It’s just about time for 12 weeks of results to provide the first signs on the roadmap for the final three weeks of this girls basketball season.
The District seeding process, based on Michigan Power Ratings (MPR), will produce the top two seeded teams in every District bracket this upcoming Sunday – and by noon those full Districts will be drawn based also on the formula for this year’s brackets determined this past Sunday. See the MPR page of the MHSAA Website for explanations of the formula and all other things MPR-related.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Detroit Edison 51, Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 35 The Division 2 Pioneers (14-3) won this matchup of 2022 Finals champions, downing Division 3’s Arbor Prep (12-5).
2. Calumet 59, Escanaba 57 The Division 3 Copper Kings (13-4) bounced back from a one-point loss to Negaunee three days earlier to hand the Division 2 Eskymos (15-1) their lone loss this season.
3. Coldwater 57, Jackson Northwest 51 These two are tied atop the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference standings after Coldwater (17-1) avenged a four-point Jan. 10 loss to the Mounties (16-2).
4. Traverse City St. Francs 47, Elk Rapids 43 (OT) The Gladiators (15-2) pulled a half-game ahead of Elk Rapids in the Lake Michigan Conference standings thanks to finishing a regular-season sweep of the Elks (14-3).
5. Hancock 36, Houghton 29 The Calumet win above may have caught more eyes statewide, but Hancock’s over the rival Gremlins (15-2) clinched a share of the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference West title and moved the Bulldogs to 15-1 overall.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Temperance Bedford (18-1) The Kicking Mules are staring down a possible first league title in more than a decade, which tells you plenty about the Southeastern Conference Red as they’ve averaged 17.3 wins total over that time. They’re in line for that opportunity with three league games to play thanks to a 37-29 win over co-leader Saline (16-3) on Friday, after taking their only defeat from the Hornets – by 17 – just two weeks earlier. Bedford sits No. 8 in Division 1 MPR.
Utica Ford (16-1) The Falcons won the Macomb Area Conference White by four games, and lost this season only on Dec. 6 to Rochester (15-3). The league title was Ford’s first since 2016-17, and the 16 wins equal last season’s total and include nine over teams that are or would be .500 or better without losses to the Falcons. They’ll play Macomb Dakota in a MAC Red/White Tournament semifinal on Tuesday.
Detroit Edison (14-3) The reigning Division 2 champions moved into the top spot in Division 2 MPR this week, with a 9-1 record against in-state MHSAA opponents after opening with six of their first seven games against teams from Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. The Pioneers came back from a Jan. 31 loss to West Bloomfield (17-2) with wins over Farmington Hills Mercy (16-2), Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Detroit Cass Tech and Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (12-5). They’ll finish their in-state schedule against Frankenmuth and Grosse Pointe South.
Warren Fitzgerald (18-0) The Spartans arguably have undergone the most significant turnaround of any program, girls or boys, statewide this season after finishing 1-16 a year ago. They won the MAC Silver by five games and take on New Haven in a Tuesday MAC Bronze/Silver Tournament semifinal after winning their first meeting this season by 39. Early victories over Hazel Park (13-5) and Marine City (14-3) were signs of the program’s rebound, and no opponent has gotten within single digits since Jan. 5.
Hemlock (15-3) The Huskies wrapped up an outright Tri-Valley Conference 10-1 championship with a 72-53 win over second-place Standish-Sterling (15-3). Their only losses came to three Division 2 teams in the TVC-8 – Saginaw Swan Valley (14-4), Freeland (14-4) and Frankenmuth (15-2), and in addition they have notable wins over St. Charles (16-2), Ithaca (15-3) and Division 1 Midland Dow (11-7). The St. Charles win avenged Hemlock’s loss in last year’s District.
Niles Brandywine (15-2) The Bobcats will finish second in the Lakeland Athletic Conference with those two losses to league champion Buchanan, but can secure second alone Friday against Benton Harbor. Brandywine also has wins over league leaders Bronson (15-3), Colon (14-4) and Cassopolis (13-4). The Bobcats finished 18-3 a year ago but ran into Buchanan in their first District game, and it’s possible they could meet again although at this moment they’ll be seeded on opposite sides of a strong bracket.
Hillman (15-3) The Tigers have won 11 straight in claiming the North Star League Little Dipper championship outright after sharing it last season. Some solid wins are bolstered by strong losses as well, as Hillman has fallen only to Eastern Upper Peninsula Athletic Conference champion Cedarville (13-3), twice, and Johannesburg-Lewiston (13-5). A second matchup with Division 3 Alcona (12-5) and a season-ender against Division 3 Oscoda should provide additional postseason prep.
St. Charles (16-2) The Bulldogs can clinch a share of the Mid-State Activities Conference championship Tuesday against Ashley, which would be their third in three seasons since joining the league. What’s new is that St. Charles is in Division 4 this season, coming off a Division 3 District title in 2022, and will almost assuredly enter this year’s bracket as the top seed thanks in part to a pair of wins over Carson City-Crystal (14-4) and those losses to Hemlock and Swan Valley.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Wednesday – Holt (15-2) at Flint Carman-Ainsworth (14-0) – Both are moving in on potential league championships but also are building high hopes for the Division 1 tournament.
Friday – Goodrich (17-1) at Lake Fenton (19-0) – Lake Fenton leads the Flint Metro League Stars by a game thanks to its 50-44 win over Goodrich on Jan. 20, but this will decide if the title is shared or outright.
Saturday – Haslett (19-0) at Rockford (16-1) – These league leaders also have high postseason hopes, with Rockford No. 1 in Division 1 MPR and Haslett No. 5 in Division 2.
Saturday – Detroit Catholic High School League finals – Championship games in both brackets will be played at University of Detroit Mercy.
Sunday – Detroit Public Schools League final – The championship game will tip off at 3 p.m. at Wayne State University.
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PHOTOS (Top) Farmington Hills Mercy's Owynn Evans runs the offense as her team clinched a share of the Catholic League Central championship last week with a 60-55 win over Dearborn Divine Child. (Middle) Ada Forest Hills Eastern's Amelia Elms (4) looks for an open teammate during Friday's 56-40 loss to Grand Rapids Catholic Central. (Below) A pair of Paw Paw defenders work to wall off Otsego's Madison Hoffman during their matchup earlier this season. (Photos by Douglas Bargerstock, Michigan Sports Photo and Gary Shook, respectively.)
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.)