Bucs Earn Shot at Grand Finale

March 15, 2013

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Grand Haven’s girls basketball players toppled over each other on the Breslin Center floor Friday afternoon just as they did in celebrating their first Class A championship here a year before.

But the Buccaneers also realized they have one more game to win to finish one of the finest seasons in MHSAA girls basketball history.

Grand Haven earned that opportunity by coming back to defeat Westland John Glenn 55-46 after trailing in the Semifinal with a quarter to play.

The Bucs might not have been expected to put this run together after graduating most of last season’s team. But led by senior Abby Cole – who had a triple-double before the end of Thursday’s third quarter – they not only are in position to repeat, but also to finish undefeated this winter.

“Especially for the seniors, everyone wanted to come back and do what the seniors did for us last year,” Bucs senior Hannah Wilkerson said. “For the juniors now on the team, we wanted them to experience it. It’s still the best memory I have, ever.”

Grand Haven (27-0) will face No. 2 Grosse Pointe South at noon Saturday. The Bucs edged South 54-53 in last season’s Class A Final and have won 50 straight games. 

John Glenn came into Thursday with similar credentials to Grand Haven a year ago – carrying only one loss and seeking its first championship game berth. The No. 6 Rockets (24-2) actually were undefeated in Michigan, with their only loss to Toledo Rogers from Ohio. 

Pressuring and fastbreaking, John Glenn jumped to a 14-10 lead to end the first quarter after forcing Grand Haven into most of its 10 turnovers in the period and scoring 10 points off the fastbreak. 

But Cole was just getting started on a performance that will be remembered among the best of her all-state career.

The 6-foot-5 center finished with 23 points, 19 rebounds and 12 blocked shots, and even hit the first 3-pointer of her career – she had air-balled her only other attempt, earlier this season. 

Cole finished third in the Miss Basketball voting on Monday after finishing second in the Miss Volleyball voting at the end of the fall. She was named Class A basketball Player of the Year by The Associated Press, and will play volleyball at the University of Michigan next season.

“She’s the biggest impact player in the state,” Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “Just with her ability to block shots, rebound and score around the rim, and she makes everybody on our team better.” 

But the Bucs likely wouldn’t have moved on without some help. Junior forward Taylor Craymer scored 20 points, with half of those coming during the fourth quarter including the final go-ahead basket with 5:21 to play. Sophomore guard Amanda Merz had seven assists as the team steadied itself after the early Rockets rush. 

John Glenn senior guard Raven Bankston – who with sister Raine has signed with Delaware State – filled the stat sheet with 23 points, five rebounds, three assists and 11 steals, and senior guard Sha’Keya Graves scored 12 points. But although the Rockets launched 71 shots, they were able to connect on only 17 for the game and 2 of 18 shots during the fourth quarter. 

“Bottom line, Abby Cole disrupted everything we wanted to do,” John Glenn coach Eric Kovatch said. “She’s one heck of a ballplayer, and I’m sure a lot of college coaches wish she was playing college basketball instead of volleyball. 

“I think that got a little into our heads in the first half. Shots weren’t falling, and a lot of times this year those shots were falling. We want to put up a lot of shots. We just weren’t making as many as we usually do.”

Grand Haven entered the postseason ranked No. 3 in Class A, behind Detroit Martin Luther King and Grosse Pointe South.

Unlike a year ago, the Bucs were undefeated during the regular season after folding in a number of talented contributors from last season’s junior varsity team.

“We have such a good program at Grand Haven. We’re continually getting better, and the coaching staff is a huge part of it,” Cole said. “A lot of people doubted our team this year because we lost so many seniors. But I don’t know that many people knew we had an almost-undefeated team coming up from JV.”

Click for a full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Westland John Glenn's Raine Bankston (1), attempts to drive past Grand Haven's Amanda Merz during Friday's Semifinal. (Middle) Merz pushes the ball upcourt during the 55-46 win  (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photo.)

Few in Number, Tecumseh Pursuing Sizable Success with Zajacs Setting Pace

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

December 5, 2023

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. 

Southeast & BorderNow, 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.” 

Kristy Zajac coaches her team, which finished 20-5 in 2022-23. 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 DonnellyDoug 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.)