KALAMAZOO — Dane Preston has had plenty of fun jamming the basketball through the hoop in practice, but never had the confidence to do it in a game.
That all changed earlier this season when the 6-foot-3 senior streaked down the court and brought the cheering crowd to its feet with a two-handed dunk in Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep’s game against Otsego in December.
“I’ve had a lot of opportunities before where I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it,” he said. “You want to make sure you score.
“I saw pictures from last year where I was so far above (the rim) and I was like, why didn’t I just try to dunk it? You’ve just got to get it in your mind to do it.”
Preston, who averages a team-high 19 points per game, is one reason why the Irish are off to a 6-0 start on the season. But he’s not the only hoops whiz in the family.
His sister, Sydney, 5-foot-9, averages a team-high 16 ppg on the girls team that, at 9-0, is off to its best start in years.
That makes for some rather interesting “can you top this” discussions at home.
“Every single game we played, we get home and she’s like, ‘I scored 18 points,’ and I’m like, ‘I had 20,’” Dane Preston said, laughing. “It’s just like a battle; it’s vicious.”
The pair have a hoop outside at home, and “he usually beats me, but I beat him in H-O-R-S-E a couple times,” his sister said. “Good competition. He doesn’t go easy on me.”
The two may be extremely competitive in basketball, but off the court they have a close relationship forged by a catastrophic event early in their lives.
Their father, Gary, died from a heart attack when Dane was 4 and Sydney 1½.
“I wore number 22 at the Courthouse (Athletic Center, for youth basketball), 14 in 7th and 8th grades, but when I got to high school I decided to wear number 4 because there’s a meaning behind it,” Preston said, referring to his age when he lost his father. “It’s always good to put a meaning behind something that means a lot to you.”
Although his sister was younger when they lost their father, she wears the same number.
“Dane picked 4 a long time ago, and I kinda wanted to be like him,” she said.
Runs in the family
The two come by their basketball prowess naturally.
Their mother, Amy Reisterer Preston, was on the seventh grade team at Kalamazoo St. Mary’s when she was in fifth grade. She played at Comstock High School and one year at Hope College before concentrating on track her four years there.
When her daughter was in third grade, Preston started coaching her team and has moved up the ranks with her.
After coaching the junior varsity girls last year, Amy is currently the assistant varsity coach, working with her uncle, head coach Nib Reisterer.
That’s not a problem for her daughter — usually.
“I like it for the most part,” Sydney said. “You can let go to my mom because she’s a woman, so it’s easier to talk to her (than a male coach). I think it’s fun to have her on the team.
“My family’s always been some sort of my coach in basketball. Sometimes I don’t like it, but most of the time I do.”
Fridays make life a lot easier for the family.
That’s when both teams play at the same venue. Tuesdays they play at opposite sites.
“I get to have my game with Sydney, then relax and watch Dane,” their mother said of Fridays.
“The balancing act has been a little bit of a struggle for me,” Amy Preston added. “Dane’s a senior this year, so I don’t want to miss half his season, but yet I’m torn.
“I feel like my role with the girls is important, for all the girls, not just Sydney. If I’m not at the games, I feel like there’s a missing link there. I told Dane if there are any games he really needs or wants me to be at on a Tuesday night, I will be there. He just needs to let me know.”
At 6-3, Dane Preston isn’t close to being the tallest player on his Class C Southwestern Athletic Conference team.
Senior Riley Gallagher and junior Teddy Oosterbaan are both 6-7 and lead the team in dunks.
“Riley’s had three, and Teddy’s had three,” Dane said. “Teddy’s athletic and Riley’s just really tall. It’s easier for them.”
In addition, 6-1 senior starter Jack Dales is second in team scoring with 16 ppg.
“Me, Jack and Riley have been together since first grade,” Dane said. “We have some chemistry together. Our offense is really explosive.”
The offense exploded Friday in the fourth quarter in a matchup of unbeatens with Hackett eking out a hard-fought 54-48 win against crosstown rival Kalamazoo Christian.
Said Gallagher: “We have what every team needs: a person at every position that can help.
