By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Girls basketball teams across Michigan made it especially difficult last week to pull out only the brightest highlights for today's Breslin Bound report – powered by MI Student Aid.
With the start of Districts now just a month away, the shuffling has begun in full force with a number of teams making moves up their respective league standings and into view as possible MHSAA championship contenders.
Below you'll find notes on a number of teams on the move, with plenty more to come as the tournament draws near.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Grand Rapids Catholic Central 42, Marshall 34 – GRCC improved to 12-1 by avenging last season’s Quarterfinal loss to the eventual Class B champion Redhawks, who have lost only twice this season.
2. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 53, Ann Arbor Huron 33 – The Gators ran their winning streak to 23 going back to last season’s Class C title run, and also beat Huron for the first time in three years as they pursue the top spot in Class B this winter.
3. Freeland 58, Ithaca 35 – The Falcons' undefeated run enjoyed its most impressive week with a pair of Tri-Valley Conference crossover wins; in this one the Central leaders gave West first-place Ithaca its first defeat since opening night.
4. Rockford 69, East Kentwood 66 – The Rams improved to only .500 with this win, but showed the strength of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red by edging the league-leading Falcons.
5. Sault Ste. Marie 49, St. Ignace 44 – The Blue Devils finished a sweep of their Straits Area Conference rival for the first time in more than a decade to take a comfortable lead in the league standings.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Hartland (11-1) – The Eagles’ 15-5 finish last season included four losses to Howell, including in their lone District game. But Hartland’s only loss this season was to reigning Class A champion Detroit Martin Luther King. The Eagles also beat Howell by 20 two weeks ago to take a one-win lead in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West standings.
East Lansing (12-1) – After a one-point lost to DeWitt at the start of December, East Lansing has won 11 straight and 10 of those by double digits. The Trojans ended Muskegon’s five-game winning streak Saturday with a 52-34 win at the East Grand Rapids Showcase.
Marysville (10-4) – The Vikings have won seven of their last eight and handed Marine City its first loss of the season, 40-30 on Tuesday. Both now have only one loss in the Macomb Area Conference Gold, which Marysville won in going 21-3 overall last season.
Goodrich (9-4) – After falling back just a bit, relatively speaking, to 18-4 last winter, the Martians picked up four defeats in five games over the new year. But they haven’t lost in their last five and moved into first place alone in the Genesee Area Conference Red with a 54-36 win over Flint Hamady on Friday. A five-point loss to Hamady on Dec. 16 had started that brief slide.
Detroit Edison PSA (10-1) – The Pioneers have taken a giant step after a series of solid finishes. Wins over Chicago Whitney Young and Canton were among the most impressive early, but last week alone included victories over Detroit East English (64-44) and Dearborn Heights Robichaud (71-64) – bigger schools with a combined 17-7 record. The loss came over the weekend to Class A power King.
Watervliet (11-2) – The Panthers opened this season with two losses but haven’t looked back, and with a pair of wins last week surpassed their 10 victories of last winter. They lead reigning champion Gobles in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore thanks to a three-point win over the Tigers on Jan. 6.
Ewen-Trout Creek (8-2) – The Panthers finished 5-18 last season but showed a spark at the end by reaching the District Final. That momentum has carried over to an 8-2 start as they've pushed into first place in the Porcupine Mountain division of the Copper Mountain Conference.
Fruitport Calvary Christian (12-1) – The high-scoring Eagles are at it again with at least 70 points in five games this season including three of their last four. Calvary Christian also has avenged two of last season’s four losses with a 45-point win over Hart and five-pointer over fellow Alliance League contender Wyoming Tri-unity Christian.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Monday – Detroit East English (10-3) at Detroit Martin Luther King (12-1) – This is the last game before the start of the Detroit Public School League tournament, and East English can show how far it’s come since falling to the Crusaders by 21 on Jan. 12.
Tuesday – Williamston (12-1) at East Lansing (12-1) – Both of these Lansing-area teams have high postseason aspirations, and this one could indicate which might have the best shot in March.
Thursday – Detroit Edison PSA (10-1) at Detroit Country Day (11-0) – Edison, discussed above, is emerging as a Class C contender and can show how significantly against another of Class B's elite.
Friday – Canton (9-3) at Wayne Memorial (9-2) – Wayne holds a one-win lead in the KLAA South standings thanks to a three-point win in these teams’ first meeting three weeks ago; Canton won the league after the teams split last season.
Saturday – Kalkaska (9-0) at St. Ignace (10-2) – Two of the best from northern Michigan face off in an afternoon matchup; the Saints' only losses are those mentioned above to Sault Ste. Marie.
PHOTO: Freeland continued its undefeated run this season with a win over Ithaca in a Tri-Valley Conference crossover of league leaders. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)