Alpena senior - Basketball
Alpena’s 6-foot-5 four-year varsity forward scored 29 points in last week’s 74-45 win over Sault Ste. Marie – and on the 29th point broke his school’s career scoring record on the way to earning the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”
DeRocher surpassed the record previously set in 1972 by Butch Feher, who went on to play at Vanderbilt University and for a season with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. DeRocher sank a fourth-quarter free throw to lock up the record at 1,436 points, and he added 26 more to his running total in Thursday’s 70-55 win over Gaylord after entering the night averaging 24.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and three assists per game this season. The Gaylord victory put the Wildcats at 11-2 after the team won five games his freshman season and nine games apiece the last two winters.
It’s been a record-setting school year for Alpena’s senior class: In addition to DeRocher’s milestone, Aidan Day set the school’s career soccer goals record, Logan Guthrie became its all-time leading career football rusher and hockey goalie Cooper Black now owns Alpena’s single-season shutout record on the ice. DeRocher also played baseball – he pitches and plays first base – and carries a 3.7 GPA. He’s unsure where he’ll attend college, but he aims to continue playing basketball and study business.
Coach John Pintar said: “I have been fortunate to have a great seat every night to watch Chris develop the last four years as both a player and a person. As a coach, you always want to see each player reach their peak potential, and Chris has certainly done that. He has started every game for us since his freshmen year. He came into the program right after we had graduated a senior class that had won two conference titles and went 41-5. There was a void in the program, and Chris was able to step right in as a freshman and instantly become a key player on the team that we could count on every night. … Any great player will tell you that winning as a team is why they play, not their statistics, and Chris has always embodied that belief. His number one goal is always the success of the team and not scoring records. The scoring has always happened within the team framework of our offense and his desire for team success. … This achievement didn't happen by accident; he has truly put in the time and effort to get to this point. He has had great support from his family and teammates along the way and I'm sure he would be the first to tell you that this couldn't have happened without them and their support. Chris has great character and is an excellent student. He has always represented himself and our school with class. I am extremely proud of what he has done and expect him to continue doing great things the rest of the season and in the future.”
Performance Point: “It was amazing, just all of the people there,” DeRocher recalled of last week’s record-setting night. “After I made that free throw, and hugging my teammates, and hugging my coaches that I've been with for four years, it was just really amazing to think about breaking a 47-year record. … Last year when I hit the 1,000-point mark, it was like, ‘All right, so if I do what I have the past two years, I should be able to do this.’ It was never something that I went out and tried to do. If it came, it came. I just went into every game trying to play the best I could for our team, and I ended up being able to do it.”
4-year varsity education: “I think I’ve just learned to not force every shot. I’ve tried to get more people more involved. Because I’ve learned if I get my teammates more involved it’s going to draw people away from me, and it’s going to be easier to get points. Just learning the game, learning defenders (and) how they play me, improving my shooting.”
Our time to shine: “The past couple years we’ve gone through some struggles. We didn’t really have that many people ahead of us, so that wasn’t always the best thing. For two years (2015-16 and 2016-17), we only graduated two seniors. Now we’re up to our grade, and we’re showing that once you get a good group together and you have a strong core, it really does help and it really does win games. We’ve learned so much the last few years – most of our starters have started since sophomore year. It’s really showed, how well we’ve played together and how much we know each other and the chemistry we’ve had.”
Super seniors: “We have a really, really strong class, and a lot of kids are going good places. To be able to be that class that breaks all those records is really cool. You always want to win; you want to show these other schools you really are something. Our grade was always pretty good. … We’re all pretty good friends with each other, and we’re always rooting for each other.”
Putting down roots: “My family owns a couple of businesses in Alpena, so I’ll probably go into that. I’ll end up coming back home. I like it here, I like everything it has to offer. … I like the area and I want to stay here.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2018-19 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard recognizes a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
Past 2018-19 honorees
January 24: Imari Blond, Flint Kearsley bowling - Read
January 17: William Dunn, Quincy basketball - Read
November 29: Dequan Finn, Detroit Martin Luther King football - Read
November 22: Paige Briggs, Lake Orion volleyball - Read
November 15: Hunter Nowak, Morrice football - Read
November 8: Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1: Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25: Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18: Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4: Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Alpena's Chris DeRocher follows through on a free-throw attempt during last week's win over Sault Ste. Marie. (Middle) DeRocher controls a loose ball in the lane. (Photos by Sports in Motion.)
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.)