C-D Preview: Favorites Seeking to Finish

March 16, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The proposed favorites at this weekend’s MHSAA Class C and D Girls Basketball Finals have unfinished business from trips to the Breslin Center a year ago.

Ypsilanti Arbor Prep and Pittsford entered the postseason as the top-ranked teams in those classes, respectively, by The Associated Press – Arbor Prep coming off a Semifinals loss in 2015 and Pittsford bouncing back from an overtime defeat in the Class D championship game.

But claiming a title this time won’t be as easy as returning to East Lansing. All four Class C contenders are seeking to play in an MHSAA Final for the first time. Stephenson is seeking the same in Class D – and along with the Wildcats, faces a Semifinal opponent with recent championship history.

All four Class C and D Semifinals will be played Thursday, with all four championship games Saturday. 

Semifinals - Thursday
Class C

Niles Brandywine (24-2) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (25-1), 1 p.m.
Ithaca (24-2) vs. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (23-2), 2:50 p.m.

Class D
Pittsford (25-0) vs Waterford Our Lady (20-4), 6 p.m.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (23-1) vs Stephenson (24-2), 7:50 p.m.

Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6 p.m.
Class C - 4 p.m.
Class D - 10 a.m.

Tickets cost $8 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session. All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit’s primary channel, with the Class B game on a delayed basis at 10:30 p.m. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.

And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class C and D. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals; Ithaca’s include Tuesday’s Quarterfinal.)

Class C

Record/rank: 24-2, No. 7 
League finish: First in Tri-Valley Conference West 
Coach: Jessie Rayburn, fourth season (40-42) 
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 51-43 over No. 2 Flint Hamady in Quarterfinal, 68-45 over Reese in Regional Final, 53-41 over New Lothrop in Regional Semifinal, 57-53 over Hemlock in District Final. 
Players to watch: Kayla Belles, 6-3 soph. C (18 ppg, 13.3 rpg, 4.2 bpg, 2.1 spg); Maddie Brock, 5-10 jr. F (9.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg); Brooklyn Dolloff, 5-4 sr. G (9.5 ppg, 3.9 spg).
Outlook: Ithaca has been on the verge of this best-ever run, but it’s still a little incredible given that coach Bob Anderson retired midseason because of health issues. In stepped assistant Rayburn, who was head coach from 2009-11, and the Yellowjackets have barely missed a beat with their only losses to Class B No. 8 Freeland and No. 9 Frankenmuth. Belles has put up some incredible games over her first two seasons, and she’s surrounded in the starting lineup by three seniors and a junior. The Regional title also was the first in program history.

Record/rank: 24-2, honorable mention
League finish: First in Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red
Coach: Josh Hood, seventh season (162-12) 
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 53-47 over No. 9 Gobles in Regional Final, 40-24 over Grand Rapids Covenant Christian in Quarterfinal, 53-44 over Class B honorable mention Stevensville Lakeshore.
Players to watch: Makenna Hartline, 5-10 sr. C (no statistics submitted); Michaela Hartline, 5-10 sr. F (no statistics submitted).
Outlook: Brandywine is back at the Semifinals for the first time since 2010 and has won at least 20 games every season and never lost more than two under Hood since he took over the program that historic winter. Five seniors start, and while the Bobcats don’t go taller than 5-10, the Hartlines are strong in the post. The only losses this season were to South Bend Adams (Ind.) and Class A Southfield, which finished 20-2.

Record/rank: 24-1, No. 3 (tied)
League finish: First in Lake Michigan Conference 
Coach: Keith Haske, first season (24-1) 
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 48-44 over No. 6 St. Ignace in Quarterfinal, 62-55 over Maple City Glen Lake in District Final, 76-72 over Class D No. 7 Frankfort, 51-38 and 54-29 over Kalkaska.  
Players to watch: Annie Lyman, 5-10 sr. F (14 ppg); Juliana Phillips, 6-4 jr. F (12 ppg, 10 rpg).
Outlook: St. Francis has won 23 straight since falling early to Class B No. 5 Manistee. Haske coached both the boys and girls teams this season and has taken a girls team this far before – his 2004 Charlevoix team finished Class C runner-up. With two sophomores and a junior in the starting lineup and only three seniors total, this might be the first of a few trips for this group. Senior center Lauren McDonnell adds another 10 points per game.

