Breslin Bound: Girls Report Week 6

January 11, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

As we head toward the midpoint of this girls basketball season, a few intriguing teams are making us keep an eye out thanks to wins over opponents who traditionally don’t lose much.

Read on for the details on why Detroit Renaissance and Durand have become teams to watch – plus a look at 14 more that stood out not only over the last week, but during the first six of the season so far.

Each week during the regular season, we’ll glance at four teams from each class that have caught our attention. Results and records below are based on schedules posted at MHSAA.com.

Class A

Detroit Renaissance (8-1) – The Phoenix could be Detroit’s best for the first time since finishing Class A runner-up in 2011; Renaissance’s only loss is to undefeated Bay City John Glenn, and it’s beaten usual Detroit leader Detroit Martin Luther King (68-65 on Dec. 17) in addition to strong teams Detroit Henry Ford, Farmington Hills Harrison and Manistee.

Grosse Pointe North (6-0) – The Norsemen have finished a few wins above or below .500 every season of this decade and exactly even a year ago, but have won all of their games by double digits so far and are more than halfway to equaling last season’s 11 victories.

Utica Eisenhower (8-0) – The Eagles came off a solid 15-8 and second-place league finish a year ago, but have stormed to this start with six wins by at least 12 points including their first in Macomb Area Conference White play over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley on Friday.

St. Johns (6-2) – The Redwings broke into the Capital Area Activities Conference Red hunt coming back off a December loss to leader DeWitt by handing former co-leader Haslett its first loss, 52-40 on Friday, after losing to the Vikings by 33 and 19 last season.

Class B

Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (6-0) – The Fighting Irish have risen steadily the last three seasons and tied Macomb Lutheran North for the Catholic League AA title last season; they’ve got the upper hand this time after downing Lutheran North 43-35 last week.

Center Line (6-1) – The Panthers are regulars lately at the top of their Macomb Area Conference division and look like potential favorites in the Gold this winter with two games holding opponents to single digits and two more keeping teams to fewer than 20 points.

Durand (6-2) – Not only are the Railroaders off to their best start since 2010-11, but they handed annual power Goodrich its first league loss since at least that long ago and now have a nice early advantage in the Genesee Area Conference Red standings.

Perry (5-0) – The Ramblers under coach Tim Beebe are 39-10 over the last two-plus seasons and have a game on the rest of the Greater Lansing Activities Conference pack – plus three two-point victories, including last week’s over above-mentioned Durand.

Class C

Adrian Madison (7-0) – The Trojans are working toward their fifth straight Tri-County Conference championship and own a one-game lead on two second-place teams including Morenci after Friday’s 59-28 win over the Bulldogs. No opponent has come closer than 10 points so far.

Detroit Cristo Rey (6-1) – One more win this season will give Cristo Rey its most since 2011-12, and all six this winter have come by double digits and with five opponents scoring 18 or fewer points.

Marlette (6-1) – The Red Raiders already earned a big boost in the Greater Thumb Conference East, bouncing back from their lone loss to beat reigning champion Sandusky before the break; the next big matchup is Friday against league co-leader Harbor Beach.

Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (8-1) – A Class C semifinalist last season, Arbor Prep again has loaded the schedule to prepare for another run and owns a nice win over Manistee, with its only loss to Class A Ann Arbor Huron. Waterford Kettering, Saginaw Nouvel, Bay City John Glenn, Bloomfield Hills Marian and Detroit Country Day are among opponents coming up.   

Class D

Detroit Public Safety Academy (5-1) – This is the Eagles’ first season of MHSAA Tournament eligibility, and they’re looking like an interesting possibility to do something in Class D; last week’s win came over Dearborn Advanced Tech, which beat above-mentioned Cristo Rey, and Public Safety also owns a victory over Class B Detroit Osborn.

Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (8-0) – Keyed by dominating center Averi Gamble, Sacred Heart again is navigating a strong nonleague schedule in addition to some good competition in the Mid-State Activities Conference; she had eight of her team’s 22 points in last week’s four-point win over league foe and previously-undefeated Carson City-Crystal. The Irish beat Gaylord St. Mary (6-2) earlier in the week.

St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran (5-1) – The Titans did open last week with a 52-47 loss to once-defeated Class B Buchanan, but came back to beat rival St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic 46-41 and take a two-game lead in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference White.

Stephenson (7-0) – After losing five of their final seven to finish last season 10-10, the Eagles have bounced back well with six wins by at least 16 points plus a 56-53 victory last week over Class B Gladstone.

PHOTO: A St. Louis shooter prepares to launch; the Class C Sharks are 5-0 this season. (Click for more photos from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for MHSAA.com

November 28, 2023

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.

Southwest CorridorIt 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."

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. 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.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (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 HassingerScott 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.)