D4 Preview: Contenders Closing In On Completing Championship Chase

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 23, 2022

It will be the first time, first time in a long time, or first time in at least a while for whichever Division 4 boys basketball contender emerges as champion this weekend at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

Ewen-Trout Creek is seeking its first Finals championship since 1972, and Lake Leelanau St. Mary and Genesee Christian are pursuing a first title in program history.

Even Wyoming Tri-unity Christian, one of the more frequent travelers to Breslin for Finals weekend, is seeking its first championship in more than a decade.

DIVISON 4 Semifinals – Thursday
Ewen-Trout Creek (22-3) vs. Lake Leelanau St. Mary (21-4), 5:30 p.m.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (19-6) vs. Genesee Christian (21-4), 7:30 p.m.
FINAL – Saturday – 
10 a.m.

Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and are available via the Breslin Center ticket office. All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription to MHSAA.tv, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit, with the Division 4 and 1 games on BSD EXTRA and the Division 3 and 2 games on BSD’s primary channel. All four will be broadcast live as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio broadcasts of all Semifinals and Finals will be available free of charge from the MHSAA Network.

Here’s a look at the four Division 4 semifinals (with rankings by MPR at the end of the regular season, and statistics through Regional Finals):

Record/rank: 22-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain
Coach: Brad Besonen, 14th season (227-87)
Championship history: Class D champion 1972, runner-up 1982.
Best wins: 56-40 over No. 5 Rudyard in Quarterfinal, 56-44 over No. 4 Powers North Central in Regional Final, 57-38 (Regional Semifinal), 77-62 and 79-59 over No. 14 Wakefield-Marenisco; 59-58 (OT) over Division 3 No. 1 Menominee, 39-37 over Division 3 No. 20 Painesdale Jeffers.
Players to watch: Jaden Borseth, 6-4 sr. F (18.8 ppg, 43 3-pointers, 4.0 apg); Eric Abramson, 6-5 sr. F (13.7 ppg, 44 3-pointers); Kelsey Jilek, 6-4 sr. F (10.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg).
Outlook: Ewen-Trout Creek is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since that 1982 runner-up run, and has won 13 of its last 14 games on the way. The Panthers didn’t allow more than 40 points in 12 games – with 44 the most scored against them during the postseason. Borseth made the all-state first team last season. Senior 6-3 center Brendan Polkky adds another 9.7 points per game.

Record/rank: 21-4, No. 6
League finish: Tied for second in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Dan Chapman, 16th season (195-148)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 77-66 over No. 10 Southfield Christian in Quarterfinal, 59-46 over No. 12 Ubly in Regional Semifinal, 80-63 over Adrian Lenawee Christian, 55-50 over No. 13 Clarkston Everest Collegiate, 69-60 over No. 19 Webberville, 75-65 over Lake Fenton, 70-62 over Flint Hamady.  
Players to watch: Trenton Boike, 5-10 jr. G (23.3 ppg, 44 3-pointers, 5.6 apg); Tyler Chapman, 6-1 jr G (20 ppg, 82 3-pointers, 5.7 rpg). (Statistics include Quarterfinal.)
Outlook: Genesee Christian will make its first trip to the Semifinals led by Boike, who made the all-state first team as a sophomore. The Soldiers have won 11 straight games, with all four losses to larger opponents including two to Division 3 reigning champion Beecher. They could be building for another big run next season as well, as only two starters and three of their top nine players are seniors. Sophomore forward Jonah Derderian adds another 6.9 points per game.

Record/rank: 21-4, No. 9
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Matt Barnowski, second season (35-9)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 61-57 over No. 3 McBain Northern Michigan Christian in Regional Final, 61-44 (Regional Semifinal) and 71-63 over Ellsworth, 68-64 (District Final) and 66-52 over No. 17 Buckley, 84-69 (District Semifinal), 47-46 and 65-45 over Traverse City Christian, 60-46 over Flat Rock.
Players to watch: Dylan Barnowski, 6-1 jr. G (21.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.1 apg); Shawn Bramer, 6-2 jr. F (20.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg); August Schaub, 6-1 sr. F (13.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.0 apg).
Outlook: After winning its first Regional title since 1950, St. Mary is making its first trip to the Semifinals. The Eagles started the season 2-3 but have lost only once since, to Division 3 Benzie Central (20-4). St. Mary is allowing opponents to make only 38 percent of their shots, and just under 28 percent from 3-point range. Dylan Barnowski and Bramer both earned all-state honorable mentions last season, and the future looks bright as well as they are joined by only one senior starter.

Record/rank: 19-6, No. 30
League finish: First in Alliance League
Coach: Mark Keeler, 35th season (647-204)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2011), five runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 69-57 over Adrian Lenawee Christian in Quarterfinal, 57-40 over No. 1 New Buffalo in Regional Final, 55-36 over Wyoming Potter’s House Christian.
Players to watch: Brady Titus, 5-9 sr. G (29.8 ppg, 4.0 apg); Jordan VanKlompenberg, 6-1 soph. G (7.4 ppg); Owen Rosendall, 5-10 soph. G (6.0 ppg). Outlook: Tri-unity is headed back to Breslin for the fourth season over the last seven and after reaching last year’s Final and falling 47-41 to Detroit Douglass. Titus leads the way again, upping his scoring average another eight points this season after making the all-state first team last year. Senior Aidan DeKlyen also is back in the starting lineup, and Rosendall was the top sub during last year’s championship game. Junior 6-5 center Hanif James adds 5.8 points and 6.3 rebounds, and Titus, VanKlompenberg and Rosendall all had connected on at least 36 3-pointers entering the week.

PHOTO Ewen-Trout Creek's Eric Abramson (11) makes a basket during the third quarter of last week’s Regional Final win over Powers North Central. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)

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.)