A-B Preview: Historic Opportunities Await

March 16, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Fans of Michigan high school girls basketball are familiar with the work over the decades of Detroit Martin Luther King, Detroit Country Day and Grand Rapids South Christian.

Five more Class A and B semifinalists have the opportunity this weekend to join them as MHSAA champions for the first time.

All four Class A and B Semifinals will be played Friday, with all four championship games Saturday. 

Semifinals - Friday
Class A

Detroit Martin Luther King (23-1) vs. St. Johns (23-3), 1 p.m.
Warren Cousino (21-4) vs. Hudsonville (23-3), 2:50 p.m.

Class B
Detroit Country Day (24-1) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (24-2), 6 p.m.
Bay City John Glenn (25-1) vs. Marshall (24-1), 7:50 p.m.

Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6 p.m.
Class C - 4 p.m.
Class D - 10 a.m.

Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit’s primary channel, with the Class B game on a delayed basis at 10:30 p.m. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.

And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class A and B. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals except for St. Johns’, which are through the regular season.)

Class A

Record/rank: 23-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Detroit Public School League East Division 1 and overall
Coach: William Winfield, 33rd season
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2006), six runner-up finishes.   
Best wins: 58-54 (OT) over No. 5 Ann Arbor Huron in Quarterfinal, 74-56 over No. 1 Southfield-Lathrup, 68-66 over No. 7 Detroit Renaissance. 
Players to watch: Micaela Kelly, 5-8 sr. G (15 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 5.8 apg, 4.3 spg); Tia Tedford, 5-8 jr. G (15.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 5.6 spg), Alicia Norman, 5-4 jr. G (11.7 ppg, 7.3 apg, 6.1 spg).
Outlook: King made the Semifinals last season and is back riding a 20-game win streak and after also defeating reigning Class A champion Bloomfield Hills Marian in the regular-season finale. The Crusaders have only nine players, with two seniors and a freshman starting. But there’s plenty of talent in that small group; in addition to the starters mentioned above, freshman guard Del’Janae Williams adds 10 points, four assists and 3.3 steals per game and 6-2 senior center Jasmine Flowers is one of two players that tall in the rotation.

Record/rank: 23-3, unranked
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red 
Coach: Casey Glass, seventh season (83-77)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.    
Best wins: 40-32 over East Lansing in Quarterfinal, 45-44 over honorable mention Muskegon Mona Shores in Regional Final, 59-58 and 55-47 over East Kentwood.
Players to watch: Kasey DeSmit, 5-7 soph. G (12.3 ppg, 4.8 apg, 51 3-pointers); Shaina DenBesten, 5-10 sr. F (11.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg).
Outlook: Hudsonville has won 21 straight games on the way to its first MHSAA Semifinal, and few teams have as much close-game experience – the Eagles have six wins and lost twice by four or fewer points. They are eight wins better than a season ago and have taken a huge jump since going 2-19 in 2013-14. This experience to should pay off in the future as well as four starters and six of the top eight players should be back next winter. Six-foot junior center Chloe Guingrich adds 9.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and nearly two blocks per game.

Record/rank: 23-3, honorable mention
League finish: Tied for first in Capital Area Activities Conference Red 
Coach: Mark Lasceski, 20th season (328-125)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.   
Best wins: 46-43 over No. 2 Saginaw Heritage in Regional Final, 37-31 over No. 9 Flushing in District Final, 48-38 and 52-40 over No. 6 Haslett, 56-50 over East Lansing, 61-50 over Class C No. 10 Saginaw Nouvel.
Players to watch: Maddie Maloney, 5-7 soph. G (12.1 ppg, 4.9 apg); Erika Ballinger, 5-7 jr. G (10.9 ppg, 42 3-pointers); Brooke Mazzolini, 5-8 sr. F (10 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
Outlook: St. Johns joins Haslett and DeWitt as teams from the CAAC Red to make the MHSAA Semifinals over the last two seasons after splitting the league title with both this winter. The Redwings last made the Semifinals in 1997, but should contend to return with Mazzolini and starting forward Jessica Hafner the only seniors. St. Johns relies on balanced scoring and a gritty defense that gives up only 35 points per game despite having only one player taller than 5-8. The only losses were once to Midland early and twice to No. 7 DeWitt.

Record/rank: 21-4, unranked
League finish: Tied for first in Macomb Area Conference Red 
Coach: Mike Lee, seventh season (124-41)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final.   
Best wins: 41-29 over Northville in Quarterfinal, 43-39 (Regional Final) and 47-37 over Bloomfield Hills Marian.
Players to watch: Kierra Fletcher, 5-9 jr. G (21.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 5.2 apg, 3.6 spg); Erin McArthur, jr. G (9.5 ppg, 5.5 apg, 59 3-pointers); Mackenzie Anderson, 5-5 sr. F (9.5 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.2 apg).
Outlook: Cousino has won at least 15 games all seven seasons under Lee, but broke through this winter with a first Regional title in program history – and with only one senior, Anderson. A strong junior group fills most of the rest of the significant roles, with freshman Mackenzie Cook also a starter. Two of the team’s four losses came to Port Huron Northern, the co-champion in their league, which also went on to make the Class A Quarterfinals.

