There were so many games of note in Michigan high school boys basketball last week, the original list was 15 strong before we ended up highlighting the five under “Week in Review” below.
But here’s a quick glance at more:
In something of stunners, Ishpeming Westwood and Adrian Lenawee Christian handed Iron Mountain and Lake Leelanau St. Mary, respectively, their first losses, while Flint Carman-Ainsworth gave Detroit Loyola its first defeat and Kalamazoo Central delivered the same to Mattawan.
Grand Rapids Catholic Central downed South Christian, and Northview got past Grand Rapids Christian to establish leads in Ottawa-Kent Conference divisions, while Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice took the same step ahead in the Detroit Catholic League Central against U-D Jesuit. We highlight Wyoming Tri-unity Christian’s win over Schoolcraft below, but Potter’s House Christian may have shaken up the Alliance League by edging the Defenders three days later.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Ann Arbor Huron 53, Port Huron Northern 50 This matchup of undefeated teams highlighted the Fast Break Invitational at Belleville, with Huron (11-0) earning its third three-point win of the season in sending Northern to 12-1.
2. Detroit Cass Tech 69, Flint Beecher 63 The Technicians (15-0) closed their Downtown Throw Down with the night’s premier matchup; the Bucs fell to 11-3, but all three of Beecher’s losses have come against elite larger opponents during showcase events.
3. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 51, Schoolcraft 46 Last season’s Division 4 champion Tri-unity (9-3) edged the reigning Division 3 title-winning Eagles (9-5).
4. Hudsonville 54, East Kentwood 45 The Eagles (10-4) have bounced back from an early deficit in the O-K Red standings to join a first-place tie with the Falcons (9-4) and Rockford.
5. Boyne City 50, Traverse City St. Francis 44 The Ramblers (12-1) broke an 11-game losing streak against the Gladiators (9-2) as the two met with first on the line in the Lake Michigan Conference.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (13-1) The Warriors and U-D Jesuit have risen to the top of another loaded CHSL Central, and Brother Rice’s 68-53 win over the Cubs made it the team to chase the rest of the way. The Warriors followed up with a 55-46 win over Warren De La Salle Collegiate avenging its lone loss of this winter from Jan. 6. Warren Lincoln, Grand Blanc, River Rouge and Kalamazoo Central all have double digit wins this season, but fell to Brother Rice – all but Warren Lincoln by double digits.
Grand Blanc (11-2) The Bobcats also fill their schedule with the state’s elite most weekends, and this one included a 53-50 win over O-K Red co-leader Rockford at the 2K23 Showcase at Aquinas College. Add that to impressive victories over Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Flint Carman-Ainsworth and Saginaw among others – plus impressive defeats to Brother Rice (see above) and North Farmington (10-1). Grand Blanc and Davison are the only teams without a loss in Saginaw Valley League play, and they meet Friday.
Benton Harbor (11-2) Subtract their losses to the Tigers, and all but one of Benton Harbor’s opponents so far would be .500 or better as that program also lines up top competition all winter long. Benton Harbor’s defeats came to North Farmington (10-1) and Grand Rapids Union (9-3), while the Tigers handed the lone losses this season to Watervliet and Niles Brandywine and earned perhaps their best victory 64-62 over Beecher two weekends ago. Benton Harbor also leads the first-year Lakeland Conference with the rematch against second-place Brandywine on Feb. 17.
Ludington (13-0) The Orioles have averaged nearly 15 wins per season over the last five, so they’re no strangers to success. But they’ve nearly reached that win total already this winter with only a couple of nail-biters. Ludington is coming off a 76-74 overtime win over Traverse City Central, but nine victories have been by double digits including a 63-52 defeat of Whitehall (10-4) that has the Orioles alone atop their new West Michigan Conference Lakes standings.
Saginaw Nouvel (12-3) Few teams with multiple losses have been closer to perfection, as Nouvel’s three defeats were by a combined six points to opponents that are a combined 29-9. Nouvel also has its share of impressive wins, with its latest five-game streak including an 11-pointer over 13-win Chesaning and Saturday’s 77-75 overtime edging of 12-win Bridgeport. The Panthers have a one-game lead on Ithaca in the Tri-Valley Conference 10-2, with that rematch Feb. 24 – but in the meantime, keep an eye out for the Feb. 14 meeting with undefeated Standish-Sterling.
Watervliet (10-1) Aside from that 71-68 loss to Benton Harbor (see above), Watervliet has been almost unstoppable with only Buchanan (one point) and Bridgman (six) coming within single digits of catching the Panthers. They lead the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore by two games after sharing the title and finishing 19-4 overall last season. The next four games should say a lot as all four opponents have nine wins this season, including reigning Division 3 champion Schoolcraft.
Gaylord St. Mary (12-1) The Snowbirds have won 12 straight since opening with a loss to Hillman, and including a 72-71 overtime victory over Indian River Inland Lakes on Friday. St. Mary also has a 19-point win over Ellsworth and a 15-pointer over Onaway, and both those opponents have reached 10 wins this season. The Onaway win from Jan. 10 has St. Mary atop the Ski Valley Conference standings, with their second meeting Feb. 15 – and before that a nonleague matchup with Lake Leelanau St. Mary (11-1) coming up this Friday.
Hillman (10-1) That 61-40 win over Gaylord St. Mary kicked off a great first half for the Tigers, who are a 57-54 overtime loss to Division 1 Alpena from perfection. It’s been a strong follow-up after last season’s only loss was to Nouvel in a Regional Semifinal. Only Alcona and Ogemaw Heights have come within single digits of catching the Tigers this winter. Hillman has a one-game lead on Posen in the North Star League Little Dipper thanks to a 62-47 victory Jan. 5 – with the rematch Tuesday.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Monday – Powers North Central (9-1) at Iron Mountain (10-1) – Both are coming off their lone defeats this season, but this still features two of the strongest Division 4 and 3 contenders, respectively, in the Upper Peninsula.
Wednesday – Cass City (11-1) at Bad Axe (11-1) – Bad Axe won the first meeting 50-41 on Jan. 6, but winner in this one could take all eventually in the Greater Thumb Conference West as they sit tied atop the standings.
Saturday – North Farmington (10-1) vs. Muskegon (12-0) at Aquinas College – The 2K23 Showcase continues with a pair of contenders in Division 1 topping the ticket with a 5:15 p.m. tipoff.
Saturday – Benton Harbor (11-2) vs. Ann Arbor Huron (11-0) at Aquinas College – These two definitely could take some of the spotlight at Aquinas kicking things off at noon.
Saturday – Grand Blanc (11-2) vs. Cadillac (11-1) at Traverse City St. Francis – The Northern Michigan Showcase has some intriguing matchups as well, and Cadillac could make a major statement for the Big North Conference in arguably the event’s headliner.
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PHOTOS (Top) Davison’s Teon Armstrong (2) pushes the pace against Flint Carman-Ainsworth during an 85-70 win Jan. 24. (Middle) Marshall defenders wall off an Otsego player driving to the basket during a 52-43 win Jan. 6. (Top photo by Terry Lyons; middle photo by Gary Shook.)
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.)