When Coloma varsity boys basketball coach Paul Marfia was asked to dissect the Comets’ undefeated season up to this point, he said the bruises his players consider badges of honor tell most of the story.
The Comets, who are tied for 9th in The Associated Press’ Class B state rankings, may not be the most athletic or talented team on the west side of the state. But their tenacity, toughness, heart and unselfishness have propelled them to a 13-0 overall record and 8-0 mark in the Southwestern Athletic Conference’s Lakeshore division.
The program hasn’t won a conference championship since 2004 and now is positioned end that drought, having already pulled off confidence-fortifying wins over SAC Valley powers Kalamazoo Christian (12-1) and Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep (12-2) after trailing the latter by as many as 16 in the third quarter.
This winter has been the culmination of five years of Marfia preaching that, in the words of Aristotle, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, junior point guard Zach Goodline, who’s averaging 27 points per game this year and adding to the program’s career points record with every bucket, plays a particularly big part for the Comets.
“We know if we don’t play the way we should play, we can take a loss,” Goodline said. “But it’s nice finally winning a bunch of games.”
As do a host of others, including a core group of seven seniors, some of whom were on varsity in 2015-16 and experienced a five-win season. They endured some hard knocks.
“It’s a process; I’m an Italian and I grew up as a farmer. I know things take time, and it’s not done in a day,” said Marfia, who experienced a 13-9 first campaign at Coloma in 2013-14 with a solid senior class, though he started from scratch in Year 2. “I was actually finding kids in the hallway. ‘Hey, I heard you used to play in the seventh grade. Why don’t you be my power forward?’
“There wasn’t a culture there. In the past it was there. But it’s been a long time since then. There was a big dip because of the culture and understanding what it means to play basketball the right way and understanding what that commitment is. It’s starting to go in the right direction, and this group of seniors are the ones that are committed to that.”
It was only a couple years ago the Comets were hopelessly lost on the defensive end, sometimes showing as many as six different looks in a game in a desperate effort to find something effective.
Now Coloma sticks mostly to man-to-man and the basic principles of “attitude and effort,” holding opponents under 47 points per game.
Four-year varsity player Levi Wilkens is certainly committed, and he’s going to make sure everyone in a Coloma jersey is as well. Wilkens was asked to shoot less last year and focus on leading the team defensively. It took him a while to accept that role, he said, and now he revels in it.
“I think I’ve matured a lot more,” Wilkens said. “We’re going chapter by chapter. We’re on chapter 13. We don’t look ahead, and we focus on each team.”
“It’s awesome to see,” Marfia said. “Here’s a kid who was all-conference and only averaged 2.5 points per game. Levi is a kid who’s been a captain, a point guard and a defensive kid. I’ve never seen a kid score zero points in a game and yet control a game as much as he does.”
Just a few hours after being interviewed for this story, Wilkens left Monday’s game at Niles Brandywine in the first quarter with a broken nose and a gash that required 16 stitches.
“He’s a tough kid,” Marfia said of Wilkens after the Comets held on for a 73-65 victory. “He had a face for radio anyways. He’ll be back tougher and uglier than ever. He understands that’s what separates us from the other team.”
Seven players have scored in double figures this year for Coloma, proving they’re just as unrelenting on the offensive end of the floor. Goodline fouled out with a minute left against Brandywine after scoring 19 points. Junior forward Phillip Caldwell shouldered a bigger load and finished with a career-high 27. Prior to the contest, Caldwell was averaging eight points per game.
Sophomore forward Michael Dancer worked his way into the starting rotation and produced 72 rebounds, 15 blocks and 5.5 points per game prior to the matchup with Brandywine. Senior Robbie Schroeder is the team’s center and is averaging just a hair under 10 points per game with a disruptive presence on the defensive side.
“We’re focusing on the big goal and working toward one thing,” Schroeder said. “We’re not all good scorers like Zach, so we realize if we want to win, we have to do our part on the defensive end. That’s what we believe in.”
Senior Chris Brown has been an invaluable sixth man for the Comets, and fellow classmates Tevon Blazier, Brendan Lute, Willie Donald and Adam Hearn have helped reshape the culture.
“It’s been a long journey,” Hearn said. “I’ve been playing with some of these kids since third or fourth grade and have seen everybody grow. Coming together as one and being a solid team is amazing.”
“You have to have kids that understand what it means to be part of a team,” Marfia said. “I see that in these kids. They play the way you want them to.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Coloma's Robbie Schroeder puts up a shot in the post against Watervliet. (Middle) Leading scorer Zach Goodline elevates for a jumper for the Comets. (Photos courtesy of the Coloma athletic department.)
We've got a long way to go before the stories of this season conclude with four MHSAA boys basketball champions crowned March 15 at Michigan State University's Breslin Center.
But the first week of the 2023-24 regular season gave us plenty to fill our first installment of “Breslin Bound” – our official tip-off to following more than 700 boys basketball teams through those final buzzers in East Lansing.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 46, Flint Beecher 44 This was their first meeting since January 2022 and it provided a memorable start as the Cavaliers downed the reigning Division 3 champion.
