As Capac's Win Wait Ends, Energy & Enthusiasm Drive New Era

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

December 21, 2021

The Capac girls basketball team and its new coach, Ryan Rossi, had been waiting a long time for the events of Dec. 11.

For Rossi, it was the end of a 20-month wait for his wedding, which was originally planned and rescheduled twice – first in April of 2020, then later in December of that year.

That meant, however, he wasn’t in the Capac gymnasium when the team he took over this past September was able to celebrate the end of its own long wait. The Chiefs defeated Flint Southwestern 41-19 that afternoon, picking up their first win since Feb. 20, 2020.

“We screamed a lot,” Capac senior Juliana Closurdo said. “We were really excited. It almost didn’t even feel real because we haven’t experienced that in so long. I know everybody was so ecstatic. (Rossi) actually sent us all a group text and said congrats, and that he had the whole wedding party watching. That felt great, getting that support, that he was at his wedding, and he was watching us and cheering us on.”

Capac is 2-3 to start the season, a big step forward after going 0-14 in 2020-21, and just one win away from matching the program’s total over the past two seasons (three). While the wins are more than welcomed and confirmation the Chiefs are making improvements, the goals for this season are much simpler.

Capac basketball“I feel like we’ve already gotten off to a successful start,” Closurdo said. “A successful year for us is just playing with joy. Last year was really rough on everybody, and I know that I haven’t played with this much happiness in a while. Being able to play and be happy on the court, and not having the pressure of having to get a win and being able to go off that momentum, it’s great.”

Rossi came to Capac from Yale, where he still is a teacher and had previously coached at the middle school and junior varsity levels. Since he wasn’t hired until the fall, he had to learn about his players through a handful of open gyms and by going through old Capac game film and some of his own, as he had coached against a few of the girls with the Yale JV.

“Also, I didn’t really care,” Rossi said. “Last year was last year. Their previous experiences were their previous experiences. Let’s go in, and the first thing we have to do is make this a place where these kids want to be. These girls made it easy. They are a great group, they’re awesome. Right away, they treated me like their family. They were really accepting.”

Rossi was impressed with the players’ enthusiasm and energy coming into the season. They noticed the same thing with their new coach.

“He always wanted us to have high energy, and he’s always telling us to believe in ourselves,” Capac senior Erica Yeashevich said. “Just the high energy he has, I feel like that was really helpful. And he put us all at the same level when he walked in.”

Capac opened the season with a 44-11 loss against Deckerville, but even in that game Rossi said he saw some glimmers of hope. That was followed by the win against Southwestern, which had Capac at .500 for the first time since 2017. 

Capac basketballWhile that win snapped the 16-game losing streak, it was the second win, 32-24 against Kimball Landmark in Game 4, that showed Rossi more about his team.

“As a team, we have really adopted the mindset of we can only control what happens one play at a time,” Rossi said. “Say we’re down 10 points early, there’s not a shot that’s going to score 10 points. We’re not scoreboard watching, we’re taking it one play at a time. If you miss a layup, that has no effect on your next shot. The girls are really adopting that mindset. In the game against Landmark, that was huge, because we were having a very poor shooting night.

“That’s been very player driven. There have been messages that we wanted them to think about, but they have taken it and ran with it. They are very much responding and making it their own, which I think is huge. That speaks to the players we have, especially the seniors.”

That mindset has led to Capac setting smaller, attainable goals as it continues to look for positive momentum within the program. The Chiefs know a Greater Thumb Conference East title isn’t likely, but that doesn’t mean they can’t push teams like Sandusky and Harbor Beach beyond what they’ve been able to in the past. And if more wins are the result of that attitude, even better.

“Honestly, I feel like our expectations aren’t that high, so a successful year for me is reaching all of the small goals, getting better and improving on last year,” Yeashevich said. “The big thing for me is just having fun playing basketball. So far, basketball has already been the highlight of my day every day this season.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Capac coach Ryan Rossi talks things over with his players during a game this season. (Middle) Juliana Closurdo (3) and teammate Trinity Lietz high-five Rossi. (Below) Closurdo defends against Kimball Landmark. (Top photo by Guadalupe Rosales, middle and below photos courtesy of the Capac girls basketball program.)

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

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.

Southwest CorridorIt 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."

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. 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.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (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 HassingerScott 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.)