win over Detroit U-D Jesuit at the Breslin Center.
Neither of the former schools made even the Quarterfinal round during their histories. But with the 6-foot-8 Yaten dominating the post, Cartwright running the show up top and a host of helpers filling in the rest of the lineup, the No. 8 Black Hawks upset a Cubs team ranked No. 3 at the end of the regular season.
“It feels like magic,” Cartwright said. “It feels great for us to get all together in one year, to work as a team, to get together to win the state championship.”
Bloomfield Hills (24-3) will face top-ranked Muskegon in the title game at noon Saturday.
Although the Black Hawks’ roster definitely is Lahser heavy with 12 former Knights and five Andover players, four of the former Andover players were among the 10 who saw the floor during the Semifinal.
Together, a “team from top to bottom,” in the words of coach Duane Graves held off another also having its best season of a much longer history – and despite missing one of its top scorers, who was unable to play Friday.
“It’s been an honor to coach my boys. … They make me look good,” Graves said. “When you coach you’re a coach, but it’s the players who play hard and make you look like a good coach. If you don’t have the players who buy in to what you want, it’s makes you just another coach.”
Jesuit won its first Regional title on the way to Breslin and carried a 22-2 record into East Lansing. The Cubs didn’t show it in falling 22 points down into the final minute of the third quarter – but showed plenty in cutting the deficit back to four with 1:32 to play.
Junior Jamarie Collins scored 10 points during the 33-15 run that pulled Jesuit within 77-73.
“It’s just that we got caught in the moment at the Breslin,” said senior guard Noah King, who led the Cubs with 24 points and 13 rebounds. “We had a little bit of the butterflies and we didn’t concentrate on how we play ball. We were able to do that in the second half.”
But they weren’t able to stop Yaten.
He finished with 25 points, 18 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots and had five points and five rebounds as Bloomfield Hills went on an 8-2 run to finish that final 1:32 of the game.
Cartwright added 16 points and seven rebounds, with senior guard Xzavier Reynolds scoring 15 points with seven rebounds and four assists and junior guard Cameron Dalton adding 18 points off the bench.
Sophomore guards Billy Thomas and Cassius Winston added 21 and 16 points, respectively, for Jesuit, with Winston also dishing seven assists and grabbing six steals. Junior guard Gary Collins added 10 points off the bench.
The Cubs took the next step this winter after falling to Detroit Pershing on a buzzer beater in their 2013 Regional Final. Jesuit coach Pat Donnelly said the emotion in the locker room Friday was the same as a year ago – which is a good thing, because he knows that will bring his many returnees back to offseason work looking to avoid heartbreak next season.
“It’s definitely a different mindset,” Jesuit senior forward Nick Mutebi said. “In years past when we’d lose to a much tougher opponent, we’d just say it’s OK, at least we tried. Now, in the years to come, we’ll give each opponent our very best. And if we lose, it’ll hurt. We don’t take losses lightly anymore.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Bloomfield Hills’ Armand Cartwright brings the ball upcourt with U-D Jesuit’s Gary Collins defending. (Middle) Bloomfield Hills’ Cameron Dalton and Jesuit’s Spencer Sanders work to corral a loose ball Friday.
HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Yante Maten had 25 points and 14 rebounds to lead Bloomfield Hills to an 85-75 win over Detroit U-D Jesuit in a Class A Semifinal on Friday. Here's a highlights package of plays Maten made during the game. (2) U-D Jesuit mounted a rally in the fourth quarter and got as close as four points from the lead on this Cassius Winston layup off the midcourt turnover by Bloomfield Hills.
HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.
It reads "In Jesus' name we play."
Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to God.
"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.
Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.
The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.
Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.
With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.
"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."
Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.
The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.
"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.
Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.
"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."
Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.
"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.
Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.
"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."
In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.
"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.
The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.
"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”
Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.
"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.
"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”
"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."
Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.
During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.
The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.
Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.
"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."
Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.
"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."
The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.
Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.
"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."
Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.
Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.
Scott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)