By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
We could list the 20 most standings-shaking matchups coming up in girls basketball this week and probably call it good for this “Breslin Bound” report.
We make mention of many of those below as we look toward the final month of the regular season. “Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com. Send corrections or missing scores to [email protected].
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Brighton 41, Hartland 33 – The veteran Eagles have been seen as Division 1 contenders – and that hasn’t changed – but this win moved Brighton into a first-place tie (with Howell as well) in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West and also into that discussion of elite.
2. Hudsonville 45, Rockford 44 (2OT) – Two of Hudsonville’s three closest games have come the last two Fridays, and the Eagles moved to 10-0 following up a four-point win over 9-3 East Kentwood on Jan. 17 with this nail-biter against the 10-2 Rams.
3. Kent City 75, Morley Stanwood 33 – Six Kent City players combined for 16 3-pointers as the Eagles remained the only Central State Activities Association Silver team unbeaten in league play after handing Morley Stanwood its first loss overall.
4. Michigan Center 61, Springport 49 – After a 3-3 start facing some of the state’s top competition, Michigan Center is still making its way back up the Division 3 MPR but got another boost against Big 8 Conference leader Springport.
5. Hemlock 40, Ithaca 29 – Hemlock saw its 19-game league winning streak snapped by Saginaw Nouvel earlier this month but pushed back into a first-place tie in the Tri-Valley Conference West with Ithaca less than two weeks later by handing the Yellowjackets their first loss overall this winter.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
East Grand Rapids (11-1) The Pioneers sent league foe Grand Rapids Christian to 9-2 overall with a 64-40 win last week and can finish a perfect first run through the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold on Friday at Middleville Thornapple Kellogg. The Pioneers – 20-3 last season – proved they were more than just league contenders in December with wins over Kalamazoo Central and Southfield Arts & Technology. EGR’s lone loss is nearly as impressive, 59-55 to still-unbeaten Hudsonville.
Jackson Northwest (10-1) The Class B runner-up and Interstate 8 Athletic Conference champion in 2017-18 fell back to second in the league a year ago. But the Mounties are working toward taking the title back, and a big week coming up will tell a lot about the chances to accomplish that and possibly more. Northwest opens Tuesday with Division 3 power Ypsilanti Arbor Prep and then Friday hosts rival Parma Western hoping to avenge a four-point loss to the Panthers from Dec. 13. Battle Creek Harper Creek also is tied with those two for first in the I8AC, and Northwest won their first meeting 44-41 in overtime.
Detroit Cody (11-1) After its most recent league title in 2016-17, Cody has hovered just above .500 over the last two seasons. But the Comets are contenders again and absolutely dominating, with their loss to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern on Dec. 7 their only game that wasn’t a double-digit win. Cody is tied for first in the Detroit Public School League West with 10-1 Detroit Renaissance and faces the Phoenix in the league finale Thursday – although Cody also must be watchful against Mumford tonight.
Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-1) A win Tuesday against Comstock Park would give West Catholic as many victories this season as all of last, as the Falcons have made a massive jump with their only loss this winter to 10-2 Muskegon Reeths-Puffer by seven on Dec. 20. A win over the reigning league co-champ Panthers also would put West Catholic in first alone in the O-K Blue after it finished sixth in 2018-19.
Lake City (10-1) Coming off last season’s Division 3 Semifinal run, Lake City continues to ride high with its only loss two weeks ago to Morley Stanwood (see above). The Trojans quickly bounced back and handed rival Manton its only defeat 48-37 on Jan. 17. Although Manton remains No. 1 in Division 3 MPR, that win pushed Lake City ahead of Manton into first alone in the Highland Conference – and their rematch Feb. 18 is shaping up as one of the state’s biggest games of February.
Ishpeming Westwood (10-1) The Patriots’ rise from very good to elite in 2018-19 was not a one-and-done as they have continued to dominate this winter with their only loss to undefeated Menominee 52-47 on Dec. 18. Westwood sits alone atop the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference East thanks to Friday’s 45-35 win over rival Negaunee. That victory ran the Patriots’ win streak over the Miners to three – after losing their first meeting last season, Westwood won the second on the way to clinching the league title and then downed Negaunee again in District play.
Bellaire (11-0) After finishing second to Gaylord St. Mary in the Ski Valley Conference the last three seasons and losing 10 straight to the Snowbirds, Bellaire is the team to chase the rest of this season thanks to a 49-36 win over St. Mary on Wednesday. In addition to being in the league mix the last few years, Bellaire also won a District title last winter to set up this run that has included 10 straight double-digit victories.
Kingston (11-0) The Cardinals will put their 62-game league winning streak on the line Thursday against Deckerville, the last team to win a league game against Kingston – in 2013-14. The Cardinals have continued to roll after making last season’s Division 4 Semifinals and actually beat the Eagles 41-28 in their first meeting Dec. 16. With four teams at 7-4 or better, the North Central Thumb League Stars is among the state’s toughest small-school leagues this winter – and Kingston also has a 34-point win over NCTL Stripes leader Bay City All Saints.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Farmington Hills Mercy (11-0) at Bloomfield Hills Marian (9-2) – The Marlins can pull within one more win of clinching the Detroit Catholic League Central title if they can follow up their 46-34 win over rival Marian from Jan. 7.
Thursday– Detroit Martin Luther King (9-0) at Detroit Cass Tech (10-1) – These rivals are the only unbeaten teams left in PSL East play; last season they shared the PSL Midtown title before Cass Tech downed King in a District Final.
Friday – Edwardsburg (11-1) at Three Rivers (10-1) – The Eddies are in jeopardy of seeing their three-season league-title streak come to an end as this will determine if Edwardsburg shares the Wolverine Conference South championship or Three Rivers clinches it outright.
Friday – Chesaning (10-1) at Byron (11-0) – The Eagles have shared three straight league championships, but have a one-game lead on Chesaning as they go for the outright Mid-Michigan Activities Conference title. Byron won the first meeting 48-32 on Dec. 20.
Friday – Midland (11-0) at Midland Dow (9-2) – With this perfect start including a 38-31 win over Dow on Dec. 19, Midland High has taken back local bragging rights and could accomplish much more this winter – but the Chargers await as potential spoilers.
Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at www.michigan.gov/mistudentaid and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Ishpeming Westwood’s Tessa Leece drives to the basket while being defended by Negaunee's Chloe Norman on Friday. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
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.)