By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Three 2016 MHSAA champions will take the floor for Friday’s Semifinals in Classes A and B.
Warren Cousino is back attempting to repeat in Class A, and Marshall is seeking to do the same in Class B. The third guarantees there will be a new Class C champion this weekend; Ypsilanti Arbor Prep won that title last year but is in Class B and earned the top ranking during the regular season.
All four Class A and B Semifinals will be played Friday, with all four championship games Saturday.
Semifinals - Friday
Warren Cousino (24-2) vs. Flushing (22-3), 1 p.m.
East Kentwood (25-1) vs. Southfield Arts & Technology (22-4), 2:50 p.m.
Detroit Country Day (24-1) vs. Marshall (23-2), 6 p.m.
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (26-0) vs. Freeland (26-0), 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, the Class D, A and C Finals on the network’s PLUS channel and Class B on the primary channel. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class A and Class 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 Freeland’s are through the end of the regular season.) The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
Record/rank: 25-1, No. 9
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Coach: Jimmy Carter, sixth season (79-57)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 57-43 over No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores in the Regional Semifinal, 59-45 and 63-46 over Grand Haven, 51-49 (District Final) and 52-43 over Grand Rapids Christian.
Players to watch: Lazurea Saunders, 6-0 jr. C (14 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 4.0 spg); Alona Blackwell, 5-10 soph. F (10 ppg, 3.0 apg);
Outlook: East Kentwood has its second 20-win season under Carter, but also has increased its win total each of the last four winters. The Falcons are 11 victories better than a year ago and won their first Regional title last week. The only loss was to Class B No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central in East Kentwood’s second game. Eight players average at least five points per game; sophomore guard Mauriya Barnes (11.5 ppg) and junior center Corinne Jemison (10) add plenty of scoring off the bench.
Record/rank: 22-3, unranked
League finish: First in Flint Metro League.
Coach: Larry Ford, 13th season (228-67)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 45-39 over No. 4 Midland Dow in the Regional Final, 47-25 over Flint Hamady, 65-37 and 50-39 (District Final) over Flint Carman-Ainsworth.
Players to watch: Lauren Newman, 5-8 sr. G (11.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg); Shelby Morrow, 5-7 jr. G (10.9 ppg, 2.5 spg).
Outlook: Flushing has advanced to its first Semifinal since 1976 and won 21 of its last 22 games after opening 1-2 this winter. The Dow win in the Regional Final avenged one of those early losses, and the others were to No. 3 Saginaw Heritage and Class B top-ranked Arbor Prep. Only league rival Fenton (41) has scored more than 40 points against the Raiders since Dec. 6. Senior 6-foot center Bre Perry adds to a balanced attack with 8.6 points and 6.7 rebounds per game.
SOUTHFIELD ARTS & TECHNOLOGY
Record/rank: 22-4, No. 6
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Michele Marshall, 22nd season (276-92)
Championship history: First season as a program.
Best wins: 55-51 over No. 1 Detroit Martin Luther King in the Regional Final, 68-52 over Detroit Renaissance in the District Final, 52-38 over Ann Arbor Huron in the Quarterfinal.
Players to watch: Deja Church, 5-10 sr. G (20.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg); Alexis Johnson, 5-10 soph. F (14.8 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Outlook: Although Southfield A&T technically is a new program, Marshall formerly built Southfield Lathrup into a top program before that school and the former Southfield High merged last fall. Lathrup won the Class A title in 2005. Church was a Miss Basketball finalist and will continue at University of Michigan. Freshman guard Cheyenne McEvans adds another 10.3 points and six rebounds per game and with Church is among three who had at least 22 3-pointers this season entering the week.
Record/rank: 24-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference Red
Coach: Mike Lee, eighth season (150-43)
Championship history: Class A champion 2016.
Best wins: 47-41 over Farmington Hills Mercy in the Quarterfinal, 41-39 over Bloomfield Hills Marian in the Regional Final, 53-51, 52-34 and 66-45 over No. 7 Port Huron Northern.
Players to watch: Kierra Fletcher, 5-9 sr. G (22.7 ppg, 13 rpg, 6.2 apg, 5.2 spg, 2.1 bpg); Erin McArthur, 5-6 sr. G (13.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.4 apg, 4.1 spg, 65 3-pointers).
