By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Winning an MHSAA championship Saturday will be thrilling enough for whichever teams emerge from eight Class A and B semifinalists heading to the Breslin Center on Friday.
But the two that finish this weekend as champions will be able to celebrate some additional historical significance.
Four of those eight teams are seeking their first MHSAA title. The most recent championship among the four that have won before came way back in 1965.
Below is the schedule for all four Friday Semifinals and Saturday Finals, plus broadcast information and a look at all eight A and B semifinalists. (See Class C and D previews and schedule in a separate post.)
Semifinals - Friday
Mount Pleasant (22-4) vs. Muskegon (26-0), 1 p.m.
Detroit U-D Jesuit (22-2) vs. Bloomfield Hills (23-3), 2:50 p.m.
Benton Harbor (16-9) vs. Cadillac (19-6), 6 p.m.
Detroit Douglass (17-9) vs. Milan (23-3), 7:50 p.m.
Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6:30 pm
Class C - 4:30 pm
Class D - 10 am
Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit-PLUS. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
And now, a look at the Semifinalists in Class A and B.
Record/rank: 23-3, No. 8
League finish: Second in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Duane Graves, first season (23-3)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final (first season as a school).
Best wins: 74-62, 73-57 and 53-52 (Regional Final) over honorable mention Clarkston, 67-60 over Class B No. 7 Milan.
Players to watch: Armand Cartwright, 6-2 sr. G; Yante Maten, 6-8 sr. C. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Neither Bloomfield Hills Lahser nor Andover ever made it to a Quarterfinal, much less the final weekend of the season. But the school created when those two joined last summer has done so immediately under Graves, who coached Lahser before the merger. Cartwright scored his 1,000th career point this season. Maten is an absolute force in the post, and those two led Lahser to a District title last season as well.
DETROIT U-D JESUIT
Record/rank: 22-2, No. 3
League finish: Tied for first in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Pat Donnelly, sixth season (90-43)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 54-53 (Quarterfinal) and 67-57 over No. 6 Romulus,52-51 over No. 10 Detroit Cass Tech in Regional Final, 47-45 over No. 7 Detroit Southeastern in Regional Semifinal, 59-32 over honorable mention Detroit Renaissance in District opener.
Players to watch: Cassius Winston, 6-1 soph. G (18.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 8.7 apg, 4.3 spg); Noah King, 6-4 sr. F (12.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg).
Outlook: Jesuit won its first Regional championship last week after losing during the regular season only to Catholic League rival Warren DeLaSalle and in overtime to Ohio’s Toledo St. John. The starting lineup includes four seniors along with leading scorer Winston, and sophomore guard Billy Thomas is the team’s second-leading scorer with 13.7 points per game off the bench.
Record/rank: 22-4, honorable mention
League finish: Tied for second in Saginaw Valley Association North
Coach: Dan Schell, second season (33-14)
Championship history: Class B Lower Peninsula champion 1932, three runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 69-60 over No. 5 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 64-61 over honorable mention Flint Carman-Ainsworth in Regional Final, 64-54 over Cadillac.
Players to watch: Jaleel Hogan, 6-6 sr. F (16.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg); Aaron Leasher, 6-3 sr. G (11.2 ppg, 3.8 apg. 2.9 spg).
Outlook: The Oilers fell just one win shy of tying for the SVA North championship, but did return to the Quarterfinals for the first time since 1982 – and are seeking their first championship game berth since finishing runner-up in 1981. Hogan, who will play next season at the University of Detroit Mercy, is one of eight seniors who have helped the team improve 11 wins from last season.
Record/rank: 26-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Black
Coach: Keith Guy, second season (45-7)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1937), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 88-78 over No. 5 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 65-50 over honorable mention Westland John Glenn, 68-59 over Class C No. 1 Mount Clemens, 73-55 over Benton Harbor.
Players to watch: Deshaun Thrower, 6-0 sr. G (18.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 7.0 apg, 3.0 spg); Deyonta Davis, 6-9 jr. F/C (14.2 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 7.0 bpg); Joeviair Kennedy, 6-3 jr. F (12.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg).
