Abi Tarrant knew how close Carly McCrum was to 1,000 career points and wanted to make sure her Bay City John Glenn teammate’s accomplishment was celebrated.
On Feb. 17, when McCrum achieved the milestone in a victory against Alma, the John Glenn fans in attendance cheered the moment while waving homemade signs, which they had been carrying thanks in large part to an effort spearheaded by Tarrant.
“Last year, I broke the (school career) rebound record, and all of the student section, everybody made posters, and it was a huge moment for me,” Tarrant said. “I knew she was getting her 1,000 points that week, so I wanted her to have the same type of environment. Even though the student section wasn’t there, she could still have that kind of energy from the crowd when she hit it.”
It was only after the celebration for McCrum subsided that Tarrant realized just how close she was to the same milestone: 16 points.
“I knew exactly where she was because I had been planning the poster thing,” Tarrant said. “(One thousand points) kind of snuck up on me. I didn’t know I was that close to her. But in the game it happened, I knew.”
Tarrant achieved her own milestone the next time out, a John Glenn victory on Feb. 19 against Birch Run, giving the Bobcats a pair of 1,000-point scorers in the same class.
McCrum now sits at 1,053 career points and Tarrant has 1,046 as they have led the Bobcats to a 7-1 start to the season and a top-five ranking in The Associated Press Division 2 poll. Their lone loss came in double overtime against Frankenmuth, another top-five team.
“I just thought it was a really cool experience,” McCrum said. “We’ve both been on varsity since our freshmen year, and we’ve played with each other on the same travel team, so it was very cool that we hit it in the same week. We both feel like this team is really special, and our goal is to win a state championship.”
Tarrant and McCrum became the seventh and eighth players in school history to hit the 1,000-point mark. It’s the second time John Glenn has had classmates reach the milestone, joining 2016 graduates Jenai LaPorte (1,547 points) and Cassidy Boensch (1,403). Boensch did play her first two seasons at Au Gres-Sims.
“I’ve been really spoiled,” John Glenn coach Cory Snider said. “Three of those 1,000-point scorers (LaPorte, Boensch and 2017 graduate Kalle Martinez) were all on the same team. The five kids I’ve had (reach 1,000 points) have all been on the same teams, so that’s a really unique situation. You don’t hear of that a whole lot. They make me look way smarter than I am.”
McCrum and Tarrant are both four-year varsity players for Snider, and for McCrum, it was clear early on that she would become another of the school’s great scorers. She was the team’s leading scorer during her freshman (14 points per game) and sophomore (14.2) seasons.
“Carly has been the steady, calm influence on our team for four years,” Snider said. “It’s pretty incredible to be able to come in as a freshman and give us (14.2) points per game when she was (the focus) on everybody’s scouting report her freshman year.”
McCrum said it was a role she was comfortable with, as she had taken it on through middle school as a travel player.
“It wasn’t something really new for me,” said McCrum, a 5-foot-10 guard who has signed with Ferris State. “Probably my freshman year, I did feel some pressure and it got in my head, but it’s gotten a lot better, and I’ve gotten more comfortable with that.”
While she’s thrived in that role, and has established herself as a strong outside shooter, McCrum would rather be the one setting up teammates.
“She has such a high basketball IQ,” Snider said. “She’s more of a true playmaker than a natural scorer. She has a super high basketball IQ and loves to find the open player. She enjoys making an assist as much as she enjoys scoring a basket.”
While McCrum was filling up the scoresheet early on, Tarrant had to find a different way to make an impact for the Bobcats. Despite her size – she's 5-7 now – that wound up being rebounding.
“Freshman year, I was just kind of in the right place at the right time, and I think that’s a lot of it,” said Tarrant, who is committed to Hope College. “A lot of those are rebounds that the posts don’t want to get, like running out of bounds. I would sneak up behind people to get them – I just always find myself somewhere near it. My dad told me that if you’re not going to score, then you have to do something. I guess I just picked that.”
Tarrant has done that better than anyone in school history, racking up 732 career rebounds.
“She just played with such a high motor, and she had such a desire to be really good,” Snider said. “Her growth as a player has been incredible from her freshman year to now as a senior. It’s more growth than I’ve seen from any other player. It’s unbelievable.”
Tarrant’s scoring picked up in a big way a year ago, as she averaged 19.4 points per game, setting a junior-year record for points at John Glenn.
“I think we molded more as a team,” Tarrant said. “We started playing a lot better together. At first, I think it was hard. Freshman year, Carly was the best player through and through, then sophomore year I stepped up my game a little bit. Junior year, we figured out how our games complement each other. This year, we’re playing amazing together.”
With a strong supporting cast surrounding them, McCrum and Tarrant hope to take John Glenn back to the heights it reached not long ago. The Bobcats were a Class B semifinalist in 2016 but have had their season ended by Freeland every year since, including in the District Final the past three seasons.
But they feel this could be the year they add some team trophies to the individual successes they’ve been able to rack up.
“It would mean a lot,” McCrum said. “Abi and I have been on the same team since freshman year. Some of the girls, we have been together since sophomore year. We’ve all been together for a long time. First of all, we want to win Districts. We’ve lost three years in a row to Freeland. I think it would be so awesome. We’ve all been together for so long, and we’ve always talked about going so far.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Bay City John Glenn’s Abi Tarrant, left, and Carly McCrum make strong moves to the hoop against Alma this season. (Middle) Tarrant focuses for a free throw. (Below) McCrum maintains possession against Freeland. (Photos by Jodi Stopyak.)
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.)