As February begins, some key dates should be on your girls basketball calendar:
In two weeks, Feb. 14, the MHSAA will announce the formula for drawing this season’s District tournaments.
On Feb. 20, Districts will be posted with the top-two seeded teams on opposite sides of those brackets.
On Feb. 28, those Districts will begin play and the MHSAA Tournament will be underway.
For a more detailed explanation of the seeding process, click here. Otherwise, sit back and enjoy – league tournaments for those playing them begin over the next few weeks, and the rest are rolling into the second runs through conference play with plenty of major matchups anchoring the calendar’s shortest month.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Farmington Hills Mercy 46, Dearborn Divine Child 43 With a week left in the league schedule, the Marlins (11-2) are back tied for first in the Detroit Catholic League Central after a Jan. 11 loss to Divine Child (12-1) had left them chasing the last few weeks.
2. Detroit Cass Tech 62, Detroit Renaissance 61 (OT) The Detroit Public School League schedule also finishes this week, and this shook up the Blue standings as Renaissance (9-2) hadn’t lost in league play.
3. Dexter 43, Saline 39 The Dreadnaughts (10-2) closed the first half of the Southeastern Conference Red schedule in first after handing Saline (11-1) its first loss.
4. Rockford 47, Holland West Ottawa 20 The Rams (12-1) kept pace a game back of leader Hudsonville in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue, while also knocking West Ottawa (10-3) out of a tie for first.
5. Escanaba 56, Calumet 50 The Eskymos (7-5) have won five straight and with this victory handed Calumet (11-1) its lone defeat, with a rematch coming up Feb. 11.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Macomb L’Anse Creuse North (13-1) The Crusaders have put together four straight winning seasons and are playing for a third-straight league title this winter – plus likely much more. LCN is a combined 31-2 over the last two seasons after reaching the Division 1 Quarterfinals last year, and the only loss this winter came in mid-December to Grosse Pointe North (10-1) – a possible Quarterfinals opponent this March.
Wayne Memorial (11-1) After falling to Division 3 contender Ypsilanti Arbor Prep in its season opener, Wayne Memorial has not been defeated and rarely challenged. The Zebras are in first in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East and own a 40-point win over the second-place team, and their first win this winter was by 17 over 2021 Division 1 runner-up Detroit Renaissance. Wayne had fallen to Renaissance 75-72 in last year’s Semifinal.
Detroit Edison (5-1) The Pioneers are again considered the top team in Michigan regardless of division, with their lone loss in double overtime to Indiana power South Bend Washington on Dec. 11. Edison has had four games canceled, but finally had an opportunity to play a full week and defeated Division 1 East Lansing (8-4) and Parma Western (11-1), to go with an earlier win over reigning Division 1 champion Hudsonville. Edison makes a trip to Illinois this weekend, but has intriguing back-to-back games with Farmington Hills Mercy and Arbor Prep coming up.
Portland (11-1) The reigning Division 2 champion made a couple of loud statements last week, adding the best wins of a big start 45-21 over Division 1 East Lansing and 40-34 over Haslett (10-2). The only loss this winter came to league rival Lansing Catholic by three on Jan. 14 – and the Raiders host the rematch Feb. 18, with dates against Detroit Renaissance and Division 4 contender Fowler also coming up.
Bloomingdale (11-1) The Cardinals are lined up well to win at least 15 games for the third season over the last four (and after going 11-4 during last year’s abbreviated winter). They also control their destiny as they look to repeat in the Southwest 10 Conference, thanks to an assist from third-place Mendon, which defeated co-leader Hartford last week. Hartford won the first round against Bloomingdale by six Jan. 11, with the rematch at Hartford in the regular-season finale Feb. 22. Bloomingdale defeated Mendon (10-2) by six Jan. 19.
Brooklyn Columbia Central (10-2) The Golden Eagles moved into first place alone in the Lenawee County Athletic Association last week by completing a season sweep of former co-leader Blissfield (10-4). Columbia Central then hung on to first by avenging its lone league loss with Thursday’s 51-46 win over third-place Onsted (9-5). Next up is last season’s Division 3 champ Grass Lake, and Division 4 contender Adrian Lenawee Christian will provide a solid challenge heading into the playoffs.
Bay City All Saints (7-2) The Cougars opened their current four-game winning streak with a 33-28 win over Carsonville-Port Sanilac, the second-place team in the North Central Thumb League Stripes. Thanks to that victory, All Saints leads the division as it looks to add a second title in three seasons; the Cougars were second last year while getting in only seven games total. The team’s two losses this winter were to contenders in the NCTL Stars.
Pickford (7-1) The Pirates finished the first half of the Eastern Upper Peninsula Conference schedule undefeated in league play and won those five games by an average of 27.6 points per. But the most telling result might have been the team’s lone loss; Pickford’s 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons ended with District losses to St. Ignace, but the Pirates fell only 58-56 to the Saints (11-2) on Jan. 19 and see them again Tuesday.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Portland St. Patrick (13-0) at Fowler (11-1) – The Central Michigan Athletic Conference title and a top District seed may be on the line as Fowler looks to avenge a 53-49 loss in the first meeting Dec. 17 between these Division 4 contenders.
Wednesday – Lansing Catholic (13-0) at Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (11-0) – The Cougars are No. 5 in Division 2 MPR, and Arbor Prep is No. 1 in Division 3.
Thursday – Traverse City St. Francis (10-3) at Harbor Springs (12-1) – The Gladiators have a half-game lead atop the Lake Michigan Conference thanks to a 54-37 win in these teams’ Jan. 12 meeting.
