Clarkston, Loyer Dazzle at Breslin Again

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

March 24, 2018

EAST LANSING – Foster Loyer hasn’t enrolled yet at Michigan State University, but it’s safe to say he’s already plenty comfortable on his future school’s basketball court.

A day after torching the Breslin Center nets for 42 points in a Semifinal, Loyer poured in 40 more Saturday to lead Clarkston to an 81-38 win against Holland West Ottawa in the MHSAA Class A championship game.

“To be honest, I think playing in front of this atmosphere and this stage, I think it definitely helped being here last year,” Loyer said. “For me there were no nerves coming in. I thought our team, honestly, when we came in we weren’t bright-eyed or scared of playing in a big place. Having been here that helped me, and coming into the game I had the mindset to attack. I’ve been working on my shot quite a bit, so I was happy a few of them went down.”

It was the second straight title for the Wolves (26-1), who gave longtime coach Dan Fife the first of his storied career a year ago.

“The first one was pretty special for me, but this one here really was special,” Fife said. “From the day we left this building (a year ago) everybody started talking about back-to-back, and I know how hard that is because it took me so long to get the first one. To think that these kids could look up to that, it’s just a tremendous challenge. I can’t say enough about these kids.”

Saturday’s game marked the end of an amazing four-year run for Loyer and his classmates, as the Wolves were 97-6 during the Class of 2018’s tenure. It’s the best four-year run in Fife’s 36 seasons as Clarkston coach.

“These kids have been fun to work with,” Fife said. “I don’t know how it started last year – I’m sure Foster had something to do with it – but we started getting in the huddle and leaving the huddle with ‘Family,’ and these kids are extremely close. They have a good relationship on and off the floor, and I’ve gotta believe that’s going to carry on forever. This kind of moment, back-to-back, is incredible. These kids have played with a bulls-eye for four years, and to continue to play like they have and meet every challenge is really a tremendous success story about who they were as kids, and how they went about business.”

Fittingly, the final shot of Loyer’s career was a 3-pointer to put him at 40 points and tied for the seventh-best scoring performance in an MHSAA Finals game. The 2018 Mr. Basketball winner finished 14 of 19 (73 percent) from the field and 6 of 11 (54 percent) from 3-point range in the game, and was 26 of 36 (72 percent) from the floor on the weekend.

He left the court he’ll play his college basketball on to a standing ovation, and he leaves Clarkston as the program’s all-time leading scorer.

“Foster Loyer is a pretty darn good player,” Holland West Ottawa coach Steve Windemuller said. “To see him in person is really special, because he is a special player. What he did today, it looked it was pretty effortless at times. I wish him all the best at Michigan State. Coach (Tom) Izzo’s got a good one.”

Loyer, who also had seven assists, was far from alone in his hot shooting, as the Wolves were 29 of 49 (59.2 percent) from the field, and 13 of 22 (59.1 percent) from 3. C.J. Robinson scored 18 points, while Taylor Currie had 13 points to go with 10 rebounds.

And it all started quickly, as Clarkston’s first four makes were from 3-point range, helping it to a 19-6 lead after one quarter, and a 49-20 lead at halftime. Holland West Ottawa (25-3), meanwhile, struggled from the jump, shooting 2 of 13 (15.4 percent) from the field in the opening quarter.

“Clarkston is really good,” Windemuller said. “If that’s any news to anybody, you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave. They were obviously really, really good today. It’s just one of those things, we get to play them one time, and I’m not sure us playing them 10 times was going to make a difference. Today wasn’t quite the way we wanted to end it, the way we wanted to play, for sure. But congratulations to them; they’re one heck of a team.”

Xavier Wade led West Ottawa with 13 points, while Liam Cavanaugh had 10. It was a rough ending, but the Panthers won’t let that take away from the deepest postseason run in program history.

“We’re thankful for the opportunity to be here,” West Ottawa senior Tyler Bosma said. “Obviously it’s not the way we wanted to go out, but I was very lucky to be part of the biggest run in West Ottawa history. I’m very thankful for that. I’m thankful for my teammates, coaches, our students, everybody that came out and supported us today and throughout the whole season. It’s really special to see and to be a part of that.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Clarkston’s Foster Loyer drives to the basket during Saturday’s Class A Final. (Middle) The Wolves’ C.J. Robinson works to get past Holland West Ottawa’s Jason Fairfield.  

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

November 28, 2023

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.

Southwest CorridorIt 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."

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. 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.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (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 HassingerScott 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.)