C-D Preview: Perfection & Possibilities

March 15, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

One of the state’s most impressive winning streaks in any sport this decade will take the main stage again this weekend at Michigan State University’s Breslin Center.

Reigning Class D champion Pittsford will attempt to finish a second straight undefeated season and build on a run that has seen the Wildcats win 101 of their last 103 games over the last four winters.

Meanwhile, four of eight semifinalists in Class C and D are seeking their first championships ever, with a fifth playing for its first title in nearly four decades.

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

Semifinals - Thursday
Class C

Detroit Edison PSA (19-5) vs. Flint Hamady (19-5)
, 1 p.m. 
Pewamo-Westphalia (23-2) vs. Maple City Glen Lake (23-3), 2:50 p.m.

Class D
Engadine (19-5) vs. Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary (17-9),
6 p.m. 
Pittsford (26-0) vs. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (25-1), 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, the Class D, A and C Finals on the network’s PLUS channel and Class B on the primary channel. 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.) The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

Class C

Record/rank: 19-5, No. 5 
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Monique Brown, sixth season (80-35)
Championship history: Has not appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 58-42 over No. 10 Blissfield in the Quarterfinal, 43-39 over Flint Hamady 58-55 over Detroit Mumford, 57-56 over Class A No. 6 Southfield Arts & Technology, 57-45 over Chicago Whitney Young.
Players to watch: Gabrielle Elliott, 5-10 fr. G (17.5 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.2 spg); Rickea Jackson, 6-3 soph. G (17.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 3.1 apg, 3.4 spg, 2.3 bpg).
Outlook: It’s difficult to not point out immediately that Edison has no seniors, two juniors, one sophomore and nine freshmen – and that they’ve been tested this season against top teams from Classes A and B as well as C. All five losses came to larger schools, including two still alive this weekend. Elliott – one of three freshman starters – made the all-state first team and Jackson was named to the second, while Brown was named Coach of the Year by The Associated Press.

Record/rank: 19-5, unranked 
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Blue.
Coach: Keith Smart, 15th season (332-44)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2010), two runner-up finishes. 
Best wins: 38-36 over No. 1 Sandusky in the Regional Final, 75-67 over Dearborn Heights Robichaud, 51-46 over Goodrich, 81-27 over Lake Fenton, 55-50 over Flint Beecher in the District Final.
Players to watch: Deajah Cofield, 5-7 sr. G (15 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 5.0 apg); Sasha Penn, 5-7 jr. G (statistics not available for Penn).
Outlook: Hamady was unranked after taking losses to one Class A and three Class B teams, plus Detroit Edison. But Cofield was named Class C co-Player of the Year by The Associated Press and Penn and senior Krystal Rice earned all-state honorable mentions (although Rice is out for the season with a knee injury). This is Hamady’s third Semifinal this decade; the Hawks were Class C runners-up in 2015.

Record/rank: 23-3, unranked
League finish: First in Northwest Conference.
Coach: Jason Bradford, ninth season (146-58)
Championship history: Class D champion 1978, runner-up 1979. 
Best wins: 63-52 over No. 7 St. Ignace in the Quarterfinal, 50-44 over No. 2 Traverse City St. Francis in the District Semifinal, 55-40 and 42-38 over Kingsley.
Players to watch: Kelly Bunke, 5-6 sr. G (10.3 ppg, 4,4 rpg, 2.9 apg); Jennifer LaCross, 5-8 jr. F (10.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.0 apg).
Outlook: Glen Lake has won 20 games two seasons in a row for Bradford, with two league titles, and has shown it belongs among the elite in the postseason with two wins over ranked opponents, including avenging its opening-night defeat to St. Francis. The only other losses were to eventual Class B quarterfinalist Cadillac and in overtime to McBain. This will be Glen Lake’s first Semifinal since 1995. Bunek earned an all-state honorable mention.

Record/rank: 23-2, No. 6
League finish: Second in Central Michigan Athletic Conference.
Coach: Steve Eklund, eighth season (154-33) 
Championship history: Class C runner-up 1983 and 1984. 
Best wins: 40-31 and 38-31 over honorable mention Laingsburg, 50-27 over Ithaca, 55-34 over Springport in the Regional Final, 44-28 over Bath in the District Semifinal.
Players to watch: Emily Spitzley, 5-10 jr. F (13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.2 spg); Hannah Spitzley, 5-10 fr. F (8.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.5 spg).
Outlook: P-W is returning to the Semifinal for the first time since 2002, avenging its two losses by beating CMAC champ Bath to open the postseason. The Pirates start two seniors but also two freshmen – guard Ellie Droste adds 8.6 points and 2.5 steals per game. Defense is this team’s strong point; Schoolcraft (19) in the Quarterfinal marked the 15th time this season P-W held a team under 30 points, and the Pirates have given up more than 31 only twice (in those losses to Bath). Emily Spitzley made the all-state second team.