Friday – Morley Stanwood (11-1) at Kent City (13-0) – Kent City won the Dec. 17 meeting 65-55 and can move within a game of clinching the Central State Activities Association Silver title by completing a sweep.
Friday – Sault Ste. Marie (10-3) at St. Ignace (11-2) – These are considered among the best in Divisions 2 and 3, respectively, and sit tied for first in the Straits Area Conference with St. Ignace winning the Dec. 16 meeting 51-29.
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PHOTO Fowler, here against Bath, will face Portland St. Patrick this week in one of the season’s most anticipated rematches. (Photo by Christine McCallister.)
TECUMSEH – First, the good news: Nearly everyone on the Tecumseh girls basketball team has aspirations to play college basketball – and several of them at a very high level.
Now, the twist: There are only eight girls in the entire program.
Tecumseh head coach Kristy Zajac, starting her seventh season, is unfazed by the lack of numbers. Tecumseh will field just a varsity team this season but should contend for a Southeastern Conference White championship and pursue a deep playoff run as well.
“This is a great group of girls,” Zajac said. “At least six or seven of them want to play college basketball. The basketball IQ is so much higher than we have had in the past. We’ve never had a full team of basketball-first kids.”
Zajac said that dynamic has changed practices and the approach on the court.
“We do a lot more high-level skill stuff and high-level thinking,” she said. “We do more read-and-react stuff where they have to play on the fly, which makes us harder to scout. We want to try and give the kids a chance to use that basketball IQ and make opportunities for themselves on the floor so they can score without having to run a set play.”
The list of college prospects starts with her daughter, 6-foot-2 junior Alli Zajac. She holds about 15 Division I offers, and the list seems to grow daily.
She’s been receiving recruiting attention since before she played a game in high school. As a freshman, she was the Lenawee County Player of the Year and has been all-state both of her first two seasons. Last winter, she scored 433 points as Tecumseh went 20-5.
Her sister, Addi Zajac, hasn’t played a varsity game yet but has received a lot of attention as well as a college prospect after several great years of travel ball. She’s 6-foot and a true center.
“She wears a size 14 shoe,” Zajac said. “We are hoping next year she is 6-3 or 6-4. She has such a strong body; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone that strong at her age. She can push people around.”
The sisters are very different types of players. They also are extremely competitive, as witnessed when they play 1-on-1 at home.
“It usually ends in a fistfight,” Zajac said. “They are both very competitive.”
The team is loaded with more talent than just the Zajac sisters.
Sophomore Makayla Schlorf made 28 3-pointers last season, and sophomore Chloe Bollinger made 26. Junior Ashlyn Moorhead averaged just under double figures in scoring and averaged 3.7 assists a game last year. Junior Lauren Kilbarger also is back from last season and joined by newcomers Faith Wiedyk, a junior, sophomore Sophia Torres and freshman Amaria Brown.
Maddie VanBlack is another travel ball veteran but is out this season due to tearing an ACL.
Tecumseh athletic director Jon Zajac – Kristy’s husband – said it is disappointing Tecumseh won’t field a junior varsity team this year. He said kids playing travel ball in other sports, along with the youth of the current team, are factors.
“It is frustrating,” he said. “Hopefully this is the only year for that.”
Kristy (Maska) Zajac grew up near Tecumseh in Britton, played four years on the varsity and scored more than 1,800 career points under coach Bart Bartels, now an assistant on her staff. She played at Eastern Michigan University, where she was one of the top scorers in school history. Jon Zajac, played at EMU and professionally overseas.
The entire family is crazy about basketball. In addition to Alli and Addi, son Ryder played four years at Tecumseh before heading off to college to play football, and the youngest in the family, Avery, is a budding star in her own right.
“There were a few travel games this year where my team was short on numbers and Avery got to play with Addi and Alli,” Kristy Zajac said. “That was cool to see. She held her own. She won’t get to play with Alli in high school (Avery is in seventh grade), but she’ll get two years with Addi. I got to play with my sister, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.”
Jon Zajac stops by practice now and then to coach as well. He and Kristy coach Avery’s travel team.
“He is a great person to have as part of the program,” Kristy Zajac said of her husband. “Anytime I can get him to help with the post players and with the girls is great. He’s a huge help.”
The family often schedules trips around basketball and is seemingly always pulled in multiple directions as the three girls compete at various levels.
“It’s pretty much basketball all day, every day,” Zajac said. “It’s fun to see how the kids enjoy it and love the game.”
Tecumseh, which has won a combined 39 games over the past two seasons, has loaded up its schedule, playing a collection of nonconference teams that made deep tournament runs and won conference championships last season. Tecumseh plays in the Icebreaker event at Ypsilanti Arbor Prep against Detroit Country Day on Saturday and also faces Temperance-Bedford (23-1 last season), reigning Division 3 runner-up Blissfield and Grand Blanc.
Without a senior on the team and no JV squad, Tecumseh will play essentially this group for the next 50 or more games. It’s a two-year window with virtually the same team.
“We’re doing what we can to win this year,” Zajac said. “We want this year to be super successful. We are just taking it one game at a time and going from there. We want to keep building and getting better every day, every game. Hopefully by the end of next year, we’ll be where we need to be.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Tecumseh’s Alli Zajac makes her move toward the lane last season against Adrian. (Middle) Kristy Zajac coaches her team, which finished 20-5 in 2022-23. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne/Adrian Daily Telegram.)