Class B

Record/rank: 25-1, No. 2
League finish: First in North East Michigan Conference
Coach: Cory Snider, seventh season (104-51)

Championship history:
 Has not played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins:
 55-47 over No. 5 Manistee in Quarterfinal, 59-27 over No. 8 Freeland in Regional Final, 49-46 (Regional Semifinal) and 41-23 over No. 9 Frankenmuth, 53-44 over Class A No. 1 Southfield-Lathrup, 61-38 over Class A No. 7 Detroit Renaissance, 52-48 and 55-41 over Class C No. 10 Saginaw Nouvel.
Players to watch:
 Jenai LaPorte, 5-7 sr. G (14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.5 apg, 49 3-pointers); Kalle Martinez, 5-6 jr. G (15.5 ppg, 4.5 apg, 67 3-pointers); Cassidy Boensch, 6-3 sr. C (17.5 ppg, 12 rpg, 5.7 bpg).
 John Glenn has been near perfect on the way to its first Semifinal, save for three-point loss to Class C favorite Ypsilanti Arbor Prep. LaPorte is the program’s all-time leading scorer and Boensch was a Miss Basketball finalist this winter, and they with Martinez give the Bobcats a trio that can match any in the state. They combine to supply almost all of the scoring, but get plenty of help defensively – John Glenn gives up only 30.7 points per game. 

Record/rank: 24-1, No. 1
League finish: Does not play in a league. 
Coach: Frank Orlando, 35
th season (733-111)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), four runner-up finishes.   
Best wins: 68-64 over Class A No. 3 Midland Dow, 42-38 over Class A No. 5 Ann Arbor Huron, 56-50 over Class A No. 7 Detroit Renaissance, 69-56 over Class A No. 6 Haslett, 56-52 over Class A No. 1 Southfield-Lathrup, 37-33 over Class C No. 1 Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
Players to watch: Destiny Pitts, 6-0 jr. G (15.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.8 apg, 43 3-pointers); Kaela Webb, 5-6 soph. G (10.7 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.0 spg).
Outlook: The reigning champion returns its two top players, three starters total and six of nine who saw time in last season’s championship game. Four of this group are 6-0 or taller, with 6-4 junior Tylar Bennett (7.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 4.0 bpg) occupying the middle most of the time. The lone loss came to Class A No. 2 Saginaw Heritage, but Country Day played and beat five more of the top seven in Class A and have won all of their MHSAA Tournament games by at least 12 points.

Record/rank: 24-2, No. 3
League finish: Tied for first in O-K Gold. 
Coach: Kim Legge, first season (24-2)
Championship history: Class B champion 1988, two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 70-50 over No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 59-53 over No. 6 Williamston in Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: Jennifer DeBoer, 5-7 sr. G (16.8 ppg, 6.0 apg, 5.1 rpg, 3.6 spg, 71 3-pointers); Markayla Vander, 5-8 sr. F (12.4 ppg, 5.3 rpg).

 Anchored by an all-senior lineup, South Christian is striving to return to the Class B Final for the second time in three seasons; it finished runner-up to Eaton Rapids in 2014. The Sailors haven’t missed a beat under first-year coach Legge, an assistant for 20 seasons before taking over the program this winter. DeBoer runs the point and is the top shooter in school history, this season leading a group that had made 147 3-pointers entering the week. The only losses came by two to Caledonia, also a league champion, and in the regular-season finale to GRCC, the other champion in the O-K Gold.

24-1, No. 7
League finish: 
First in Interstate 8 Athletic Conference
 Sal Konkle, 16th season (281-95)
Championship history:
 Class B runner-up 1981.
Best wins:
 41-30 over No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central in Quarterfinal, 62-44 over honorable mention Stevensville Lakeshore in Regional Semifinal, 54-53 and 46-35 over Jackson Northwest.
Players to watch:
 Nicole Tucker, 5-10 jr. C (12.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg); Emily Delmotte, 5-9 jr. F (8.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
 Marshall played in its third Quarterfinal in five seasons Tuesday, but will return to the Semifinals for the first time since that 1981 runner-up finish. A balanced lineup has made Marshall dominant, with the only loss on opening night to No. 6 Williamston. Six players average at least 4.5 points per game; junior Jill Konkle follows Tucker and Delmotte scoring 7.7 ppg to go with 4.3 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 2.2 assists per game.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTO: Bay City John Glenn has reached the Class B Semifinals in part because of its defensive excellence. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Decade After Title Trips, 'Coach K' Just as Driven to Coach Up Grand Haven Contenders

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

February 1, 2023

Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer has experienced unforgettable highs and nightmarish lows during her 25 years as the girls basketball coach at Grand Haven.

