By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
This Michigan high school girls basketball season will be played out over 16 weeks, concluding with MHSAA Finals on March 21 at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.
Below is our first “Breslin Bound” report of the girls season, powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com. Those results have become much more vital this winter – for the first time, there will be limited seeding of the top two teams at the District level based on their Michigan Power Rating (MPR). Check out how every team in the state ranks, and send corrections or scores we’re missing to [email protected].
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. East Lansing 40, Pewamo-Westphalia 27 – Both teams have title aspirations again this winter, East Lansing in Division 1 and P-W looking to repeat in Division 3, and are led by multiple future college hoops talents.
2. Dearborn Heights Crestwood 44, Detroit Country Day 43 (OT) – Any win over always-successful Country Day is going to make a statement, and Crestwood’s was loud as it seeks to build off last year’s run to the Regional Finals.
3. Pewamo-Westphalia 43, Southfield Arts & Technology 31 – The Pirates bounced back from the East Lansing loss to get past last season’s Division 1 runner-up A&T at the Arbor Prep Ice Breaker Challenge.
4. Hartland 61, Adrian Lenawee Christian 40 – The Cougars’ Bree Salenbien is one of the state’s top players no matter the division, so Hartland’s big win over the reigning Division 4 champions, also at Arbor Prep, is a great sign for the Division 1 Eagles.
5. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 57, Flint Kearsley 51 – We needed just a week to see the Flint area is loaded in girls basketball again this winter; Carman-Ainsworth went on to beat Flushing to end the week, while Kearsley downed reigning Class C runner-up Hamady by 11.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
Dexter (2-0) The teams the Dreadnaughts beat last week – Ann Arbor Skyline and Manchester – were also among those they defeated last season in finishing 9-11. But after winning those games by a combined 13 points in 2018-19, Dexter opened by downing Skyline by 41 and followed by defeating Manchester by 50.
Eastpointe (3-0) Last season’s 7-14 finish included six losses by five points or fewer and three determined by just a basket. The Shamrocks are nearly halfway to equaling their 2018-19 win total after a week, with Friday’s 39-31 defeat of Roseville (15-6 last season) the most impressive of the opening run.
Bay City John Glenn (2-0) The Bobcats are no strangers to the mix of the best in the Saginaw/Bay City/Flint/Midland area. And they’re off to another solid start opening with a 52-33 win over Saginaw Swan Valley and 52-49 victory over Essexville Garber, the latter a league champion last winter.
Chelsea (2-0) The Bulldogs are rolling again coming off last season’s 24-2 finish and trip to the Division 2 Quarterfinals. Like last year, they opened with wins over Marshall and Dearborn Divine Child – the former by 20 after winning by two a year ago, and the latter on a game-winning basket during the final seconds.
Grass Lake (2-0) The Warriors’ first game coming off last winter’s 21-2 finish was against Division 1 Ann Arbor Pioneer, a 19-game winner last season – and Grass Lake pulled away 60-54. A tough schedule also sees Carman-Ainsworth, Michigan Center and Pewamo-Westphalia coming up over the next few weeks.
Hart (2-0) The Pirates – a solid 13-11 a year ago – tuned up with a big win over Pentwater before handing eight-time reigning West Michigan Conference champion Muskegon Oakridge a 56-34 defeat on Friday. Oakridge downed Hart by 17 and 38 in their meetings last season.
L'Anse (2-0) The Purple Hornets closed last regular season on a 4-1 run and finished 11-10, but the end had to sting some as they fell 36-30 in a District opener to a Chassell team they had beaten by 15 the week before. L’Anse avenged that defeat to open this winter, 48-34, and added a 39-point win over Lake Linden-Hubbell.
Marion (2-0) A rough start turned into a 6-13 finish last season for the Eagles. But a one-point win over Grand Traverse Academy and 25-pointer against Bear Lake last week put them on a better track. The latter avenged a 14-point loss last winter as Bear Lake went on to win the West Michigan D League title.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – East Lansing (1-0) at Williamston (2-0) – East Lansing won last season’s meeting 59-55, and the Hornets join the Trojans with big-time hopes again this winter.
Thursday – Ann Arbor Huron (2-0) at Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (3-0) – These annual powers had big first weeks again, both winning all of their games by double digits over notable opponents.
Friday – Wayne Memorial (0-0) at Detroit Renaissance (1-0) at Detroit Edison – The Best of Michigan Classic is loaded with big-time matchups, and this one opens the event with Wayne coming off last season’s trip to the Division 1 Semifinals and Renaissance a league co-champ in 2018-19.
Saturday – Adrian Lenawee Christian (1-1) vs. Kalamazoo Central (1-1) at Belleville – This is another of the most intriguing matchups from the Best of Michigan Classic, matching up the reigning Division 4 champ with a Division 1 team looking to rise.
Saturday – Detroit Renaissance (1-0) vs. East Kentwood (2-0) at Belleville – Renaissance must come back immediately after facing Wayne to take on another possible Division 1 contender in the Falcons.
Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Byron opened last week with an impressive 61-43 win on the road at Goodrich. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)
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.)