By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
After slightly more than a quarter of the regular season for most Michigan high school boys basketball teams, nearly 10 percent remain undefeated. Many others have fallen just once with midseason approaching.
Some of that could change this weekend, which could be one of the most exciting of the winter with multiple big-time showcases featuring some of the state's top teams.
Check out some of the matchups that especially pop off the page below, but also see the full schedule on the MHSAA Score Center.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Hudsonville Unity Christian 50, Holland West Ottawa 48 The reigning Division 2 champion won twice last week by a combined five points, Tuesday handing West Ottawa its only loss and then edging Holland Christian by three Friday.
2. Ann Arbor Huron 47, North Farmington 41 – The River Rats remained unbeaten with another solid win, sending North Farmington to 7-2.
3. Detroit Edison 60, Ferndale 55 – A qualifier for Breslin the last three seasons, the Division 3 Pioneers added another impressive win to a growing list this winter against Division 2 notable Ferndale.
4. Waterford Mott 60, Grand Blanc 57 – Add Mott to Division 1 teams to keep an eye on after this impressive victory at the Oakland County Tip-Off Classic.
5. Escanaba 63, Marquette 56 – The Eskymos sit just 4-4 overall, but 3-0 and first in the Great Northern Conference after this win over the reigning league champion.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (5-2) Just a season after finishing last in the Detroit Catholic League Central with a 0-8 conference record, the Warriors quickly are tied atop the standings after breaking that streak with the weekend’s 79-67 win over Warren De La Salle Collegiate. Brother Rice ended last winter 11-13 overall, but did show a spark winning a District title. The Warriors lost to solid opponents Southfield Christian and Macomb Dakota during the second half of this past December, but otherwise have five double-digit wins.
Wyoming (6-0) The Wolves are looking at a big jump in 2019-20 after last year’s 10-12 finish. They opened the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold schedule Friday with an 80-72 win over Grand Rapids South Christian, and Wyoming also owns solid early double-digit wins over Grand Rapids Northview and Byron Center. Wyoming was 16-6 and won the Gold only two seasons ago, so a bounce-back shouldn’t stun many.
Cadillac (5-0) With wins already over both 2018-19 Big North Conference co-champions Petoskey and Traverse City Central, Cadillac sits atop the standings while seeking its first BNC title since sharing it in 2012-13. Before defeating Petoskey 46-37 on Thursday, Cadillac opened last week with another solid victory 48-42 over nonleague Big Rapids. The nonleague schedule includes unbeaten Mount Pleasant and McBain as well during the final weeks before District play, great prep for a possible postseason run.
Clio (7-0) Make way for the Mustangs. After flipping their 2017-18 finish of 5-15 to go 15-5 last winter, they’ve flown out of the gate. Clio already has avenged a last-season loss to Flushing – 54-50 last week and their only win so far by fewer than 10 points. And after finishing second last season in the formerly one-division Flint Metro League, the Mustangs sit tied for first in the first-year Stars division with also-undefeated Goodrich.
Fennville (5-1) The Blackhawks bounced back from their lone loss last week to nonleague Niles Brandywine with a 42-38 win Friday over Gobles that put Fennville first alone atop the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore. Fennville also has handed reigning champion Coloma its only league loss. The Blackhawks are coming off a third-place Lakeshore finish and 10-11 overall run last winter.
Munising (8-0) The Mustangs won their league and a Division 4 District title last season, but at least for the playoffs will face a different path playing now in Division 3. The start has been similar, if not much better, however. Munising has avenged last season’s early losses to Gwinn and Rapid River and extended its perfect start Monday with an overtime win over Manistique.
Frankfort (5-0) The Panthers have picked right back up after last year’s 21-6 run and Division 4 runner-up finish. They’ve already avenged last season’s loss to Onekama with a 51-46 win Dec. 19, and they join Maple City Glen Lake as the two teams undefeated in Northwest Conference play – with Glen Lake coming to Frankfort tonight. Glen Lake defeated Frankfort twice last winter.
Pellston (5-0) Featuring one of the state’s leading scorers in Blake Cassidy, the Hornets are one of two teams unbeaten early in Ski Valley Conference play after winning the league and making the Division 4 Quarterfinals a year ago. They’ve won comfortably but also shown the ability to win close, with a three-point victory over Harbor Springs and one-pointer versus Fife Lake Forest Area – which both sit currently at 4-2.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Maple City Glen Lake (5-1) at Frankfort (5-0) – These are the main contenders in the Northwest Conference, and Frankfort is looking to avenge multiple losses from last season to the reigning champion Lakers.
Friday – Detroit Douglass (7-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (7-2) – This is likely to decide the champion in the Detroit Public School League East; King won last year’s meeting by 19.
Saturday – Benton Harbor (7-1) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (5-1) at Ottawa Hills – This rematch of the 2018 Class B championship game highlights the annual Floyd Mayweather Classic.
Saturday – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (6-0) vs. Flint Beecher (6-1) at Ferndale – These contenders in Divisions 1 and 3, respectively, face off in one of the top matchups at the Freedom Classic.
Saturday – Muskegon (3-1) at Ferndale (3-2) – This Freedom Classic matchup features two highly-regarded teams that could break out as January continues to roll along.
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PHOTO: Muskegon fell Jan. 4 to Chicago Curie, its only defeat this season. (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.)