The season begins anew tonight for more than 700 girls basketball teams across Michigan.
District tournaments tip off all over the state, and again, for the first time, with the top two seeded teams separated on opposite sides of the bracket. Check out “Tracking the Tournament” on MHSAA.com for every matchup from all of them, and see below for some of last week’s most eye-catching scores and three Districts in each division that could play especially important roles in who makes those trips to East Lansing later down this tournament road.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Detroit Renaissance 44, Farmington Hills Mercy 32 – The Detroit Public School League champion Phoenix (18-2) defeated the Detroit Catholic League Bishop champion Marlins (17-3) in the annual Operation Friendship game.
2. Hartland 32, Brighton 30 – The Eagles (19-1) added this two-point victory to a previous three-pointer over the Bulldogs (17-3) to claim the overall Kensington Lakes Activities Association title.
3. Hemlock 41, Ithaca 39 – The Huskies won the matchup of teams both 18-2 overall to clinch the Tri-Valley Conference West title outright.
4. Charlevoix 45, Traverse City St. Francis 11 – Expectations could have sunk preseason when all-stater Elise Stuck was ruled out for the winter with an injury; instead Charlevoix (15-5) won the Lake Michigan Conference, clinching the title outright against the second-place Gladiators (16-4). And Stuck has returned for the postseason
5. Grass Lake 62, Adrian Lenawee Christian 57 (2OT) – Defeating the reigning Division 4 champ should be a major confidence booster for Grass Lake entering the postseason, with the unfortunate sidebar that Lenawee Christian star Bree Salenbien was lost for the playoffs with a knee injury during the first overtime.
Districts at a Glance
These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:
Bloomfield Hills Marian
1. Bloomfield Hills Marian (15-5), 2. Southfield Arts & Technology (13-7), Birmingham Groves (10-10), Berkley (15-4), Royal Oak (9-11), Birmingham Seaholm (8-12).
Marian capped its toughest stretch of the season with a win over Detroit Cass Tech 45-36 on Thursday, and the Mustangs enter the postseason with the No. 8 MPR in all of Division 1. They face Seaholm first, with Berkley (No. 50 in Division 1) awaiting the winner. On the other side of the bracket, Southfield A&T has the No. 20 MPR after facing many of the state’s best in Divisions 1, 2 and 3, and the Warriors rode a four-game league winning streak to a shared title in the Oakland Activities Association Red. Last season’s Division 1 runner-up will be plenty prepared for its toughest matchups to come, with a 59-47 victory over Carman-Ainsworth on Jan. 28 showing its potential.
1. East Grand Rapids (19-1), 2. East Kentwood (16-3), Byron Center (19-1), Middleville Thornapple Kellogg (11-9), Wyoming (6-14), Caledonia (4-16), Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills (3-17).
This loaded District features three of the top teams statewide by Division 1 MPR, with East Grand Rapids No. 5, East Kentwood No. 9 and Byron Center No. 21. EGR won the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold and a Dec. 17 meeting with East Kentwood 50-43, before the Falcons went 14-1 the rest of the way and claimed the O-K Red title. East Kentwood opens play tonight against O-K Green champion Byron Center, also in a rematch. The Falcons handed the Bulldogs their lone loss of the winter in the season opener, 48-43.
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth (16-4), 2. Saginaw Heritage (12-8), Flushing (15-5), Swartz Creek (13-7), Saginaw (0-18).
Carman-Ainsworth enters the postseason with the fourth-highest MPR in all of Division 1, with Heritage 26th and Flushing 46th. All three are league champions, Flushing in the Flint Metro League Stripes where Swartz Creek finished third. The Raiders and Cavaliers meet in an opener tonight in a rematch of a Dec. 6 meeting won by Carman-Ainsworth 38-30 before it started its march to the Saginaw Valley League Blue title. SVL Red co-champ Heritage awaits on the other side of the bracket, and Carman-Ainsworth also won their lone meeting 58-39 on Jan. 7.
1. Edwardsburg (19-1), 2. Three Rivers (17-3), Niles (11-9), Buchanan (15-5), Berrien Springs (8-12), Dowagiac (2-18)
The Wolverine Conference South co-champions top this District, having split their matchups this season – Three Rivers won 62-44 on Dec. 20, and Edwardsburg then won 56-32 on Jan. 31. On the way to a possible third meeting, Three Rivers will have to go through Buchanan and Niles. The Bucks finished second in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red to Niles Brandywine, one of the most highly-regarded teams in Division 4. Niles, meanwhile, was runner-up in the Division 1-dominated Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West.
1. Big Rapids (19-1), 2. Cadillac (19-1), Benzie Central (11-9), Ludington (16-4), Manistee (7-12), Reed City (4-16).
The first four all are top-45 in Division 2 MPR. Big Rapids made a huge jump from 6-14 last season to share the title in a Central State Activities Association Gold that featured five of eight teams with at least 11 wins. After losing to co-champ Fremont by six on Dec. 20, the Cardinals (No. 18 MPR) have won 14 straight. Cadillac’s only loss came to Division 3 contender Maple City Glen Lake by six Feb. 10, as the Vikings (No. 14) otherwise cruised to a Big North Conference championship and also earned a six-point win from Ludington on Feb. 18. Those two face off in an opener tonight; Ludington’s only losses this winter were nonleague as it finished a perfect run through the Lakes 8 Activities Conference and built the No. 41 MPR. Benzie Central will be upset-minded on the other side of the bracket after building a No. 45 MPR by coming in third in a Northwest Conference featuring co-champs Glen Lake and Kingsley.