Outlook: Muskegon is back in the Semifinals for the first time since 1947 and has made this undefeated run with only four seniors. But one is Mr. Basketball and standout football quarterback Thrower, and Davis is likely the Mr. Basketball favorite for 2014-15. Guy formerly led Muskegon Heights to a number of successful seasons during the 2000s.
Record/rank: 16-9, unranked
League finish: Tied for third in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West
Coach: Corey Sterling, second season (34-16)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 1965), six runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 68-61 over No. 1 Wyoming Godwin Heights in Semifinal, 78-73 over T-No. 5 Otsego in Regional Final, 72-63 over Class A No. 9 Battle Creek Central.
Players to watch: Cortez Moore, 6-6 sr. F (21 ppg, 12 rpg, 4.0 apg, 4.0 spg, 3.0 bpg); Jaton Gunn, 6-2 soph. F/G (18 ppg, 3.0 apg, 3.0 spg).
Outlook: Given Benton Harbor’s strong hoops reputation, it’s hard to believe this is the team’s first Semifinal run since 1993. And it came with consecutive upsets of top-five teams, including handing Godwin Heights its only loss this winter. Sterling was a member of that 1993 Class A runner-up team playing for longtime coach Paul Wilhite. Sophomore point guard Curtis Dawson runs the show adding 11 points, seven assists and six steals per game.
Record/rank: 19-6, unranked
League finish: Tied for second in Big North Conference
Coach: Jeff McDonald, 20th season (322-131)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 55-49 OT over Big Rapids in Quarterfinal, 46-42 over Mason County Central in Regional Final, 55-52 over Escanaba in Regional Semifinal, 50-42 over Petoskey.
Players to watch: Jalen Brooks, 6-4 sr. F (17.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg); Justin Liptak, 6-5 sr. C (9.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
Outlook: Cadillac has won its last four games by six or fewer points to return to the Semifinals for the second straight season. A win Friday would give the Vikings at least 20 in four straight seasons, along with four straight District and Regionals titles. Junior guard Andrew Emington adds another 9.2 points per game from the backcourt.
Record/rank: 17-9, honorable mention
League finish: Third in Detroit Public School League East Division 1
Coach: Nkwane Young, 10th season (154-72)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 41-39 over No. 10 Ferndale University in District Final, 69-56 over No. 9 Detroit Country Day in Regional Final, 48-45 over Class A No. 7 Detroit Southeastern, 49-46 and 62-26 over Class A honorable mention Detroit Renaissance.
Player to watch: Darrell Davis, 6-5 sr. G (24.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.2 apg, 2.0 spg).
Outlook: Douglass has taken the next step after winning its fifth straight District title and second Regional championship during that string. Davis, who will play at University of Dayton next season, was a Mr. Basketball finalist and plays both guard spots. He’s also one of seven seniors, with forward DeShawn Sanders and point guard Terrell Hales also starters.
Record/rank: 23-3, No. 7
League finish: First in Huron League
Coach: Josh Tropea, fifth season (90-27)
Championship history: Class C champion 1948.
Best wins: 62-53 over honorable mention Wayland in Quarterfinal, 55-40 over honorable mention Detroit Community in Regional Final, 42-40 (District Semifinal), 57-37 and 59-50 over honorable mention Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, 57-54 over Class A No. 9 Battle Creek Central.
Players to watch: Latin Davis, 5-9 jr. G (15.9 ppg, 3.8 apg); Nick Perkins, 6-7 jr. F (15 ppg, 9.1 rpg).
Outlook: Milan upped its winning streak to 18 by winning its first Quarterfinal appearance since 1948. The Big Reds lost to a couple of strong Class A schools in Saginaw and Bloomfield Hills during the regular season, which no doubt helped prepare for a competitive string of Class B opponents the last three weeks. The team has only three seniors, with 6-3 guard Donovan Verges adding 9.4 ppg.
PHOTO: Detroit Douglass' Darrell Davis looks for an open teammate during Tuesday's Quarterfinal win over Goodrich. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Public School League.)
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.)