By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
Its entire student body can fit in a single bus with room to spare.
Yet Marcellus Howardsville Christian is now regarded as a boys basketball giant with senior scoring point guard Dylan Jergens fueling a historic run.
Last year the Eagles fought all the way to the Class D Quarterfinals, and with most of that roster still intact, they expect nothing less than earning a final-four spot at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center come March.
Finishing with a 20-6 record last winter, Howardsville Christian made history when it defeated Bellevue 58-46 for a Regional championship. Faced with a considerable size mismatch in the Quarterfinals versus Hillsdale Academy — a 66-38 defeat — the last chapter of the 2017-18 season was a letdown after a remarkable story otherwise.
Jergens and Co. are determined to prove last year’s success wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
“I’m excited for this season and the opportunities we have ahead of us,” he said. “Towards the end of the season we kind of had it going. It was an amazing feeling. Winning Districts and then winning Regionals for the first time in history was amazing. We were disappointed because we didn’t complete our goal of making it to Breslin, but we had a lot of fun.
“We came out a little overconfident (against Hillsdale Academy), thinking we were only one game away. We thought, ‘We’ve made it this far; we don’t think we can lose.’ We should have prepared more for their big guy; he really killed us on the boards and got layups. Looking back, we could have had a better game plan of how to guard him. But they were a good team, so give them credit.”
A junior-heavy class last winter soaked in everything it could in order to apply that experience to 2018-19.
“We’re definitely going to be ready for it and anything that is thrown at us,” Jergens said. “It’s going to be difficult. Last week we opened up against Mendon and really struggled. We know every team wants a piece of us after that run. They want to be able to come at us. It’s going to be more challenging because everyone wants to knock us off.”
As a junior, the 6-foot-4 Jergens averaged 32.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 3.2 steals per contest. He shot 58 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point land. At the free throw line, he knocked down 76 percent of his shots.
Though he certainly has been the catalyst of the Eagles’ success the last two years and a key player since joining the varsity squad as a freshman, the two-time Associated Press and Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan all-state first team selection is surrounded by an unselfish cast of players he’s shared the court with most of his life.
Fellow seniors Logan Cornwell (forward), David Cripps (guard), Colton Fair (small forward) and Reece Herschbach (center) all return, and exciting sophomores Jason Jergens (shooting guard) and Josh Parks (guard) bring long-range marksmanship to the table after seeing meaningful minutes as freshmen. Junior forwards Zach Grandlinard and Joe Nagel, and sophomore forward Ethan Johnson and sophomore guard Michael Cripps fill out a capable bench.
“The biggest strengths of our team this year are we have experience, and we have talent,” Howardsville Christian coach Tim Jergens said. “We return five starters from last year, and they have played together since elementary school. The team as a whole has great basketball I.Q., and we have players that have put the time in to be really good.”
None more than Dylan Jergens, whose effort over the years resulted in a scholarship offer from Central Michigan University, where he remains verbally committed. It’s a reminder that college programs will find talent no matter where it resides, even if it is at a school of only 32 students.
“Ever since I was little I wanted to play Division I basketball, not knowing if it would happen or not,” he said. “I just fell in love with the game and worked at it my whole life, every day. Last summer I felt like I was getting a lot better and thought good things were coming and could play at the next level.”
Though he’s certainly aware of the areas of his game he’d like to improve this year in order to have a better chance of seeing the floor sooner in Mount Pleasant next season, he’s not letting his future plans become a distraction.
“I don’t feel special,” Jergens said. “Everybody means something at our school, and everybody looks out for one another. It’s a super small classroom, and I’ve grown close to everyone in my class. None of it would be possible without my teammates and coaches and the school rallying around me. We’re hoping we can just do what we know we can do.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Howardsville Christian’s Dylan Jergens lines up a free throw during last season’s Quarterfinal against Hillsdale Academy. (Middle) Jergens and his teammates hold up a piece of the hardware they won during last season’s historic run. (Photos courtesy of JoeInsider.com.)
Matt and Derek Seidl have a lot to talk about these days.
The father and son duo both have highly-ranked, undefeated basketball teams going into the first full week of February, something neither of them saw coming.
“We were hoping for a season like this, but you never think about winning this many in a row,” said Matt Seidl, the father and head coach of the 15-0 Olivet Eagles. “When our season ended last year, we knew our top seven players would all be returning.”
About 50 miles south of Olivet, in Jackson County, Derek Seidl has the Napoleon Pirates off to a 14-0 start. They are sitting on top of the Cascades Conference.
“We have a really talented group right now,” Derek said. “We were 19-3 last year and brought six guys back. Having that experience has been very valuable.”
Olivet is ranked No. 2 in MPR in Division 2 while Napoleon is No. 9 in Division 3. Both are top-10 teams in the latest Associated Press polls as well.
Matt Seidl, 60, graduated from Ypsilanti Lincoln High School in 1981 and went to Eastern Michigan University to become a sportswriter. He didn’t begin teaching until he was in his early 30s, but, by then, was already a veteran coach.
“It was getting difficult because I was always leaving my job to go coach,” he said. “I decided to go and get my teaching degree.”