1. Chelsea (17-3), 2. Parma Western (18-2), Eaton Rapids (14-6), Onsted (13-7), Hillsdale (4-16).
The first four teams listed above all are top-50 by MPR, with Parma Western the second seed but moving past Chelsea over the last two weeks for the District’s highest rating at No. 8 in Division 2. The Panthers are carrying an eight-game winning streak and defeated second-place Battle Creek Harper Creek 51-35 on Friday to claim the outright Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title. Chelsea, No. 11 in MPR, shared the Southeastern Conference White title with Dexter and got a nice test Friday in a 10-point loss to Division 1 No. 1 Ann Arbor Huron. The Bulldogs open with Eaton Rapids (No. 40), which has lost three of its last four but tied for second in a loaded Capital Area Activities Conference White. Onsted (No. 43) awaits the winner of Chelsea/Eaton Rapids.
1. Centreville (19-1), 2. Schoolcraft (18-2), White Pigeon (15-4), Constantine (7-13), Marcellus (7-11).
Centreville has won the Southwest 10 Conference title all three seasons of its existence and will look to build on last year’s Regional Final run. But the Bulldogs’ only loss this winter came Feb. 7 in the second regular-season meeting against White Pigeon, which tied for second in the SW10 and will be awaiting in a District Semifinal the winner of tonight’s Centreville/Constantine opener. On the other side of the bracket, Schoolcraft won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley title for the third-straight year, and is likely further motivated after last year’s first-game District exit. Centreville is No. 6, Schoolcraft No. 9 and White Pigeon No. 29 in Division 3 MPR.
1. Brooklyn Columbia Central (18-2), 2. Grass Lake (18-2), Michigan Center (17-3), East Jackson (10-10), Vandercook Lake (0-20).
Grass Lake has been considered a championship contender nearly all of this season with wins over reigning Division 3 title winner Pewamo-Westphalia plus Parma Western, Michigan Center and more recently reigning Division 4 champ Adrian Lenawee Christian to its credit. But the Warriors did fall in a rematch to Michigan Center, 65-55 on Feb. 4, and the two shared the Cascades Conference title. Grass Lake is up to No. 7 in Division 3 MPR and Michigan Center No. 11, and they face off in a District Semifinal on Wednesday. On the other side of the bracket, Columbia Central is No. 4 in MPR and the top seed after claiming the Lenawee County Athletic Association title. BCC’s losses came to Parma Western in the season opener and Lenawee Christian on Feb. 7, but it swept Division 2 No. 17 Ida.
1. Manton (18-2), 2. Lake City (19-1), McBain (13-7), Houghton Lake (12-8), Roscommon (2-18).
Lake City moved all the way up to No. 5 in the final Division 3 MPR with wins over second-place Manton and third-place McBain over the last two weeks to win the Highland Conference. The Trojans – Division 3 semifinalists a year ago – then closed the regular season by handing Bellaire its only loss. The Highland might have been the toughest Division 3 league in the state; Manton finished No. 10 in MPR, McBain No. 30 and fourth-place Houghton Lake No. 53. Manton opens with Houghton Lake tonight, while McBain and Lake City face off in a Wednesday District Semifinal.
St. Ignace (17-2), Pickford (16-3), Cedarville (12-6), DeTour (7-13), Mackinac Island (7-8).
This District features the Nos. 2, 10 and 14 teams in Division 4 MPR, although the Saints are the reigning Division 4 runners-up and enter with a 22-point win over Pickford and 24 and 36-point wins over Cedarville to their credit. St. Ignace also has wins over Division 1 No. 1 Ann Arbor Huron and Division 2 No. 6 Sault Ste. Marie and No. 20 Goodrich. But all of that said, the Pickford win came Jan. 15 and the rematch was canceled – so the Panthers should be raring for this one if the teams meet in Friday’s District Final.
1. Camden-Frontier (18-2), 2. Hillsdale Academy (15-5), Pittsford (17-3), Waldron (2-17), Morenci (3-17), Hillsdale Will Carleton Academy (7-10).
Camden-Frontier finished first, Pittsford second and Hillsdale Academy third in a loaded Southern Central Athletic Association East, and they finished Nos. 13, 23 and 33, respectively in Division 4 MPR. Camden-Frontier and Pittsford meet tonight; the Redskins won the regular-season meetings 54-34 and 56-46. C-F split with Hillsdale Academy, losing the first 52-45 but winning the second 45-37. If Pittsford upsets C-F tonight and reaches a Friday matchup with Hillsdale Academy, they too split during the regular season – Hillsdale Academy winning 45-34 on Feb. 15 and Pittsford winning 44-43 five days later.
Fowler (16-4), Portland St. Patrick (16-4), Morrice (14-5), Lansing Christian (10-10), Webberville (3-17).
Fowler finished second and Portland St. Patrick third in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference behind reigning Division 3 champion Pewamo-Westphalia, and now they’ll have the opportunity to surge like Fowler did in making the Semifinals last season. Similarly, Morrice finished second in the Genesee Area Conference to reigning Division 3 runner-up Flint Hamady. The Orioles see St. Patrick in a District Semifinal on Wednesday – St. Patrick won a Jan. 22 game with Morrice 52-13, and a repeat would set up a possible Friday rematch with Fowler. The Eagles took both meetings with the Shamrocks this season, but they were close – Fowler won 52-49 on Dec. 18 and then 61-53 in double overtime Jan. 30. Fowler is No. 4, St. Patrick No. 17 and Morrice No. 29 in Division 4 MPR.
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PHOTO: Detroit Edison in Division 2 and Flint Carman-Ainsworth in Division 1 met Feb. 25 and are among favorites in Divisions 2 and 1, respectively. Edison won 73-50. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
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.)