“Teddy at the center. He’s one of the biggest kids in the league. Me at forward, (sophomore) Jacob (Niesen) or (sophomore) Casey (Gallagher) at three and Dane and Jack at point guard.”
Dales said everyone contributes and “Dane brings extreme scoring and hard work to the team.”
Mark Haase, who coached at Three Rivers, Otsego and Berrien Springs before taking over at Hackett this season, added: “In 17 years of coaching, this is probably the best chemistry I’ve ever had. They enjoy themselves, they enjoy each other. You can tell they’re having fun.
“They’re very unselfish and have very good chemistry and obviously some good players, too. I’ve coached at two Class B schools, and these four (Preston, Dales, Riley Gallagher, Oosterbaan) could play at any one of them.”
Haase said Preston is the serious one.
“Not in a bad way,” he quickly added. “Jack and Riley and Teddy are a little more loose. Dane has always wanted to be a good player, and he’s become a good player. Basketball means a lot to him.
“If there’s a big shot, he’s probably the guy who’s going to take it. He’s a good team player. He understands when to shoot and when not to shoot. A great scorer, a pretty good passer and he’s developed into a better defender.”
Andrew Marshall, A.J. Estes, Bryant Neal and Kieran O’Brien are the other seniors on the team.
Juniors are T.J. Krawczyk, Adam Wheaton, Donovan Kelly and Luke DeClercq.
One of Preston’s goals is to reach 1,000 career points. He has 716 so far.
Another is to end the season playing for an MHSAA title, something the Irish haven’t accomplished in 80 years.
Strength despite low numbers
Although there are just nine players on the girls varsity, “All the players we have are really good,” said captain Maura Gillig, the only senior on the team. “Our bench can come in and be really good.”
Two players top Sydney Preston’s 5-9 height. Junior Hope Baldwin is 5-11 and Gillig 5-10. Sophomore Savannah Madden measures 5-8.
“We have a really strong defensive team,” Preston said. “We have some key shooters. We have a good mix of girls.
“Savannah went to St. A’s (St. Augustine) and I went to St. Monica, so we played against each other (before high school). Last year we finally got to play with each other (on junior varsity). We really clicked, then she got moved up to varsity.”
Said Gillig: “Sydney brings a lot of intensity. She loves to play and brings a lot of energy onto the court.
“She’s always one of the players that if we ever need a steal or a play to bring us back in the game, she’s the one who will get it. She’s competitive, but she’s really encouraging to everyone.”
Juniors on the team are Emily Matthews, Cierra Barker, Naomi Keyte and Molly Panico. The other sophomore is Jessie Wenzel.
With just one senior this year, “I think we’ve got a really bright future here,” Reisterer said.
Amy Preston, who took a break from coaching to earn her master’s degree in exercise science, rejoined the coaching ranks when her daughter was in third grade.
“Being the mom part, I know my daughter’s potential,” she said. “I tend to be a little tougher on her and have higher expectations because I know what her potential is.
“That’s probably hard for her because she probably feels I’m picking on her more than the other girls. It’s kind of a fine line. It’s important for me not to show favoritism, too.”
Reisterer played basketball at Hackett, graduating in 1972, and coached Amy in seventh and eighth grades at St. Mary’s school.
Talking about his great niece, Reisterer said: “Sydney gives us a player who can finish at the backboard, and she can hit an outside shot. She can drive, she makes her free throws, so she’s got a well-rounded game.
“Her rebounding has improved dramatically and her defense is getting better. She’s discovering what she can do on the court. She’s like a sponge. She’s soaking it all in.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She continues to freelance for MLive.com covering mainly Kalamazoo Wings hockey and can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Sydney Preston, left, fires a shot against Kalamazoo Christian, while brother Dane Preston gets a look against Otsego. (Head shots) Sydney Preston, Dane Preston, Amy Preston. (Middle) Dane Preston looks for an opening. (Below) Sydney Preston brings the ball upcourt. (Girls photos and head shots by Pam Shebest; boys photos by Scott Dales.)
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.)