A year can make a big difference.
But a year of hard work can make a much bigger difference.
It certainly did for Petoskey senior Michael Squires.
“Petoskey boys basketball will ‘go down swinging’ with the Michael Squires of this world,” said second-year Northmen coach Matt Tamm. “Michael is a great teammate and even better person.
“Michael is a great young person that I have had the honor of coaching for three years.”
The first year Squires played for Tamm was as a sophomore on the junior varsity team. The second, Squire’s junior season, began to make Squires think about not returning for his senior year. He opted instead for a year of hard work before coming back to the court.
Northmen fans are glad he did. Squires is the team’s leading rebounder and strongest defender.
“After my junior year, I debated coming to play my senior year after my limited play time, but I am glad that I did,” Squires said. “The work that I put in my junior year paired with an increase in size and strength allowed me to earn a role on the team and contribute to the success we have had.”
Squires, who sports a 3.98 GPA while taking honors and advanced placement courses, is finding tremendous success on the court after a stellar fall soccer season filled with postseason honors. He’s also looking to wrap up his senior year helping his golf team reach the Finals this spring.
The Northmen are 12-5 overall and 5-3 in Big North Conference play heading into tonight’s home contest with Cadillac, the conference leader. Petoskey lost to Cadillac in the first meeting, 68-65 in overtime, as Jaden Montague hit a 3-pointer well outside of the arc with just four ticks remaining. The Northmen’s last shot in regulation was blocked by Cadillac.
A win tonight and another over second-place Traverse City Central next week could wreak havoc on the title race. Petoskey lost to Central 72-59 earlier this season, and its other conference loss was in double overtime at Traverse City West.
“Our focus is on playing good basketball,” Tamm said. “If we play good basketball, winning and losing will take care of itself.
“Cadillac is a quality opponent, and we look forward to the challenge.”
The Northmen are also looking forward to postseason play after winning their District last year. Four Big North Conference opponents, along with Marquette and Sault St. Marie, are the initial competition.
A postseason run could be in the cards again, Squires believes.
“This year I believe that the District is open for us to win, but once we reach the Regional round we will likely play teams such as Grand Blanc who are very good,” Squires said. “If we play to the quality of basketball that we have shown earlier in the season, and I know we are capable of, winning the region is something that I think we can accomplish.”
Squires’ senior-season success wasn’t exactly anticipated — due to his first three seasons at Petoskey. His freshman year featured his offensive side. His sophomore season saw most all of his playing time recorded as a substitute.
Limited playing time on the varsity as a junior led to thoughts of no more basketball. But all that changed.
Tamm has always focused on individual roles. He and Squires believe they found the right one for the 6-foot-2 standout.
“The biggest difference between this year and last year for me, I believe, was my mentality toward basketball and how I would contribute to the team,” Squires said. “As many people do, I would love to score a lot of points – but this year the realization that that’s not my role was key in my development.
“That realization allowed me to put forth all my effort into what I’m best at – defense and rebounding,” he continued. “This year I took my role of shutdown defender and rebounder more to heart and committed myself to doing what I am good at and what our team needs me to do for us to be successful.”
Tamm said Squires plays the exact role the Northmen need.
“Michael understands and accepts his role on the team,” Tamm said. “He is not our strongest offensive player — he understands that.
“But he plays excellent defense, rebounds, sets screens, slashes at the basket and dives after loose balls,” Tamm continued. “Michael does not take the ill-advised shot. … He seldom — if ever — misses a defensive assignment or box out and generally takes care of the ball and makes the right pass.”
Tamm also points to Squires’ work ethic and positive attitude as keys to his success. Squires worked closely with Mike Zenk, the Petoskey boys basketball strength and conditioning coach, and made gains.
“Michael grew, and he filled out,” Tamm said. “He shows up every day – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and he always remained positive.”
Squires, who prides himself on playing outstanding defense and attacking the offensive boards, finds tremendous joy in shutting down the opposing team as Tamm normally assigns him the other team’s best player to defend.
“Some people find the most enjoyment in scoring points but I equally enjoy stopping someone from scoring and throwing someone off their game,” Squires said.
When basketball ends next month, Squires will turn his thoughts to his last career sports goal, and likely move on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan. He’s also been accepted at Michigan State and Purdue.
“Before I graduate I would like to make it to the state tournament in golf as we missed out on it last year,” Squires said. “This year we have a pretty good team, and I feel we have a good shot at making it.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Petoskey’s Michael Squires rises above a pair of Traverse City Central defenders for a shot. (Middle) Squires elevates again, this time on the soccer pitch against Traverse City West. (Below) Squires officiates during a Petoskey youth tournament earlier this month. (Photos by Billy McNamara.)
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.)