District brackets are posted, almost every league championship is decided, and we’re closing in on the start of the girls basketball postseason in Michigan.
Tourney time begins a week from today, and this will be our final “Breslin Bound” of this format for the 2021-22 girls season as next week we’ll preview the most intriguing District brackets from across the state.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Bloomfield Hills Marian 45, Farmington Hills Mercy 44 (OT) The Mustangs (12-6) would go on four days later to defeat Dearborn Divine Child 44-36 to win the Detroit Catholic League Bishop championship, but edging Central champion Mercy (14-3) on the way caused the first big stir.
2. West Bloomfield 65, Detroit Edison 62 The Lakers (15-1) furthered their status as a Division 1 favorite by handing Division 2 No. 1 Edison (8-4) its first in-state loss since 2017-18.
3. Detroit Edison 60, Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 52 The Pioneers did, however, quickly bounce back from that loss to hand Division 3 No. 1 Arbor Prep (15-2) just its second defeat.
4. Portland 53, Lansing Catholic 41 The Raiders’ only loss this season was 55-52 to Lansing Catholic on Jan. 14, and Portland (17-1) put itself in line to share the Capital Area Activities Conference White title with the Cougars (16-1) by avenging it.
5. Elk Rapids 56, Harbor Springs 49 The Elks (16-2) avenged their only Lake Michigan Conference defeat, 49-48 on Jan. 21, to clinch the league title and send Harbor Springs (17-2) into second.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Byron Center (15-2) The Bulldogs have clinched their third-straight Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship with two league games to play and only two single-digit margins over the first 12. Byron Center finished a regular-season sweep of Grand Rapids Christian (13-5) with a 53-44 victory last week and also nearly doubled up O-K Gold co-leader Grand Rapids South Christian (15-3) earlier this season. The Bulldogs sit No. 11 in Division 1 MPR, with the losses to No. 1 Hudsonville (16-2) and No. 8 Rockford (16-2) in December.
Parma Western (17-1) The Panthers have clinched a share of the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title – their third straight – heading into Tuesday’s matchup with second-place Marshall. Western’s only defeat came to Edison on Jan. 25, 60-47, and the Panthers are the only other team to defeat Arbor Prep. And that was just one of an impressive slate of wins, including others over East Lansing (13-4), Brooklyn Columbia Central (12-4), Grass Lake (13-4), Marshall (13-5) and Jackson Northwest (13-5) twice. Western reached the Semifinals last season in Division 2.
Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard (13-6) In a Catholic League Central featuring three top-15 Division 1 teams, Gabriel Richard’s run may not have gotten as much notice. But minus losses to Mercy, Marian and Divine Child, the Irish would be 13-1 – and they handed Divine Child (15-3) a 41-32 defeat Feb. 8 after delivering a 45-36 loss to Marian a week before. The team’s only other defeat came to Lansing Catholic, and it handed Madison Heights Bishop Foley (14-1) its lone loss. This is the third season Father Gabriel Richard has reached 13 wins, and it advanced to the Division 2 Quarterfinals last season.
Imlay City (16-3) The Spartans can finish a perfect run through the Blue Water Area Conference for the second season in a row Tuesday at Almont, and they’ve clinched a third-straight outright championship. The league includes three more teams 11-7 or better, and Imlay City swept all three to go with solid victories over Deckerville (13-4) and Warren Cousino (13-5). The losses also no doubt provided some valuable prep as the team looks to build on last year’s Quarterfinal run – the Spartans fell to Arbor Prep, Macomb L’Anse Creuse North (19-1) and Lake Fenton (15-2).
Madison Heights Bishop Foley (14-1) A Detroit Catholic League Cardinal championship won Saturday added to the achievements this winter for the Ventures, who also claimed the Catholic League Intersectional #1 title and have won 12 games by double digits. As they seek to build on last year’s Quarterfinal run, Bishop Foley should take confidence from the Cardinal title-deciding win over Wixom St. Catherine (14-3) and a big early victory over Clawson (17-2), among others. The lone loss came by six to Father Gabriel Richard (see above).
Watervliet (16-1) The Panthers finished a perfect run through the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore last week, with their closest win in any game this season by 13 points and their only loss to Kalamazoo Christian (15-4) by three on Feb. 1. Pairs of wins came over Gobles (11-7) and Saugatuck (12-6). Watervliet moved up to No. 7 in Division 3 MPR and gets another strong test Thursday at No. 6 Schoolcraft (17-1) in a SAC crossover of league champions.
Allen Park Inter-City Baptist (11-7) Even with seven losses, Inter-City Baptist sits No. 11 in Division 4 MPR because of a schedule with 10 games against teams with double-digit wins. The Chargers defeated Auburn Hills Oakland Christian (13-4), Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest (11-7) and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (10-4) among others, tying with Oakland Christian for second in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue behind only Division 4 top-ranked Plymouth Christian Academy.
Pittsford (14-3) The Wildcats have won 12 straight since beginning the season 2-3, as they’ve also bounced back from going 6-7 a year ago. They’ve clinched a share of the Southern Central Athletic Association East title with three league games left this week. Pittsford has defeated Colon (14-4), swept Hillsdale Academy (11-5) and also downed Waldron (10-7), with one of those early losses coming at Athens (16-1).
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Monday – Detroit Mumford (8-6) vs. Detroit Renaissance (13-5) at Oakland University – Renaissance won their Detroit Public School League Blue matchup 67-56 on Jan. 24, but they’re meeting again in the league tournament final.
Tuesday – Bloomingdale (17-1) at Hartford (16-2) – Two games remain on the Southwest 10 Conference schedule for both as they sit tied atop the standings and with Hartford having won the first meeting 37-31 on Jan. 11.
Tuesday – Chelsea (16-2) at Tecumseh (18-1) – Chelsea has a one-game lead on Tecumseh with one to play on the Southeastern Conference East schedule, and having given Tecumseh its only loss 64-40 on Feb. 1.
Tuesday – Midland Dow (17-1) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (15-3) – The winner clinches a share of the Saginaw Valley League title with one more game to play for both.
Thursday – KLAA championship game at West finalist – Hartland (17-1) or Howell (14-4) could host Wayne Memorial (17-1) or Belleville (13-5), dependent on tonight’s semifinals.
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PHOTO Wayne Memorial, here against Dearborn last week, will play for the overall Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship after clinching the East title. (Photo by Douglas Bargerstock.)
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.)