Breslin Bound: Girls Report Week 1

December 7, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Girls basketball season tipped off last week, providing new beginnings for 721 teams all over our state.

And at least a few have to be excited about early – and perhaps unexpected – returns.

Each week during the regular season, we’ll glance at four teams from each class that have caught our attention. This week’s list includes a few already on the way to improving on their finishes from a year ago. (Results and records below are based on schedules posted at MHSAA.com.)

Class A

Grand Haven (2-0) – The Buccaneers’ comeback from 7-15 a year ago is underway. They started 1-5 last winter, but started erasing that memory with a 46-32 win over Traverse City West followed by a 61-44 win over Traverse City Central.

Haslett (2-0) – The Vikings graduated three four-year varsity players from last season’s Class B runner-up, which combined with the move into Class A might have made for lower expectations this winter. But wins over Eaton Rapids (54-40) and Okemos (64-27) were an impressive way to restart.

Macomb Dakota (1-0) – If the season opener is an indication, the Cougars could be lined up for a nice rebound from 5-16. They played only once last week, but earned a 54-45 win over Rochester Adams, which finished 15-7 a year ago.

Waterford Kettering (1-0) – Kettering’s 23-2 run last season came to an end with a 51-42 loss to Bloomfield Hills Marian, which went on to win the Class A title. The Captains should expect more good things this winter after beating Marian 36-34 in the opener.

Class B

Jonesville (2-0) – The Comets won the Michigan Center Furman Classic by sweeping the same opponents it split with at last year’s opening event. Jonesville, coming off a 12-10 finish, beat Detroit Allen 65-24 and then Michigan Center 54-45 after losing to the host a year ago.

Manistee (2-0) – Coach Todd Erickson retired after leading the team to a 23-2 finish in 2014-15, but Kenn Kott's second tenure with the program opened with a 63-34 win over Scottville Mason County Central and then a 51-43 victory over Traverse City St. Francis, which finished 22-3 last season.

Portland (2-0) – The Raiders’ finish of 13-10 a year ago was solid but down a few wins from Portland’s norm. There’s plenty of reason for optimism again after the Raiders opened by downing Grand Ledge 54-45 and Laingsburg 41-38 in overtime; the Comets were Class A semifinalists two seasons ago, and Laingsburg made the Semifinals in Class C last winter.

Reed City (1-1) – The Coyotes are the only team on this list that lost a game last week, but the opening night win was that important. Reed City’s 48-44 victory over Leroy Pine River was its first win since the 2013-14 season.

Class C

Hanover-Horton (2-0) – These Comets beat Concord 61-49 and Homer 47-34; those teams won 18 and 21 games last season, respectively, while Hanover-Horton was 5-15 and lost last season’s opener to Concord by 16.

Hart (1-0) – It’s early, of course, but one win might say a lot for the Pirates. They started 0-3 a year ago with a two-point loss to North Muskegon on the way to 9-12 overall, but beat North Muskegon 55-45 to open last week.  

Napoleon (2-0) – The Pirates are building on a 16-7 finish and District title from a year ago, and a 31-29 win over Pewamo-Westphalia (17-4 last season) in the opener was a solid way to start. Napoleon followed that with a 52-37 victory over Battle Creek Pennfield.

St. Ignace (2-0) – The Saints are back in Class C after winning Class D last season, and returned with a pair of wins over Class A teams. St. Ignace opened the Petoskey Invitational with a 51-49 victory over Brighton and followed with a 49-46 overtime win over Marquette.

Class D

Bark River-Harris (1-0) – The Broncos’ 21-3 run last season included two two-point wins over annual Class D power Crystal Falls Forest Park, and they opened this season with a 51-25 win over the Trojans thanks in part to 17 steals. Bark River-Harris outscored Forest Park 19-3 during the second quarter.

Colon (2-0) – The Magi had plenty to celebrate last week. They won close – 37-34 over Union City and then 58-55 in overtime over Jackson Christian – and in doing so equaled their victory total from last season.

Fowler (2-0) – The Eagles were on the verge of a nice run last season, finishing 10-12 with seven losses by six points or fewer. Last week was a good start on taking the next step, as Fowler downed Beal City 58-40 and Ovid-Elsie 52-46.

Manistee Catholic Central (2-0) – The Sabers rebounded from a slow start last season to win 10 of their final 12 games and finish 13-9, and that momentum may have rolled into this winter. MCC opened with a 48-32 win over Walkerville and another, 47-33, over Custer Mason County Eastern.

PHOTO: An Alma player drives to the basket while Ionia defends last week during the season opener for both teams. (Click for 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.)