It’s now the 10-year anniversary of an amazing three-year stretch from 2011 to 2013, when “Coach K” guided the Buccaneers to a combined 81-2 record, three consecutive berths in the Class A Semifinals and back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

The lows are harder to pick out, but the way Grand Haven lost at Hudsonville on Jan. 24 certainly qualifies.

The Bucs led 46-44 with time running out, when Haven was called for a shooting foul with one-tenth of a second remaining on a desperation half-court shot attempt. Hudsonville senior Maddie Peroelje then made all three free throws to pull out an improbable 47-46 win.

“That one was brutal,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who was feeling much better Tuesday, one week later, after Haven downed visiting Zeeland West 44-33 for its third-straight victory.

“I love all of it, the great teams and big wins, but also the struggles and trying to stay strong and figure things out.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, 52, might be in the midst of the best coaching job in her 31-year career, guiding a team with no returning starters to a 10-4 start, including an impressive 5-2 record after the first rotation in the rugged Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.

She is doing it with a team that only goes about six or seven deep, has no one in that group taller than 6-foot and lost its starting point guard, junior Abbey Klumpel, to a season-ending knee injury during the summer.

How is she doing it?

“She teaches a team game of basketball,” explained ninth-year Grand Haven athletic director Scott Robertson, who has been involved in high school sports for 32 years. “She is more invested in her sport, her kids, her program than anyone I have ever seen.”

The defensive leader Tuesday was gritty senior guard Grace Harrison, who held Zeeland West’s top perimeter threat scoreless.

On offense, junior forward Emerson Berndt turned in a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. She scored 14 of those points in the second half to help the Bucs put the game away.

Berndt had the hot hand Tuesday, but in other games this season sophomore guard Gillian Sorrelle or junior forward Maddie Schopf have carried the team from outside. The inside leader is 5-11 senior center Heidi Berkey, who held her own against ZW’s 6-4 senior center Kara Bartels.

Berndt, who leads the Bucs with 12 points and five rebounds per game, said this team has a special bond with its head coach.

“Coach has established such a close relationship with all of us, and she knows how to get us going,” said Berndt, who is one of the five Haven starters who all average at least six points per game. “She’s always joking around, but getting after it at the same time.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. Haven, which is a surprising second in the O-K Red at the halfway point, starts the second half of the slate Friday at first-place and No. 3-ranked Rockford (13-1).

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, a standout player at Caledonia and then Hope College, began her coaching career at the age of 21 when she was still a senior at Hope – coaching the seventh-grade girls team at Caledonia.

She then worked five years at Hastings, including the final three as girls varsity head coach, before taking the job as a physical education teacher and varsity girls basketball coach at Grand Haven in 1997.

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and her husband, Paul, have one son, Drew, a 12-year-old sixth grader at Grand Haven who was just a toddler when the Buccaneers were enjoying their magical three-year run a decade ago.

Haven made its presence known on a statewide level in 2011, when 6-5 sophomore Abby Cole led the Bucs to a 26-1 record, with the only loss coming by a single point to Detroit Renaissance, 39-38, in a Class A Semifinal at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

The Bucs took the final step in 2012, erasing an 18-point, third-quarter deficit as senior guard Shar’Rae Davis drove the length of the court for the game-winning layup with nine seconds remaining in a 54-53 victory over Grosse Pointe South. Haven finished 27-1, with its only loss coming early in the season against O-K Red rival East Kentwood.

GH did it again in 2013 with a perfect 28-0 record, which might have been the most impressive because the only returning starter was Cole, who would go on to an all-Big Ten volleyball career at Michigan. The Bucs committed a staggering 32 turnovers, but made up for it with 22-of-29 shooting (76 percent), in a 60-54 overtime victory over, once again, Grosse Pointe South.

“Those are the glory days, and here we are 10 years later and you realize just how special it was,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who has also coached track at Grand Haven. “We always stayed humble and worked hard.

“Obviously, having someone like Abby Cole as the last line of defense is something special. But she had such great character and leadership, as well. I can still see her out there when things weren’t going well, and she would wrap her long arms around her teammates and tell them it was going to be OK. And it was.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer has amassed 391 victories as a head coach, with six O-K Red titles, eight District and four Regional championships – along with the two Class A Finals wins.

“Those trophies are getting hard to come by – I’m thinking about buying one on eBay,” said Coach K, displaying the quick wit that her fellow coaches, referees and players know very well.

She works hard, but also has plenty of fun and laughs along the way, which is why she doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon – even though this school year marks her 30th year of teaching.

As Kowalczyk-Fulmer was finishing up her media obligations after the Zeeland West victory, her son – a sports junkie who has literally grown up in the Grand Haven bleachers and locker rooms – sat waiting in the hallway.

“I plan to be here until he graduates,” she said with a nod to her only child. “I love it. It’s my passion, and I’m really lucky. Grand Haven is such a great place to live and coach.

“I’m not ready to stop.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at kendra.tom@gmail.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Haven girls basketball coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer talks things over with her team during a game earlier this decade. (Middle) Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. (Top photo courtesy of the Local Sports Journal.)