By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The majority of teams playing in this weekend’s Class C and D Semifinals have been waiting decades for this opportunity.
Six are seeking their first MHSAA titles. Three are playing for their first Finals berths, and two hope to appear in championship games for the first time since separate champions were awarded by peninsula in Class B, C and D during the 1930s and 40s.
All four Class C and D Semifinals will be played Thursday, with all four championship games Saturday.
Semifinals - Thursday
Boyne City (21-5) vs Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian (20-5), 1 p.m.
Hanover-Horton (24-1) vs Flint Beecher (24-1), 2:50 p.m.
Morenci (23-2) vs Waterford Our Lady (25-0), 6 p.m.
Fulton (21-4) vs Powers North Central (25-0), 7:50 p.m.
Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6:30 p.m.
Class C - 4:30 p.m.
Class D - 10 a.m.
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, the Class D and A title games on FOX Sports Detroit's primary channel and the Class C and B games 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 C and D. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.)
Record/rank: 21-5, unranked.
League finish: First in Lake Michigan Conference.
Coach: Nick Redman, sixth season (82-57).
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class C runner-up 1933.
Best wins: 54-51 over No. 5 Iron Mountain in the Regional Final, 55-48 over honorable mention McBain in the Quarterfinal, 48-45 (District Final) and 57-42 over East Jordan.
Players to watch: Corey Redman, 6-5 sr. F (16.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.5 apg); Zach Napont, sr. G (10.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.6 apg, 3.0 spg).
Outlook: The Ramblers started this season 0-2 and then lost their final two regular-season games, but bounced right back to made their first MHSAA Semifinal since 1977. Boyne City proved itself winning a tight league race with three teams within two wins of the title, then beat Iron Mountain in the closing seconds to advance to this week. Redman has committed to play at Central Michigan University next season and leads a lineup starting four seniors.
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 1.
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red.
Coach: Mike Williams, 11th season (207-69).
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2013), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 78-60 over honorable mention Southfield Christian in the Regional Final, 60-50 and 60-48 over Class B No. 4 Goodrich, 53-37 over Class B No. 7 Flint Northwestern.
Players to watch: Cedric Moten, 6-2 sr. F (15.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.2 spg); Samuel Toins, 5-9 sr. G (11.9 ppg, 51 3-pointers).
Outlook: The back-to-back champion in 2012 and 2013, Beecher just missed returning to Finals weekend in 2014, losing in its Quarterfinal. The Buccaneers stormed back this winter, in addition to the above-mentioned opponents defeating reigning Class C champion Detroit Consortium and solid Class A River Rouge. Moten and Toins are two of only three seniors; guard Malik Ellison is one of five sophomores and adds 12.8 points per game.
GRAND RAPIDS NORTHPOINTE CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 20-5, unranked.
League finish: Second in Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver.
Coach: Jared Redell, third season (47-23).
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 48-36 over No. 3 Shelby in the Quarterfinal, 82-52 over Fennville in the District Final, 58-55 over Class B No. 3 Wyoming Godwin Heights, 93-53 over Class D honorable mention Baldwin.
Players to watch: Preston Huckaby, 5-11 sr. G (15 ppg, 3.3 apg); Kual Nhial, 6-6 sr. F (12.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg).
Outlook: NorthPointe is another team that enjoyed a fresh start in the tournament after losing three of its final four regular-season games – although the Mustangs did finish second to Class B semifinalist Godwin Heights in their league and are the only team to beat the Wolverines this season. This will be NorthPointe’s first Semifinal, and it’s a tough matchup for opponents in part because of its balance offensively; junior 6-5 guard Tyler Baker (11.3) and senior 6-5 guard Andrew Holesinger (10.1) also score in double figures, and Baker and Huckaby both have made more than 40 3-pointers this season.
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 8.
League finish: First in Cascades Conference.
Coach: Chad Mortimer, 17th season (327-82).
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class D runner-up 1941.
Best wins: 50-48 over No. 9 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in the Quarterfinal, 58-48 over No. 4 Hillsdale in the Regional Semifinal, 63-61 over No. 6 Jackson Lumen Christi in the District Semifinal,
Players to watch: Stefan Young, 5-9 sr. G (13.2 ppg, 4.3 apg); Brock Spink, 6-4 sr. F (11.3 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.5 apg).
