By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
How quickly can a lackluster season become a distant memory?
Ask a few of the teams we’ve highlighted in this week’s Breslin Bound Boys Report, powered by MI Student Aid.
Two of the eight on our “Watch List” this week have already won more games this winter than in all of 2015-16, and a third team could equal last season’s total by the end of this week.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Clarkston 60, Flint Carman-Ainsworth 47 – The Wolves remain undefeated at 8-0 after handing Carman-Ainsworth its first loss (and later in the week doing the same to Walled Lake Western).
2. Detroit U-D Jesuit 71, Romulus 58 – The Cubs finished nonleague play at 5-2 and with one more solid win over a Class A power heading into the Detroit Catholic League schedule.
3. Ann Arbor Skyline 74, Belleville 71 – Skyline is tied for the lead in the Southeastern Conference Red, but handing Belleville its first loss may have surprised a few even though Skyline has broken 70 points five of the last six games.
4. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 55, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern 51 – This neighborly rivalry game hadn’t meant this much in a while, with both now in the Ottawa-Kent Conference White and Central handing Northern its first loss of the season.
5. Holt 59, Okemos 49 – This gave the Rams an early co-lead with East Lansing in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue and added to a 4-2 start with those losses by a combined seven points.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Davison (6-1) – After watching the football team make a nice jump in the fall, the basketball team is doing the same coming off a 5-16 finish. The only defeat was to one-loss Carman-Ainsworth.
Bloomfield Hills (6-1) – The Black Hawks are two wins better than at this point a year ago, with their only loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s. They should provide a nice challenge to Clarkston in the Oakland Activities Association Red.
Hillsdale (6-0) – The Hornets are always in the mix, and got off to another fast start this winter after ending last year’s 18-win campaign with a three-point loss in their first District game. Last week’s double-overtime win over Onsted might be the best so far.
Wyoming Kelloggsville (5-0) – The Rockets could be in the midst of another of the most significant turnarounds in the state this winter, going 7-15 a year ago but most recently handing a one-point loss to reigning Class C runner-up Grandville Calvin Christian.
Maple City Glen Lake (5-0) – The Lakers opened this season by avenging last year’s season-ending loss to Traverse City St. Francis, and since they’ve played to a first-place tie in the Northwest Conference with rival Frankfort. Thursday opponent Buckley will provide another major test.
Munising (6-0) – After finishing 11-10 and falling in its first postseason game last winter, Munising is more than halfway to a better finish. This start included an avenging of that season-ending loss to Rock Mid-Peninsula and three victories total by five or fewer points.
Bellevue (4-0) – The Broncos have been riding a nice run the last few seasons, winning 18 games a year ago. They already own a win over Climax-Scotts, the team with which they shared the Southern Central Athletic Association West title last winter.
Marcellus (4-1) – The Wildcats also are on the rebound, having already surpassed last season’s three wins. The lone loss was a three-pointer to Constantine during the season’s first week.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Grand Rapids Christian (4-0) at Wayland (4-1) – These two and Wyoming look like the contenders in the O-K Gold, with Christian one to chase both in the league and Class A statewide.
Tuesday – Bellaire (5-1) at Gaylord St. Mary (5-1) – These two are contenders in the Ski Valley Conference, but also stand to be among Class D’s best from just below the bridge.
Friday – Saginaw (6-1) at Saginaw Arthur Hill (4-2) – One of the oldest rivalries in state history remains one of the best, with this and the Feb. 3 matchup likely to decide the Saginaw Valley League North title winner.
Friday – Holt (4-2) at East Lansing (6-0) – The Trojans have high hopes in Class A this season, but first comes taking care of the CAAC Blue and a strong field including the Rams (also mentioned above).
Saturday – Detroit East English (5-0) vs. Kalamazoo Central (5-0) at Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills – Arguably the top matchup of the Floyd Mayweather Classic, this one pits two of the best in Class A.
PHOTO: Grand Rapids Christian, driving to the basket, downed Holland West Ottawa on Dec. 28 as part of its 4-0 start. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)
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.)