2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice 75, Ferndale 66 These two both have several new contributors, but big things will be expected again as well as Brother Rice regularly contends in Division 1 and Ferndale is the reigning Division 2 champion.
3. Lansing Waverly 58, Detroit Martin Luther King 57 Waverly took major strides last season doubling its win total from 2021-22 and could be on the verge of more coming off this impressive victory at the Detroit Douglass Tip-Off Classic.
4. Norway 49, Munising 48 After the Knights gave Munising a tough final regular-season test last season, the Mustangs went on to claim the Division 4 championship. Norway will attempt to build off back-to-back 15-7 seasons starting with this win.
5. Wyoming Tri-unity Christian 64, Grandville Calvin Christian 44 These two combined to finish 46-9 a season ago, when Calvin defeated Tri-unity 63-42 in the regular-season finale (although the Defenders rebounded to finish Division 4 runners-up).
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Rochester Adams (2-0) The Highlanders provided one of the best late-breaking stories of last season, reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals after finishing fourth of five teams in a strong Oakland Activities Association Red that also featured North Farmington and Ferndale. The momentum started rolling again with wins last week over Milford 52-48 and Macomb L’Anse Creuse North 74-59.
Utica (2-0) Last season’s co-champion in the Macomb Area Conference Blue defeated MAC White reigning champion Port Huron Northern 68-49 in their opener and then Utica Eisenhower 56-41 at the MAC Champions of Champions event at Center Line. Utica improved to 15-7 last season after finishing 7-14 in 2021-22.
Dundee (2-0) After holding its own last season in a strong Lenawee County Athletic Association and finishing 13-12 overall, Dundee is hoping to turn a fast start last week into a climb up the standings with league play starting Friday. The Vikings doubled up East Jackson 52-26 and downed Milan 67-37 to start things off.
Goodrich (1-0) A 22-5 finish last season included a shared championship in the Flint Metro League Stars and a run to the Division 2 Quarterfinals, where the Martians fell by only five to eventual champion Ferndale. The second-to-last of those five losses came to Flint Beecher, 70-55, but Goodrich avenged it Friday with a 58-55 win over the Bucs.
Hillsdale (2-0) The Hornets finished just 4-19 last season, their second sub-.500 in a row. But the turnaround may be starting. Hillsdale is halfway toward last year’s win total after defeating Union City 53-45 and Jonesville 50-40 – and after losing to Union City 52-36 and Jonesville 39-23 last season, with Jonesville going on to finish 19-6.
Royal Oak Shrine Catholic (2-0) This is another team well on its way to bettering last season’s success by Jan. 1. After going 3-19 last winter, Shrine defeated Bloomfield Hills Roeper 48-30 and Utica Ford 55-52 in overtime last week. Ford had defeated the Knights 63-50 last season, and the 55 points Shrine scored this time would have been their second-highest total of 2022-23.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (2-0) Lenawee Christian finished last season on an 11-5 run after a 2-7 start, and might be rolling that right into this season as well after opening with a 74-60 win over Blissfield and 73-58 overtime victory over Hanover-Horton. Blissfield was among teams to deal the Cougars a loss during last season’s tough early stretch. Lenawee Christian is playing in the Tri-County Conference this winter after playing previously as an independent.
Wakefield-Marenisco (2-0) The Cardinals were a solid 13-10 last season, with the final week including a third win over Bessemer as they faced off in a District Semifinal, followed by a third loss to Ironwood in the District championship game. This season’s first week saw the same schedule, but a better outcome – Wakefield-Marenisco edged Bessemer 60-57 and this time defeated Ironwood 48-30. Ironwood was first and W-M third last season in the Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – River Rouge (1-0) at Ferndale (1-1) – As noted above, Ferndale was last season’s Division 2 champion, and defeated Rouge 72-60 in last winter’s meeting.
Friday – Kalamazoo Central (0-0) at Battle Creek Central (0-0) – These longtime rivals finished first and third, respectively, in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East last season.
Saturday – Detroit Cass Tech (0-0) at Holt (1-0) – The Rams host the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians in the 4:30 p.m. game of the Moneyball Classic.
Saturday – Grand Rapids South Christian (0-0) vs. Rockford (1-0) at Calvin University – This will be the 10 a.m. opener of The Invite at Calvin University, with the reigning Division 2 runner-up Sailors taking on a Rockford team coming off an 18-win season.
Saturday – Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) vs. Grand Rapids Northview (1-0) at Calvin University – This will cap off The Invite tipping approximately 7:35 p.m. and pitting last season’s Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold co-champion and White outright champion, respectively.
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PHOTOS (Top) A Westland John Glenn player gets to the basket during U-D Jesuit's season-opening 83-48 win over the Rockets. (Middle) Bath defenders surround a Charyl Stockwell player during the Sentinels' 63-55 victory. (Top photo by Olivia B. Photography; middle photo by Click by Christine McCallister.)