The three-week journey to East Lansing everyone hopes to travel starts tonight with 169 District openers all over the state.
“Breslin Bound’ switches up a bit as we drive toward next month’s championship events at Breslin Center. See below for some of the results from the last week of the regular season that made the biggest impressions, and then check out three Districts in each division that could be the most interesting from this first round of the MHSAA Tournament.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard 53, Detroit Renaissance 52 (OT) The Operation Friendship game featuring the Detroit Catholic League and Public School League tournament champions saw the Irish (19-3) continue a 10-game winning streak by handing Renaissance (18-1) its only defeat.
2. Salem 74, Wayne Memorial 71 (OT) Salem (16-6) was 2-15 just two seasons ago, but added the overall Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship to its quick ascension with this win over the Zebras (17-5).
3. Lansing Catholic 65, Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 38 The Cougars (17-5) have won 15 of their last 16, highlighted by this one over the reigning Division 3 champion Gators (15-6).
4. Sault Ste. Marie 44, Escanaba 38 The Blue Devils (17-2) have a strong case as best in the Upper Peninsula this season after avenging a December loss to the Eskymos (18-2).
5. DeWitt 48, Holt 43 The Panthers (20-2) were perfect in February after losing to the Rams (18-4) to end January; this win in the rematch set DeWitt up to clinch a shared Capital Area Activities Conference Blue title with Holt in its regular-season finale.
Districts at a Glance
These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:
1. Traverse City Central (16-6), 2. Sault Ste. Marie (17-2), Petoskey (14-8), Marquette (9-12), Alpena (8-14), Gaylord (13-9), Traverse City West (5-16).
As noted above, Sault Ste. Marie is arguably the best from the Upper Peninsula and moved to the top of this District in MPR by the end of the regular season. But when Districts were drawn two weeks ago, Traverse City Central had earned the top seed. These two met Feb. 7, with the Blue Devils winning 49-37. But Sault Ste. Marie can’t look ahead to a rematch with Petoskey the possible opponent Wednesday. The Northmen swept TC Central to win the Big North Conference, clinching the title outright with a 58-47 victory last week.
1. Farmington Hills Mercy (19-3), 2. North Farmington (22-0), Southfield Arts & Technology (4-14), Farmington (11-9), Detroit Henry Ford (4-13).
The most anticipated matchup, of course, is a possible District Final between Mercy and the host Raiders. Only four of North Farmington’s wins were by single digits, while Mercy’s only losses were to Father Gabriel Richard (see above) and Division 2 favorite Detroit Edison. North Farmington does open with a rematch against Southfield A&T, which it defeated 53-42 in its regular-season opener. Also of note, Farmington has won five of its last seven and finished second in the OAA Blue.
1. Byron Center (19-3), 2. East Kentwood (14-7), East Grand Rapids (14-8), Caledonia (6-16), Wyoming (12-10), Middleville Thornapple Kellogg (5-16), Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills (5-17).
Byron Center is carrying a 17-game winning streak and Ottawa-Kent Conference White title into this week and a possible rematch with East Kentwood, which handed the Bulldogs a 43-40 loss to start this season. The Falcons had a tough closing week of the regular season with losses to Holland West Ottawa and Hudsonville, but it’s relative as those teams both are 16-6. East Grand Rapids started 8-1 this season and could be an interesting opponent potentially seeing Byron Center for a third time Wednesday – if the Pioneers get past Wyoming in an opener.
1. Haslett (21-1), 2. Lansing Catholic (17-5), Williamston (13-8), Eaton Rapids (6-16), Charlotte (4-18), Lansing Eastern (5-17).
The Vikings’ work has included wins over Jackson Northwest and DeWitt – both 20-2 – and the lone loss to another Division 1 contender, Rockford (21-1). Haslet also defeated Lansing Catholic 59-49 on Feb. 7 – but as noted above, the Cougars are coming off a week that included a win over Arbor Prep, and they own more impressive victories over Father Gabriel Richard, Frankenmuth (19-2) and Lowell (16-6) among others. Lansing Catholic could see Williamston on Wednesday; their regular-season matchup was canceled, but the Hornets finished runners-up to Haslett in the CAAC Red.
Flint Powers Catholic
1. Lake Fenton (22-0), 2. Goodrich (19-3), Flint Powers Catholic (15-7), Linden (14-7).
Lake Fenton and Goodrich met for the third time Friday in the Flint Metro League championship game, and Lake Fenton finished a regular-season sweep with a 41-38 victory. The Blue Devils also own a pair of wins over Linden, which will face Goodrich on Wednesday after the Martians took their regular-season meeting 43-27. Powers, fourth place out of the Division 1-loaded Saginaw Valley League, is something of a wild card because of the strong competition it’s faced. Few teams have as many good losses, and a win over Bay City Western (15-7) was among highlights.
1. Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard (19-3), 2. Wixom St. Catherine (21-1), Chelsea (21-1), Pinckney (7-13), Canton Prep (14-6), Fowlerville (4-18).
