With just less than half of this girls basketball regular season remaining, 25 teams (out of 700 teams statewide) are chasing perfection, including 16 that have achieved at least 10-0 records.
Ten of those undefeated teams are mentioned in this week’s “Breslin Bound” report – as are two which recently suffered their first defeat of the winter.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Frankenmuth 63, Midland Dow 60 (OT) The Eagles (9-1), even without a top player on this night, continued to assert themselves as Division 2 contenders by handing Division 1 Dow (9-1) its only loss.
2. Calumet 66, Houghton 49 The Copper Kings (9-0) stand alone as the only undefeated team in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference after delivering a first loss to the Gremlins (11-1).
3. Dearborn Divine Child 47, Bloomfield Hills Marian 43 Divine Child (11-0) completed the first half of the Detroit Catholic League Central schedule undefeated with this win over the reigning champ Mustangs (7-3).
4. Harbor Springs 49, Elk Rapids 48 The Lake Michigan Conference ended the week with a three-way tie atop the standings after Elk Rapids (7-2) defeated Traverse City St. Francis (8-3) on Tuesday, and Harbor Springs (10-1) then edged the Elks on Friday.
5. Paw Paw 46, Otsego 43 The Red Wolves (8-2) moved to the top of the competitive Wolverine Conference North and sent Otsego (10-2) into second.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Grosse Pointe North (9-1) Three Macomb Area Conference Red teams have won nine games, and Grosse Pointe North and Macomb Dakota are both undefeated in league play heading into Tuesday’s matchup. North is the reigning Red champ and went 13-4 overall a year ago, losing twice to rival Grosse Pointe South – with the Norsemen winning their first matchup this season 56-41 on Jan. 11. North handed Macomb L’Anse Creuse North (11-1) its only defeat and also has wins over Port Huron (9-4), Utica Ford (9-3) and St. Clair Shores Lakeview (8-3) and an impressive loss to Farmington Hills Mercy (9-2).
Hudsonville (9-2) After winning the Division 1 championship last April with only one senior starter, the Eagles are gathering steam as expected with their only losses to Midland Dow (see above) and Division 2 power Detroit Edison. Hudsonville handed Rockford its lone loss, 62-48, on Jan. 14, and will face Holland West Ottawa on Friday potentially for the lead in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red (although Rockford could change the narrative facing West Ottawa on Tuesday, while Hudsonville must hold off Jenison). The Eagles also own a 79-51 win over reigning Division 3 champ Grass Lake and edged O-K White leader Byron Center 59-56 in overtime.
Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-1) The Falcons are a combined 49-3 over the last three seasons and on the move again after suffering their only loss last season in a Regional Final to eventual Finals runner-up Newaygo. West Catholic is one game ahead of the field as it pursues a third-straight O-K Blue championship, with that lone defeat 50-46 to Rockford (10-1). West Catholic delivered O-K Silver co-leader Sparta its only defeat, on Dec. 10.
Lake Fenton (9-0) The Blue Devils are seeking to repeat as league champions in the Flint Metro League Stars and are tied for first with Goodrich. The first meeting between the two finishes off the first half of the league schedule tonight. No other opponent, league or non, has gotten closer than 17 points to catching Lake Fenton, which is giving up only 26 points per game.
Blissfield (9-3) The Royals are playing for a first league championship since 2016-17, and they made the Lenawee County Athletic Association a three-team race with Friday’s 42-36 win over Onsted (8-4). Those two and Brooklyn Columbia Central are tied at the top of the standings with the second round of league games to play. Columbia Central (8-2) defeated Blissfield 41-21 on Dec. 10; the rematch is Tuesday. The Royals’ other losses were similarly strong, to Erie Mason (9-3) and Tecumseh (11-0).
Hart (9-1) The Pirates control their destiny in the West Michigan Conference as they pursue their first league title in at least a decade. After finishing second to Montague the last two seasons, Hart sits a game ahead heading into the second half of the league schedule thanks in part to a 37-36 win over the Wildcats on Jan. 11. The Pirates’ lone loss came to Division 2 contender Redford Westfield Prep on Dec. 4; Montague is the only other opponent to get closer than 12 points.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (8-3) The Cougars’ cast is different after graduating significant standouts over the last few seasons, but the results have remained similar. Lenawee Christian has six wins over teams with winning records, having handed Athens what remains the opening-night opponent’s lone defeat. The Cougars also defeated Division 2 Onsted (8-4) last week, and their losses are to Division 4 undefeated Portland St. Patrick, Division 1 Temperance Bedford and Division 2 Chelsea.
Mackinaw City (11-0) The Comets have won between 18-23 games the last three seasons, so success is nothing new. But they are lining up well for an opportunity to take the next step. Mackinaw City is again leading the Northern Lakes Conference as it pursues what would be a fourth-straight championship, and the Comets already have avenged one of their two defeats during last season’s 18-2 run in downing Cedarville 73-46 last week. The other team to defeat Mackinaw City last season, St. Ignace, crosses the Bridge on Saturday.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Saline (10-0) at Dexter (7-2) – These two are tied for first in the Southeastern Conference Red, with the rest of the league’s teams all with two or more defeats.
Tuesday – Detroit Edison (4-1) at Parma Western (11-0) – The Pioneers have had nearly as many games canceled as played, but bring a win over East Lansing from last week into this challenge.
Tuesday – Rockford (10-1) at Holland West Ottawa (10-0) – Before the Panthers can think about Hudsonville (see above), they’ll need to avenge two 2021 losses to the Rams.
Wednesday – Hartford (9-0) at Watervliet (8-0) – A pair of league leaders face off in what could be a Regional preview.
Friday – Dearborn Divine Child (11-0) at Farmington Hills Mercy (9-2) – Divine Child also must get past Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard on Tuesday, but could be playing Mercy to all but clinch the Central title.
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PHOTO Mesick’s Kayla McCoy brings the ball upcourt this season. Mesick is 8-2, having already eclipsed last season’s seven victories. (Photo courtesy of the Mesick girls basketball program.)
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.)