Record/rank: 23-2, No. 1 
League finish: Does not play in a league. 
Coach: Rod Wells, fifth season (101-17)
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 40-30 over No. 5 Napoleon in Regional Final, 66-42 over No. 10 Saginaw Nouvel, 52-41 over Class B No. 5 Manistee, 50-47 over Class B No. 2 Bay City John Glenn.
Players to watch: Nastassja Chambers, 5-8 sr. G (11.2 ppg, 2.8 apg, 2.8 spg); Ro’zhane Wells, 5-5 jr. G (11 ppg, 3.3 apg, 2.6 spg); Cydney Williams, 5-11 jr. F (7.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.6 bpg).
Outlook: Arbor Prep has won three straight Regional titles and fell to eventual runner-up Hamady in a Semifinal last season. Chambers is the lone senior starter but has been the team’s leading scorer during its two runs to Breslin. And big-game experience isn’t a problem: the Gators again played one of the toughest schedules for a Class C school, handing Class B contender John Glenn its only loss and falling to reigning Class B champion Detroit Country Day and Class A No. 5 Ann Arbor Huron.

Class D

Record/rank: 23-1, No. 3. 
League finish: First in Mid-South Activities Conference. 
Coach: Damon Brown, eighth season (153-39) 
Championship history: Class D champion 2014, runner-up 2008.
Best wins: 27-26 over Gaylord St. Mary in Quarterfinal, 44-25 over Fruitport Calvary Christian in Regional Semifinal, 54-34 over Big Rapids Crossroads Academy in District Semifinal, 45-40 over Class C honorable mention Morley Stanwood.
Players to watch: Averi Gamble, 6-3 sr. C (16.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.1 bpg); Scout Nelson, fr. G (9.2 ppg, 3.2 apg, 3.3 spg).  
Outlook: Sacred Heart has made the season’s final week the last four years and won Class D in 2014 with now-seniors Gamble and guard Megan English in the starting lineup. Gamble was named this week the Class D Player of the Year by The Associated Press. The Irish’s only loss was by five to Class C No. 10 Saginaw Nouvel, and they’ve had only four wins decided by double figures – and given up more than 40 points only three times. Sophomore forward Sophie Ruggles adds 7.6 points and five rebounds per game.

Record/rank: 25-0, No. 1 
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association East
Coach: Chris Hodos, fourth season (89-8) 
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2015. 
Best wins: 61-43 over Class D No. 5 Climax-Scotts, 56-36 over Manchester, 53-41 over Belleville.
Players to watch: Maddie Clark, 5-10 jr. F (17.7 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 3.1 apg, 3.5 spg); Jaycie Burger, 5-9 jr. G (19.2 ppg, 72 3-pointers, 6.3 apg, 3.1 spg). 
Outlook: Pittsford’s 2015 Finals run ended with an overtime loss in the championship game. Three starters and six of eight players who saw the floor that day returned for this run, with Burger and Clark continuing to shine after breaking onto the statewide scene at Breslin a year ago. Senior center Maddie Ayers adds 8.5 points per game and sophomore guard Sydni Brunette had scored 8.3 off the bench a team outscoring opponents 67-23 on average. The Wildcats haven’t lost a regular-season game since 2011-12.

Record/rank: 24-2, No. 8 
League finish: Does not play in a league. 
Coach: Shanna Beal, second season (35-12) 
Championship history: Has not played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 60-35 over No. 2 Newberry in Semifinal, 60-36 over honorable mention Crystal Falls Forest Park in Regional Final, 57-56 (OT) over No. 4 Bark River-Harris in District Semifinal, 51-43 over Norway. 
Players to watch: Tori Wangerin, 5-10 sr. C (18 ppg, 12.2 rpg, 2.0 bpg); Karley Johnson, 5-8 sr. G (11 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.8 apg, 3.4 spg); Kelsey Johnson, 5-8 sr. G (14 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.6 apg).  
Outlook: Stephenson advanced from its first Quarterfinal since 1982 to its first Semifinal ever while facing most of the best from the Upper Peninsula and avenging an earlier loss to Bark River-Harris along the way. The Eagles made a huge jump after finishing 11-10 during Beal’s first season, and with Wangerin and the Johnsons as the team’s only seniors. Stephenson’s 10-game winning streak has included nine by 13 or more points.

Record/rank: 20-4, No. 6. 
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League East. 
Coach: Steve Robak, ninth season (166-56) 
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2012), one runner-up finish. 

Best wins: 51-43 over Kingston in Quarterfinal, 47-35 over Morrice in Regional Final, 40-24 over Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 46-44, 41-23 and 55-53 over Wixom St. Catherine.  
Players to watch: Alex Troy, 5-4 sr. G (12.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.0 apg, 3.0 spg); Tiffany Senerius, 5-8 soph. F (12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.2 spg).  
Outlook: Our Lady will make its sixth Semifinal appearance in seven seasons and with all five starters back from last year’s surprise run, when the Lakers advanced after entering the postseason with a sub-.500 record. They have won 10 straight and avenged a loss to Bishop Foley by winning a final rematch in the Catholic League C-D championship game. Our Lady graduates four players, but 10 could return for another run in 2017.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTO: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart's Averi Gamble grabs a rebound during a Regional Final win over Portland St. Patrick. (Click to see more at HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

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.)