Breslin Bound: Girls Report Week 6

January 9, 2017

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.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:

CLASS A

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.

CLASS B

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.

CLASS C

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.  

CLASS D

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.

Can't-Miss Contests

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.) 

Decade After Title Trips, 'Coach K' Just as Driven to Coach Up Grand Haven Contenders

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

February 1, 2023

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.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. 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 kendra.tom@gmail.com 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.)