FGR’s winning streak has included two wins over Mercy, the Renaissance victory and a pair over Dearborn Divine Child (15-6) as well. The team’s losses were to Mercy (twice avenged), Lansing Catholic and Arbor Prep. St. Catherine’s only defeat came to Detroit Country Day during the first week of December, and the Stars went on to win league and league tournament titles as well – and 14 games total over teams with double-digit victories. Chelsea’s only loss this season came to a team from Ohio, Laurel, and it has 11 wins over teams with double-digit victories including Arbor Prep. Chelsea also has two over Tecumseh (18-4), which it outpaced to win the Southeastern Conference White. The Bulldogs open against another league champion, Canton Prep from the Detroit Metro Athletic Conference.
1. Buchanan (19-1), 2. Niles Brandywine (20-2), Cassopolis (16-6), Bridgman (16-4), Coloma (2-7).
The Bucks are considered a statewide Division 3 contender with arguably the top player in Miss Basketball Award finalist Faith Carson. But things will be tough right away as they await a District-opening result from Bridgman and Cassopolis – the latter the champion from the Southwest 10 Conference South. On the other side of the bracket is Brandywine, which finished second to Buchanan in the Lakeland Conference with its only losses this season to the Bucks – 49-45 in overtime Dec. 15 and 52-41 on Feb. 2. Brandywine also has a 64-39 win over Cassopolis. Buchanan’s only loss was to still-undefeated Vicksburg (22-0) in the season opener, and it defeated Watervliet (18-4) – which swept Bridgman.
1. Hancock (19-1), 2. Calumet (16-4), Negaunee (18-4), Ishpeming (15-6), Gwinn (6-14), Ishpeming Westwood (8-13).
All six of these teams play in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference, with Hancock and Calumet the top two from the West and Negaunee and Ishpeming first and second, respectively, from the East. Hancock also has an argument this winter as the U.P.’s best team, its lone loss 50-49 to Escanaba in January. Calumet defeated Escanaba 59-57 a few weeks later and lost to Hancock by only three and six points. Negaunee got all of its defeats out of the way in December, falling to Hancock and Calumet but avenging the latter 44-43 on Feb. 7. Ishpeming lost to Negaunee by a point only three days later. Hancock and the Hematites are on the top of the bracket, while Calumet and Negaunee are on the bottom. So is Westwood, which has won five of its last six.
1. Hemlock (19-3), 2. Sanford Meridian (19-1), Saginaw Valley Lutheran (19-3), Beal City (14-7), St. Louis (13-9).
This District features three league champions – Hemlock from the Tri-Valley Conference West 10-1, Valley Lutheran from the TVC West 10-2 and host Meridian from the Jack Pine Conference. Meridian’s only loss was in overtime to Division 2 Marysville (18-4), and it has wins over Freeland, Farwell and Evart, which all have won at least 17 games. The Mustangs open with St. Louis, while on the other side Hemlock will await either Valley Lutheran or Beal City. Hemlock defeated Valley Lutheran by 25 only two weeks ago, but the Chargers showed they can bounce back in avenging an early loss to Ithaca to share their league title. Beal City could show the strength of the Highland Conference, which had three teams contending into last week. Those three handed the Aggies six of their seven losses.
1. Fowler (15-7), 2. Portland St. Patrick (14-7), Morrice (16-3), Lansing Christian (10-12), Webberville (8-14).
The first steps for Fowler during its back-to-back Division 4 championship runs the last two seasons both required District wins over longtime rival St. Patrick. The teams split their series this regular season, but the Shamrocks are on a roll with six straight wins including 39-36 on Friday over Central Michigan Athletic Conference champion Dansville (18-2). That said, the early St. Patrick loss was Fowler’s only one to a Division 4 team as it loaded the schedule, and the Eagles have seen just about everything they might encounter. Morrice is intriguing; it has won eight straight since a loss to St. Patrick on Jan. 19 and also avenged its long league loss to Genesee. Morrice and Fowler would meet Wednesday if the Orioles can get past Lansing Christian, which also played mostly bigger schools this winter.
1. Pittsford (18-3), 2. Morenci (17-4), Adrian Lenawee Christian (12-10), Waldron (11-10), Camden-Frontier (8-11).
Pittsford has won seven straight to clinch the Southern Central Athletic Association East title, including 41-40 in overtime against Hillsdale Academy which ended up deciding the league championship outright. On the other side of the bracket Morenci has had a tough run of late, with four losses over the last seven games – but the Bulldogs still shared the title in the Tri-County Conference. Morenci gets SCAA Central champion Waldron in its first game Wednesday, while Pittsford could see a Lenawee Christian team that has won seven of its last 10 with a victory during that stretch over Bronson (18-3).
1. Mackinaw City (21-1), 2. Cedarville/DeTour (15-4), St. Ignace (12-9), Pickford (9-11), Mackinac Island (7-5), Pellston (1-20).
Playoff time generally is St. Ignace time, and the Saints are home this week and have tested themselves again against competition of all sizes from both peninsulas. But the difference this time is St. Ignace split a regular-season series with Cedarville/DeTour – and Cedarville/DeTour won the second meeting 44-38 on Feb. 14. Mackinaw City also no doubt is eager to show it’s taking another step with its lone loss to Division 3 Ovid-Elsie (18-4) and a 57-46 win over the Islanders in early December. The Comets are on top of the bracket, with Cedarville/DeTour, St. Ignace and Pickford on the other side.
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PHOTO Grand Ledge and Caledonia tip off a game this regular season. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)