Outlook: Cousino was as big a surprise last season as a 23-win team could be – but definitely won’t be this weekend. Fletcher was a Miss Basketball finalist after starring in last season’s Finals, and she’ll continue her career at Georgia Tech. In addition to Fletcher and McArthur, senior Rachel Hayes and sophomore Mackenzie Cook also started in last season’s championship game and current starter senior Aubrey Fetzer played 21 minutes off the bench. Cousino also picked up two wins over league foe Macomb Dakota, which also made the Quarterfinals.
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 2
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Frank Orlando, 36th season (757-113)
Championship history: Eleven MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 55-46 over Class A No. 1 Detroit Martin Luther King, 56-46 over Class A No. 4 Midland Dow, 60-51 over Class A No. 6 Southfield A&T, 53-35 over Ann Arbor Huron.
Players to watch: Destiny Pitts, 6-0 sr. G (22.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, 71 3-pointers); Kaela Webb, 5-7 jr. G (14.8 ppg, 3.0 apg, 36 3-pointers).
Outlook: Country Day returned to the Semifinals last season and will try to send off Pitts with a second title in three seasons. She also was a Miss Basketball finalist and will continue at University of Minnesota. She was named Class B Player of the Year by The Associated Press, and Webb also made the all-state first team. In addition to an impressive Class A lineup and its Class B run, the Yellowjackets beat Class C semifinalists Detroit Edison PSA and Flint Hamady during the regular season.
Record/rank: 26-0, No. 5
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference Central.
Coach: Tom Zolinski, 10th season (198-45)
Championship history: Class C champion 1998.
Best wins: 68-45 over No. 9 Bay City John Glenn in the District Semifinal, 57-35 and 39-38 over Saginaw Swan Valley, 53-38 over Cadillac in the Quarterfinal.
Players to watch: Jenna Gregory, 5-10 sr. F (10 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.5 spg); Alyssa Argyle, 5-9 soph. F (9.7 ppg, 2.7 spg);
Outlook: The Falcons are back in the Semifinals for the first time since 2012 and with only two wins decided by fewer than 10 points. Freeland is 47-3 over the last two seasons and has dominated this one with a balanced lineup; five players average at least seven points per game, and five entered the postseason with at least 20 3-pointers. Bullock Creek was the other opponent to get within 10 points, and the Falcons beat the Lancers in the District Final by 40.
Record/rank: 23-2, No. 6
League finish: First in Interstate Eight Athletic Conference.
Coach: Sal Konkle, 17th season (305-95)
Championship history: Class B champion 2016, runner-up 1981.
Best wins: 49-27 over No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the Quarterfinal, 55-29 over Comstock in the District Semifinal, 41-40 and 50-29 over Jackson Northwest.
Players to watch: Nikki Tucker, 5-10 sr. F (15.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg); Jill Konkle, 5-6 sr. G (11.3 ppg, 43 3-pointers).
Outlook: The reigning Class B champion is surging again, avenging its second loss by beating GRCC in the Quarterfinal; the other defeat came to No. 3 Williamston on opening night. Four senior starters are back from last season’s Final. Balance and defense are again the names of Marshall’s game: six players score at least 4.8 ppg, and of the 23 wins, only that first over the league rival Mounties came by fewer than 10 points.
YPSILANTI ARBOR PREP
Record/rank: 26-0, No. 1
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Rod Wells, sixth season (129-17)
Championship history: Class C champion 2016.
Best wins: 41-39 over No. 3 Williamston in the Quarterfinal, 53-38 over No. 8 Ida in the Regional Semifinal, 38-28 over Flushing, 53-33 over Ann Arbor Huron, 72-31 over Detroit Mumford, 57-39 over Class A No. 7 Muskegon Mona Shores.
Players to watch: Adrienne Anderson, 5-7 sr. G (13.7 ppg, 4.2 spg); Ro’zhane Wells, 5-5 sr. G (10.6 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.9 spg).
Outlook: Arbor Prep’s encore to last season’s Class C title has been to move to Class B and go undefeated. Senior forwards Cydney Williams (9.1 ppg) and Kayla Knight (4.8) joined Anderson and Wells starting in last season’s championship game, and 6-0 junior forward Lasha Petree adds another 10.4 ppg this winter. Only Williamston and Dearborn Heights Robichaud in the District Final have gotten closer than 10 points as the team has given up more than 40 only five times. Arbor Prep also downed Class C quarterfinalist Detroit PSA.
PHOTO: Freeland downed Ithaca last week to claim a Class B Regional title. Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)