By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Few other regular-season wins could ever produce the joy that comes with a championship-clinching victory. But avenging a loss comes pretty close.
Six teams on this week's list of high achievers enjoyed that feeling last week. The others just continued their impressive recent play -- good news with Districts beginning in three weeks.
Results and overall records below again are drawn from our MHSAA Score Center. The Breslin Bound report will not be published next week but will return Feb. 18
1. Freeland (14-1) – The Falcons became on Saturday the favorite to win Class B next month with one of the best wins of any team this season – 56-52 over reigning champion Goodrich, which hadn't lost to an in-state opponent in nearly two seasons.
2. Bloomfield Hills Marian (13-2) – Marian now has avenged both of its losses, two weeks ago earning a rematch win over Dearborn Divine Child and last week getting the rematch win, 49-34, over Livonia Ladywood.
3. Parchment (14-1) – The Panthers finished second to Olivet in the Kalamazoo Valley Association by a win last season and lost to the Eagles in their third game this winter. But Parchment evened the score last week with a 33-26 win over the Eagles to move into a tie for first place.
4. Midland Dow (16-0) – After being swept by rival Midland last season, Dow got one back last week, 50-45 over the Chemics, before then earning another win over solid Saginaw Heritage 53-38.
5. Battle Creek Harper Creek (12-1) – The Beavers’ only loss, to Kalamazoo Loy Norrix, came during the second week of the season; Harper Creek avenged that loss by beating Loy Norrix 32-29 last week.
6. Howard City Tri-County (11-5) – Only 5-18 a season ago, Tri-County keeps adding to its comeback and has won three straight including an impressive 49-43 upset last week of previously one-loss Kent City.
7. Kingsford (10-3) – The Flivvers already had improved on last season’s 9-13 finish, and by beating Crystal Falls Forest Park 52-51 last week avenged one of their few losses this winter.
8. Davison (14-2) – The Cardinals have won 14 straight since going 0-fer during the final week of November and hold a 3.5-win lead in the Saginaw Valley Association South standings.
9. Portland St. Patrick (14-1) – As stated previously, we don’t like to repeat teams on this list from week to week. But St. Patrick beat Pewamo-Westphalia 32-31 last week to avenge its only loss and move into a first-place tie in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference with only four league games to play.
10. Bronson (10-5) – The Vikings’ only loss since Dec. 27 came to a team from Indiana, and they get a chance to avenge one of their losses when they face Mendon on Friday.
PHOTO: Midland Dow's Kristine Mussell (10) defends during her team's win last week over Saginaw Heritage; Dow is 16-0. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)