Breslin Bound: Girls Report Post-Break

January 3, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

We’ve returned for the start of 2017 – and with plenty to review from the holiday break that featured top teams facing off in multi-day tournaments or one-day showcases especially in the Detroit and Grand Rapids areas.

But our highlights this week powered by MI Student Aid aren’t reserved for teams from Michigan’s largest cities; high-performing squads from the southern border to Lake Superior’s shore gave us reasons to watch as we turned the calendar over to the new year.

Week in Review

The countdown of the holiday break's five most intriguing results:

1. Detroit Country Day 55, Detroit Martin Luther King 46 – The Detroit area’s best-known powers hadn’t played each other in at least six seasons; the Class B Yellowjackets moved to 7-0 in downing the reigning Class A runner-up Crusaders (7-1).

2. Northville 62, Warren Cousino 51 – After a one-point loss to Dearborn on opening night, Northville has dominated, most recently winning its holiday invitational with this victory over the reigning Class A champion.

3. Holland Christian 43, Hudsonville 33 – The Maroons improved to 6-0 and won their holiday tournament with this victory over Hudsonville, previously undefeated and a Class A semifinalist last season. CORRECTION: Hudsonville actually won this game 61-43 to win the tournament and move to 7-0. 

4. Detroit Martin Luther King 48, Muskegon Mona Shores 45 – The day after falling to Country Day, King came back with this close win over the Sailors, who are also expected to contend in Class A this season.

5. Dearborn Divine Child 54, Farmington Hills Mercy 39 – Mercy looks to be among the state’s best in Class A again, which is great news for a Divine Child program that also boasts plenty of tradition but is coming off a six-win season.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:

CLASS A

Clarkston (8-0) – The Wolves boys get a lot of attention, but the girls have won at least 15 games four of the last five seasons (going 15-6 last winter) and are more than halfway there after Motor City Roundball Classic victories over River Rouge (66-41) and Detroit Cass Tech (63-54).

Detroit East English (7-1) – The Bulldogs have dominated for the most part and already are closing in on equaling last season’s win total; their only loss was by four to one-loss Detroit Collegiate Prep, and they’ve won all over their other games by at least 20.

CLASS B

Manistee (6-2) – A Class B quarterfinalist last season, Manistee took losses to neighbors Big Rapids and Cadillac over the first two weeks but came back with a six-point win over Traverse City West and a two-pointer over Shelby during the break.

Olivet (5-1) – Save for an 84-80 shootout loss to Battle Creek Pennfield, the Eagles are again riding high after falling off just a bit to 13-9 last season. They dealt Galesburg-Augusta its only loss, 67-40, on Dec. 20.

CLASS C

Carson City-Crystal (4-2) – These Eagles might have one of the strongest two-loss records in the state, with those defeats by two to one-loss Merrill and six to undefeated and reigning Class D runner-up Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart; they kicked off the break with a 51-29 win over Saginaw Nouvel.

Ishpeming (5-0) – The Hematites, 10-9 a season ago, have opened with five double-digit wins including 61-49 over Calumet, the 2015 Class C champion, and 43-33 over rival Westwood last week.

CLASS D

Athens (4-1) – Regardless of a one-point overtime loss to Centreville on Dec. 12, Athens is more than on pace to equal its back-to-back 16-win seasons and most recently handed a 41-22 loss to Mendon – winner of 17 games a year ago.

Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (4-2) – The Defenders are another girls team often in the shadow of a boys program that has had statewide success, but coming off a Quarterfinal appearance last season they’re looking to make their name again and beat Class B Montague 48-42 to finish 2016.  

Can't-Miss Contests

Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up: 

Tuesday – Charlevoix (4-0) at St. Ignace (3-1) – Charlevoix is taking major strides led by a freshman standout, and will get a good gauge of that progress against the Class C-contending Saints in a preview of a possible postseason matchup.  

Wednesday – Warren Cousino (4-2) at Port Huron Northern (7-0) – The Macomb Area Conference Red is loaded, with six teams including these two starting at least 4-2.  

Thursday – Warren Cousino (4-2) at Grosse Pointe North (5-1) – See above; reigning Class A champion Cousino will take on strong league rivals on back-to-back nights.

Thursday – Ishpeming (5-0) at Norway (6-0) – First place in the Mid-Peninsula Conference as well as two perfect records will be on the line in the first of two matchups between these two this winter.

Friday – Merrill (6-1) at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (5-0) – These two look to be the best of a strong Mid-State Activities Conference, won last season by the Irish while Merrill played in the Tri-Valley Conference West.

PHOTO: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart pushes the ball upcourt during a 62-17 win over Beal City on Dec. 19. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Decade After Title Trips, 'Coach K' Just as Driven to Coach Up Grand Haven Contenders

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

February 1, 2023

Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer has experienced unforgettable highs and nightmarish lows during her 25 years as the girls basketball coach at Grand Haven.

