By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
A total of 15 girls basketball teams remain undefeated through what was the midpoint of this season for most across Michigan last week.
Check out the “Rankings” tab above for a list of those with the best records across all four classes, to be updated every Monday during the rest of this winter. Meanwhile, here’s a look at some of what stuck out most for this Breslin Bound report, powered by MI Student Aid.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Saginaw Heritage 50, Midland Dow 47 (OT) – The undefeated Hawks have the upper hand again in the Saginaw Valley League North after Midland took a share of the league title last season by winning their second meeting; the rematch this time is Feb. 10.
2. Sandusky 54, Harbor Beach 35 – The Redskins remained undefeated and took a one-win lead in the Greater Thumb Conference East standings in handing Harbor Beach its first loss in the league and overall.
3. Ithaca 58, Frankenmuth 40 – This is a great sign for Ithaca’s move from Class C to B this season; the Yellowjackets improved to 8-1 while handing the Eagles only their second loss.
4. Farmington Hills Mercy 33, Bloomfield Hills Marian 30 – Mercy added this win to a one-point victory over its Detroit Catholic League Central rival Dec. 9 and cemented itself as the Class A team to watch from that always-strong league.
5. Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 57, Muskegon Mona Shores 48 – Mona Shores could still be a contender in Class A and definitely was the favorite in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Black this winter, but Reeths-Puffer has to be as much a part of both conversations after this win.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Hudsonville (11-1) – A Class A semifinalist last season, Hudsonville opened the O-K Red schedule with a loss to now-.500 Rockford. But the Eagles are back in the title mix with four straight league wins including an impressive 53-43 victory last week over Caledonia.
Utica Ford (10-1) – The Falcons have found a home after finishing 10-13 overall and last in the Macomb Area Conference Red a year ago. Ford’s loss came on opening night to Romeo, by just four, and it leads the MAC White.
Comstock (9-1) – After finishing fourth in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Red last season, Comstock has nearly equaled its 13 overall wins and last week ended Niles Brandywine’s 83-game home winning streak. Next up is undefeated league leader Buchanan.
Houghton (11-0) – After surging at the end of last season to finish 16-7 and win a District title, Houghton has kept it rolling and last week downed rival Calumet 56-40 and being swept by the Copper Kings in 2015-16. All but one win this season have been by 15 or more points.
Jonesville (9-2) – After opening with a pair of losses to Michigan Center and Springport (which are both 9-1) by a combined five points, Jonesville is surging and trails first-place Springport by just a win in the Big 8 Conference. Last week included a 42-40 overtime edging of Adrian Madison, which also is 9-2.
Burton Bendle (10-1) – The Tigers improved from six to 12 to 16 wins over the last three seasons, respectively, and have their sights set on a Genesee Area Conference White title after avenging its only loss this season, to New Lothrop, with a 39-29 win Friday.
Gaylord St. Mary (9-1) – The Snowbirds also opened with a loss, to Class B Clare, but look more like the team that made the Quarterfinals last season and missed advancing farther by just a point. They took over the Ski Valley Conference lead alone last week with a 15-point win over Bellaire.
Hillman (9-1) – The Tigers have rattled off nine straight wins since falling by three to Cedarville on opening night. A 58-37 defeat of Rogers City not only handed their rival its second loss this winter, but put Hillman in first alone in the North Star League Big Dipper as it looks to repeat as champion.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Monday – Freeland (10-0) at Ithaca (8-1) – This Tri-Valley Conference crossover features the leaders of the Central and West, respectively, and two that could meet again in the Class B postseason.
Monday – Comstock (9-1) at Buchanan (9-0) – This is the first of two matchups between the leaders of the BCS Red over the next two weeks; see more on Comstock above.
Tuesday – East Kentwood (10-1) at Hudsonville (11-1) – The Eagles, also discussed above, took only one loss in the O-K Red last season … from East Kentwood, the current league leader.
Tuesday – Manchester (7-3) at Pittsford (12-0) – The reigning Class D champion Wildcats have won 39 straight and will get arguably their toughest test of the regular season in this matchup against the Class C Flying Dutchmen.
Saturday – Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (12-0) at Ann Arbor Huron (8-3) – Arbor Prep, after winning Class C last season, is a favorite in Class B this time and gets one of its two biggest tests so far against Class A Huron.
PHOTO: Houghton's Morgan Colling looks for an open teammate as Baraga's Justice Kinnunen (20) helps trap her near the baseline during their game earlier this season. (Photo by Paul Gerard.)
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.)