By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Generally, our Breslin Bound reports – powered by MI Student Aid – emphasize the week that was across the state in either girls or boys basketball.
But this week, it’s easy to jump to the bottom of this report and prep for what could be one of the season’s most exciting runs, starting with a Monday night rivalry game in the Upper Peninsula and ending with one of a number of great Friday matchups downstate.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week's five most intriguing results:
1. Warren Cousino 53, Port Huron Northern 51 – Reigning Class A champion Cousino opened with arguably the toughest first-half schedule in the state, and with the dust settled has emerged 7-2 and with this key Macomb Area Conference Red win over previously-undefeated Northern.
2. Lansing Waverly 55, DeWitt 47 – The Warriors’ three losses this season came against solid teams, but handing previously-undefeated DeWitt its first defeat could signal Waverly is ready to take a step into elite.
3. St. Ignace 80, Charlevoix 41 – Charlevoix entered as the undefeated team of the two, but both now have one loss as the Saints reasserted themselves as the north’s Class C measuring stick.
4. Norway 44, Ishpeming 42 – These two entered undefeated as well, but finished with Norway alone atop the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference standings.
5. Flint Hamady 43, Flint Beecher 31 – Hamady remained a step ahead of the rival Bucs as both are now in the Genesee Area Conference Red; their only meeting last season was a Hamady win in the District Final.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Battle Creek Lakeview (5-2) – A District champion a year ago, Lakeview has rebounded from a rough opening night against Mason to win five of its last six and its last four. The Spartans tied for second last season in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East, but earned a 70-56 win over reigning champion Kalamazoo Central in their final game before the break.
Caledonia (7-1) – The Fighting Scots are a one-point opening-night loss to Richland Gull Lake from perfection this winter. They should be a contender in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red moving over after winning the O-K White last season.
Ida (7-0) – The Bluestreaks are another District winner from a year ago off to a great start, with six wins by double figures. They are tied for first with Blissfield in the Lenawee County Athletic Association, with the two teams that finished ahead of them last season – Brooklyn Columbia Central and the Royals – coming up this week.
Marine City (7-0) – A strong 16-4 season came to a first-round halt last winter against MAC Gold rival Marysville in the District. But the Mariners are off to a stronger start this winter thanks to Friday’s win over Vikings, who beat Marine City three times total during 2015-16.
Harbor Beach (8-0) – After going 12-9 with a first-round District exit last season, the Pirates have simply dominated winning all of their games by double figures and all but two by at least 25 points. The second victory this season was by 30 over Elkton-Pigeon-Bay Port Laker, which ended Harbor Beach’s 2015-16 season.
Sandusky (9-0) – Like Harbor Beach, Sandusky is pacing the Greater Thumb Conference East. The Redskins finished second last year but already have avenged two losses to reigning league champion Marlette, and get the chance Tuesday to avenge their other 2015-16 regular-season defeat, to Reese.
Baraga (5-1) – The Vikings are coming off a 12-10 season but lost seven of their last 10 last winter; they’re looking good to avoid that misstep this time, with four wins so far over teams they fell to during that streak, including last week’s victory over Lake Linden-Hubbell (50-42).
Rogers City (6-0) – The Hurons are halfway to last season’s win total and have avenged their District Final loss to Posen; downing solid Lincoln Alcona by 11 gives them nice footing in the North Star League’s Big Dipper division after tying with Alcona for second a year ago.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Monday – Marquette (8-1) at Kingsford (6-1) – These two finished first and tied for second last season, respectively, in the Great Northern U.P. Conference, which includes the Upper Peninsula’s biggest schools.
Tuesday – Sandusky (9-0) at Reese (7-1) – These very well could be two of the best in the state in Class C and end the season as champions of their respective divisions of the Greater Thumb Conference.
Wednesday – Detroit Country Day (8-0) at Flint Hamady (7-0) – This one hardly needs an explanation; fans of girls basketball are used to seeing both of these teams in March at the Breslin Center.
Thursday – Detroit Martin Luther King (7-1) at Detroit East English (7-1) – East English will see how it measures up with the annual Public School League power in a matchup for first place in the East Division 1.
Friday – East Kentwood (7-1) at Caledonia (7-1) – See above for more on Caledonia; these two could be the best of an outstanding O-K Red this winter and have the best overall records so far.
PHOTO: Sandusky charges ahead during a 63-16 win over Deckerville on Dec. 28. (Photo by Varsity Monthly.)
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.)