It’s now the 10-year anniversary of an amazing three-year stretch from 2011 to 2013, when “Coach K” guided the Buccaneers to a combined 81-2 record, three consecutive berths in the Class A Semifinals and back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

The lows are harder to pick out, but the way Grand Haven lost at Hudsonville on Jan. 24 certainly qualifies.

The Bucs led 46-44 with time running out, when Haven was called for a shooting foul with one-tenth of a second remaining on a desperation half-court shot attempt. Hudsonville senior Maddie Peroelje then made all three free throws to pull out an improbable 47-46 win.

“That one was brutal,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who was feeling much better Tuesday, one week later, after Haven downed visiting Zeeland West 44-33 for its third-straight victory.

“I love all of it, the great teams and big wins, but also the struggles and trying to stay strong and figure things out.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, 52, might be in the midst of the best coaching job in her 31-year career, guiding a team with no returning starters to a 10-4 start, including an impressive 5-2 record after the first rotation in the rugged Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.

She is doing it with a team that only goes about six or seven deep, has no one in that group taller than 6-foot and lost its starting point guard, junior Abbey Klumpel, to a season-ending knee injury during the summer.

How is she doing it?

“She teaches a team game of basketball,” explained ninth-year Grand Haven athletic director Scott Robertson, who has been involved in high school sports for 32 years. “She is more invested in her sport, her kids, her program than anyone I have ever seen.”

The defensive leader Tuesday was gritty senior guard Grace Harrison, who held Zeeland West’s top perimeter threat scoreless.

On offense, junior forward Emerson Berndt turned in a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. She scored 14 of those points in the second half to help the Bucs put the game away.

Berndt had the hot hand Tuesday, but in other games this season sophomore guard Gillian Sorrelle or junior forward Maddie Schopf have carried the team from outside. The inside leader is 5-11 senior center Heidi Berkey, who held her own against ZW’s 6-4 senior center Kara Bartels.

Berndt, who leads the Bucs with 12 points and five rebounds per game, said this team has a special bond with its head coach.

“Coach has established such a close relationship with all of us, and she knows how to get us going,” said Berndt, who is one of the five Haven starters who all average at least six points per game. “She’s always joking around, but getting after it at the same time.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. Haven, which is a surprising second in the O-K Red at the halfway point, starts the second half of the slate Friday at first-place and No. 3-ranked Rockford (13-1).

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, a standout player at Caledonia and then Hope College, began her coaching career at the age of 21 when she was still a senior at Hope – coaching the seventh-grade girls team at Caledonia.

She then worked five years at Hastings, including the final three as girls varsity head coach, before taking the job as a physical education teacher and varsity girls basketball coach at Grand Haven in 1997.

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and her husband, Paul, have one son, Drew, a 12-year-old sixth grader at Grand Haven who was just a toddler when the Buccaneers were enjoying their magical three-year run a decade ago.

Haven made its presence known on a statewide level in 2011, when 6-5 sophomore Abby Cole led the Bucs to a 26-1 record, with the only loss coming by a single point to Detroit Renaissance, 39-38, in a Class A Semifinal at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

The Bucs took the final step in 2012, erasing an 18-point, third-quarter deficit as senior guard Shar’Rae Davis drove the length of the court for the game-winning layup with nine seconds remaining in a 54-53 victory over Grosse Pointe South. Haven finished 27-1, with its only loss coming early in the season against O-K Red rival East Kentwood.

GH did it again in 2013 with a perfect 28-0 record, which might have been the most impressive because the only returning starter was Cole, who would go on to an all-Big Ten volleyball career at Michigan. The Bucs committed a staggering 32 turnovers, but made up for it with 22-of-29 shooting (76 percent), in a 60-54 overtime victory over, once again, Grosse Pointe South.

“Those are the glory days, and here we are 10 years later and you realize just how special it was,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who has also coached track at Grand Haven. “We always stayed humble and worked hard.

“Obviously, having someone like Abby Cole as the last line of defense is something special. But she had such great character and leadership, as well. I can still see her out there when things weren’t going well, and she would wrap her long arms around her teammates and tell them it was going to be OK. And it was.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer has amassed 391 victories as a head coach, with six O-K Red titles, eight District and four Regional championships – along with the two Class A Finals wins.

“Those trophies are getting hard to come by – I’m thinking about buying one on eBay,” said Coach K, displaying the quick wit that her fellow coaches, referees and players know very well.

She works hard, but also has plenty of fun and laughs along the way, which is why she doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon – even though this school year marks her 30th year of teaching.

As Kowalczyk-Fulmer was finishing up her media obligations after the Zeeland West victory, her son – a sports junkie who has literally grown up in the Grand Haven bleachers and locker rooms – sat waiting in the hallway.

“I plan to be here until he graduates,” she said with a nod to her only child. “I love it. It’s my passion, and I’m really lucky. Grand Haven is such a great place to live and coach.

“I’m not ready to stop.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at kendra.tom@gmail.com with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Haven girls basketball coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer talks things over with her team during a game earlier this decade. (Middle) Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. (Top photo courtesy of the Local Sports Journal.)