By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The theme of this week’s Breslin Bound Girls Report – powered by MI Student Aid – is teams that were solid a year ago looking like they might be even better this winter.
Be it those we highlighted in last week’s five most intriguing games, or the eight teams grabbing attention for strong starts, we’ve got a group this week that bears watching as we get into the final week of 2016 and roll into the new year.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Port Huron Northern 64, Williamston 43 – The Huskies play in one of the state’s toughest leagues, the Macomb Area Conference Red, but look ready after beating Farmington Hills Mercy earlier and Saturday handing Williamston its first loss, at the Best of Michigan Classic.
2. Reese 47, Bay City John Glenn 33 – The Rockets are 5-1 with only an opening one-point loss against them, and this win over a Class B semifinalist from a year ago looks pretty strong next to earlier victories over Frankenmuth and Millington.
3. Flint Hamady 51, Goodrich 46 – Hamady moved over to the Genesee Area Conference Red this season after winning the Blue again last winter, and might be the favorite with this win over an annual frontrunner.
4. Northville 46, Canton 36 – Northville continues to hold the upper hand between these reigning Kensington Lakes Activities Association division champions; the Wildcats won the Central last season and then beat Canton in a District Semifinal as well after the Chiefs had won the KLAA South.
5. Detroit Edison PSA 57, Chicago Whitney Young 45 – Detroit Country Day also beat the Chicago power, but DEPSA’s win was more stunning and a sign the undefeated Pioneers are a potential force in Class C.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Jackson (4-1) – The Vikings improved from six wins two seasons ago to 11 last winter, but still fell twice to rival Jackson Northwest (by 36, and then 20 in the District). It will be interesting to watch how last week’s 53-46 win over the Mounties might push them forward.
Ypsilanti Community (6-0) – The Grizzlies, coming off 13-8 last season, opened with close wins over Belleville (47-41) and Pinckney (51-49) but have since beaten four straight teams by at least nine points. They handed Dexter its first loss 38-19 on Friday.
Frankenmuth (5-1) – The Eagles extended their Tri-Valley Conference East winning streak to 99 after one of the closest scares of their run, a 57-51 overtime win over Millington. The lone loss this season came nonleague against Reese, which might be one of the state’s best in Class C.
Tawas (4-0) – The Braves rallied for a second straight District title to close last season, but are surging out of the gate this winter. They’ve won their four games by an average of 25 points per and all by at least 17.
Centreville (5-1) – Since falling to Constantine by nine in its first game, Centreville has run off five straight victories including 41-40 in overtime over Athens a week ago; the loss was Athens’ first this season. Centreville was 13-7 a year ago.
Byron (6-0) – With only Morrice remaining among four teams that finished ahead of Byron in the GAC Blue last season, the Eagles are looking like potential title favorites. A 48-45 win over last season’s GAC Red champion Durand a few weeks ago and last week’s 42-40 win over New Lothrop are especially impressive.
Bark River-Harris (4-2) – The Broncos, from an unfortunate standpoint, equaled last season’s two losses in the first week of this winter. But the good news is Bark River-Harris has won four straight including a one-pointer over Big Bay de Noc last week.
Bellevue (6-0) – Former Eaton Rapids standout Kayla Whitmyer has built a solid program, and the Broncos look poised to take another step after going 17-7 in 2015-16. They’ve won all of their games by double figures, and beat reigning Southern Central Athletic Association West champion Climax-Scotts 57-41 on Friday.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Midland Dow (5-0) at Detroit Country Day (4-0) – This will pit favorites for the Class A and B championships, respectively, as well as some of the state’s top guards.
Tuesday – Calumet (3-0) at Ishpeming (3-1) – Both will be competing for league championships this winter, Calumet in the West Peninsula Athletic Conference and the Hematites in the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference.
Tuesday – Rockford (2-2) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (3-1) at Cornerstone University – These two make for an excellent first round in this annual event; sidenote: both have in common a loss to Muskegon Mona Shores.
Thursday – Marshall (3-1) at Richland Gull Lake (3-1) – The Blue Devils are off to a quick start after going 12-9 last season, but will really get to see how they measure up facing the reigning Class B champion.
Thursday – Freeland (5-0) at Saginaw Valley Lutheran (3-1) – The Class C Chargers are the only team to knock off powerful Reese, and will get a chance to conquer an impressive foe from Class B.
PHOTO: A Reese defender walls off a Frankenmuth player during the Rockets' 43-32 win on Dec. 2. (Click to see more from Varsity Monthly.)
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.)