He wound up in the classroom, which enabled him to dive deeper into coaching. He spent several years coaching at the middle school and high school levels, boys and girls, with stops at places like Pinckney, Ypsilanti, Manchester, Willow Run and Romulus. He was the JV boys basketball coach at Dexter when his son, Derek, made the team as a freshman.
By then, Derek already knew he would be on the bench one day as a coach.
“I played for my dad in youth travel stuff, and he was on staff for one year my freshmen year of high school,” Derek said. “He was a varsity coach all growing up. I was always at games. I loved talking to him about the game, the strategy of it, the Xs and Os. Even when I was younger, I thought about coaching someday. Growing up if you would have asked me what my dream job was, it would have been a teacher and coach.”
Derek, 27, graduated from Dexter in 2014. He played four years of college basketball at Lawrence Tech University. After getting his master’s degree and teaching degree, he got his first coaching job as an assistant coach at Chelsea, under Josh Tropea, who also had coached with Matt.
Derek’s first teaching and head coaching job came at Springport in 2019-20. This is his third year at Napoleon.
“It’s been a really good fit here,” Derek said. “Before I started looking into the job, I barely knew anything about Napoleon. It has worked out well.”
Matt is also the athletic director at Olivet. If he would have had his way, Derek would be coaching at Olivet.
“Derek did a really good job at Springport, and we had an opening and he interviewed and was recommended for the job, but before they offered it to him, Napoleon hired him,” Matt said. “He would have been the perfect choice to teach math and coach basketball.”
With Derek no longer in the running, Matt came out of coaching retirement and was named head coach.
“It was going to be a one-year deal, sort of a band-aid to get us to the next year,” he said.
Instead, Matt’s stayed on and put together quite a successful team. The Eagles have gone 47-6 since the start of the 2020-21 season. This year’s team has taken a big step.
Junior Bo Lincoln, a 5-foot-11 junior point guard, leads the team in scoring (17.1 points per game), assists (3.6 per game), steals (3.0 per game) and free throw percentage at 78 percent.
Drew Priddy, a 6-5 senior center, is averaging about eight points and seven rebounds a game, and junior guard Bryce Wine is averaging nine points a game and leads the team in 3-pointers.
“We had quite the youth movement a few years ago,” Matt said. “We go 8-9 deep now and have a lot of experience. Having those young guys play a couple years ago is paying off.
“We are a good team, but we’re not a 70-possessions-a-game type of team. We know who we are.”
Derek also knows plenty about his dad’s team.
“I definitely keep track of them,” he said. “We talk on the phone on a daily basis – 30 minutes about Napoleon and 30 minutes about Olivet. We bounce things off each other. We run a lot of the same stuff as far as systems. We’re very connected on things.”
Matt and Derek’s teams tried to have a good old-fashioned scrimmage, or exhibition, last year but – with Derek’s team ahead – Matt received two technicals and got kicked out of the game. It’s a fun story for both to tell now.
“That was wild,” Derek said. “It was a cool thing we had going. We were winning so I was enjoying it, but that put a whole different spin on the situation.”
Matt said they probably won’t do that again. Probably.
“My wife said no,” he said. “Derek and I have talked about it, but I don’t know that it would ever happen.”
Derek said one day he’d like to coach with his father.
“I’m very energetic and into it, just like he is,” Derek said. “There are some similarities. I played for him and watched him a lot. I try and pull some of the things he does, being prepared. We get along super well. I don’t know if I could trust him to not get technical fouls.”
He’s kidding, of course.
Napoleon has a core group of four players with a ton of experience.
Devonta Habern is a 5-11 junior who is on the varsity for the third year and runs the show at point guard. Six-foot-5 senior Trent Jester is one of the best big men in the conference. University of Michigan baseball commit Grant Bradley is a three-year varsity starter and outstanding athlete. Holden Vanpoppel is an all-state track athlete who has turned into a pretty good basketball player.
“Grant is super steady and having a great year,” Derek said. “He looks like he’s been in the weight room since he was 5 years old. He can guard anybody. Vanpoppel is an unbelievable run and jump athlete. All four of these guys are averaging in double figures. They are really good athletes who have invested in the program and put the time in.”
“We’ve got a very talented group,” Derek said. “They are a little looser than I am. I tend to be very calculated, kind of analytical and serious. They like to goof around a little bit. They keep me even-keeled. They know when to get serious. It’s good for me to have a group like that.”
Derek said his squad wants to exceed expectations this year.
“We talk about that after every game – don’t be satisfied just because we are undefeated,” Derek said. “There is plenty more to accomplish. Last year we went 18-2 in the regular season and 19-3 overall, but we didn’t win a league or a District. Our guys have bought into that mindset. That’s helped us get to where we are.”
Matt is keeping a close eye on not only his team, but Derek’s as well.
“I probably get more stressed watching his games,” he said. “I’m really proud of what he has been able to do.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Father Matt, left, and son Derek Seidl are leading undefeated boys basketball teams this season at Olivet and Napoleon, respectively. (Middle) Senior Brayden Wine makes a move toward the basket for the Eagles. (Below) Derek Seidl instructs his players. (Olivet photos courtesy of Olivet High School; Napoleon photos by Jeff Steers/JTV.)