Outlook: Hanover-Horton will play in its third Semifinal and first in since 2003 and after winning its 14th straight District title. The Comets have advanced with a pair of two-point wins over ranked opponents, avenging their lone loss by beating Lumen Christi. Senior 6-2 forward Preston Reiff (9.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg), junior 6-5 forward Preston Laketa (8.5/4.5) and senior 6-5 forward Lucas Crisanti (8.7/7.0) fill out a balanced lineup.
Record/rank: 21-4, unranked.
League finish: Second in Central Michigan Athletic Conference.
Coach: Todd Walden, 18th season (231-172).
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2011.
Best wins: 72-67 OT over honorable mention Frankfort in the Quarterfinal, 64-60 over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart in the Regional Final, 55-53 over Pewamo-Westphalia, 75-71 over Class C honorable mention Ithaca.
Players to watch: Gregg Jones, 6-0 sr. G (16.9 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.5 spg, 54 3-pointers); Colton Antes, 5-11 jr. G (13.9 ppg, 2.7 apg, 74 3-pointers).
Outlook: The Pirates have won two straight close calls to return to the Semifinals, but no doubt benefited from playing against mostly Class C teams all season – all four losses were to Class C programs including two to No. 7 Laingsburg. Fulton is dangerous from the perimeter, making 209 3-pointers entering this week at nearly 38 percent success – sophomore guard Zach Walden had made 47 3-pointers heading into Tuesday. Fulton has won at least 20 games five the last six seasons.
Record/rank: 23-2, unranked.
League finish: First in Tri-County Conference.
Coach: Jim Bauer, 10th season (141-84).
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 60-43 over Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in the Quarterfinal, 48-36 over Hillsdale Academy in the Regional Semifinal, 60-51 over Adrian Madison, 58-49 over Clinton.
Players to watch: Austin Sandusky, 5-5 sr. G (14.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.0 apg); Alex Thomas, 6-3, jr. G (10.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
Outlook: Morenci is playing in its first Semifinal after winning in its first Quarterfinal appearance since 1954. The Bulldogs avenged both of their losses this season, and Tuesday extended a run to eight straight wins by at least 12 points by beating perennial power Tri-unity Christian. The team has 10 players, and all contribute with seven averaging at least five points per game. They also can shoot; seniors Tucker Stover and Hunter Borton both make better than 42 percent of their 3-point attempts, and Sandusky strikes at 39 percent success.
POWERS NORTH CENTRAL
Record/rank: 25-0, No. 1.
League finish: First in Skyline Central Conference West.
Coach: Adam Mercier, ninth season (130-78).
Championship history: Class D champion 1984.
Best wins: 63-51 over No. 6 Hillman in the Quarterfinal, 69-53 over No. 7 Lake Linden-Hubbell in the Regional Final, 48-44 (Regional Semifinal) and 45-43 over No. 5 Munising, 46-41 and 84-50 over No. 8 Crystal Falls Forest Park.
Players to watch: Jason Whitens, 6-4 soph. G (16.4 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 6.1 apg, 3.2 spg, 1.1 bpg); Rob Granquist, Jr., 6-1 sr. F (14.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 4.1 apg).
Outlook: North Central has made three straight Quarterfinals and now two Semifinals in three seasons, with a combined record of 73-5 in that time. The Jets average nearly 72 points per game despite a schedule that has included six against top-10 teams. The team has only two seniors, and Granquist starts alongside a junior and three sophomores. Sophomore Dawson Bilski adds another 13.9 points per game.
WATERFORD OUR LADY
Record/rank: 25-0, No. 3.
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Intersectional 1.
Coach: Paul Robak, second season (42-6).
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 58-29 over No. 4 Allen Park Inter-City Baptist in the Quarterfinal, 52-35 over Southfield Bradford, 58-45 over Harbor Beach.
Players to watch: Nick Robak, 6-4 sr. G (23.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 63 3-pointers); Andrew Kline, 6-4 jr. G (13.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 6.6 apg, 3.2 spg, 42 3-pointers).
Outlook: Our Lady has advanced to its third Semifinal and first since 1993 keyed by a sizable and sharp-shooting backcourt. Nick Robak scores the most but also makes 47 percent of his shots from the floor, 38 percent from 3-point range and 86 percent from the free-throw line. Although the list of opponents might not impress in terms of state rankings, Our Lady went undefeated in a league that also includes three Class B and a Class C team and then won the Catholic’s League’s Class C-D Tournament. Only three wins were closer than 10 points.
PHOTO: Boyne City's Derek Willis launches the game-winning shot against Iron Mountain during last week's Regional. (Click for more from Jarvinen Photos.)
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.)