Class D

Record/rank: 19-5, honorable mention
League finish: Second in Eastern Upper Peninsula Athletic Conference.
Coach: Roger French, seventh season (79-64)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 44-41 over No. 8 Crystal Falls Forest Park in the Quarterfinal, 50-48 (Regional Final) and 40-39 over honorable mention Pickford in the Regional Final, 60-55 and 63-57 over No. 10 Cedarville
Players to watch: Olivia Vaughn, 5-9 sr. F (18.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.2 spg); Aubrey Simmons, 5-10 jr. C (12 ppg, 12.7 rpg).
Outlook: Engadine is playing in its second Semifinals after also making the final weekend in 2005. The Eagles were one of three Class D teams from their EUP conference to receive state poll votes and emerged with eight wins over their last nine games. Vaughn and starting forward Keely Fuller are the only seniors, while freshman guard Sophie Vaughn – Olivia’s sister – adds 8.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Engadine won only four games four seasons ago, but has upped its win total every season since.

Record/rank: 25-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Mid-State Activities Conference.
Coach: Damon Brown (ninth season (178-41)
Championship history: Class D champion 2014, runner-up 2016 and 2008.
Best wins: 48-37 over Frankfort in the Quarterfinal, 52-25 over Fruitport Calvary Christian in the Regional Final, 23-17 over Carson City-Crystal.
Players to watch: Scout Nelson, 5-9 soph. G (13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.1 apg, 4.0 spg); Sophie Ruggles, 6-0 jr. F (14 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.4 spg).
Outlook: Few Class D teams would have this kind of success the year after graduating an all-state center and three-year starting guard. But the Irish rose again in a league featuring 19-win Class C Carson City-Crystal, and Frankfort was the only playoff opponent to score more than 30 points. Nelson and Ruggles made the all-state first team and with junior Hadyn Terwilliger (8.3 ppg) started in last season’s Class D Final.

Record/rank: 17-9, unranked
League finish: Fifth in Tri-Valley Conference West
Coach: Brian Blaine, first season (17-9)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 56-48 over Waterford Our Lady in the Quarterfinal, 44-39 over Portland St. Patrick in the Regional Semifinal, 56-34 over Bay City All Saints in the District Final, 45-39 over Hemlock.
Players to watch: Meghan Blaine, 5-10 soph. F (12.1 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 2.7 apg); Rylee Pankow, 5-10 sr. C (10.ppg, 9.1 rpg, 3.0 spg).
Outlook: MLS may not have been the pick to advance farthest from the mostly Class B-C TVC West that had four teams total win at least 16 games. But the Cardinals have won 10 straight games and did make the Quarterfinals as recently as 2012, although this will be the program’s first Semifinal. Meghan Blaine can also score from the outside, with 46 3-pointers entering the week, and total six players have scored at least 12 points in a game this season.

Record/rank: 26-0, No. 1 
League finish: First in Southern Central Athletic Association East
Coach: Chris Hodos, fifth season (117-8)
Championship history: Class D champion 2016, runner-up 2015.
Best wins: 62-19 over No. 6 St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran in the Quarterfinal, 59-47 over Manchester, 59-33 over Bellevue, 57-39 over Grass Lake.
Players to watch: Maddie Clark, 5-9 sr. F (16.4 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 3.4 spg); Jaycie Burger, 5-9 sr. G (19.2 ppg, 5.3 apg, 3.2 spg, 62 3-pointers).
Outlook: Pittsford’s 53-game winning streak is just short of making the MHSAA record book list, and it’s four-season run of 101-2 can’t have many rivals although that statistic hasn’t been kept. Clark was named Class D Player of the Year by The Associated Press and Burger also a first-team all-stater as both continued to star in leading their team to Breslin for the third straight season. Junior guard Marissa Shaw adds another 8.6 points and 6.2 steals per game, and she’d made 56 3-pointers entering this week. 

PHOTO: Pittsford celebrates last season's Class D championship at the Breslin Center.

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.)