Carney-Nadeau Starts Strong, Building Toward Big Finish

By John Vrancic
Special for

March 5, 2021

CARNEY — This basketball season has been well worth the wait for the Carney-Nadeau girls as they’re off to an 11-0 start.

The Wolves continued to roll Tuesday night in a 67-22 win at Crystal Falls Forest Park.

C-N is led by 6-foot-3 junior center Tessa Wagner, who averages 22 points and 17 rebounds a game.

She collected 22 points, 15 boards and four blocked shots in Tuesday's contest, three days after scoring a career-high 27 points in a 64-24 victory over Munising.

"The fact that we're 11-0 is special," said coach Ken Linder. "Our ability to shut other teams down is also special.

“This is as good a team (as) I've been around. … It's hard to believe we're already more than halfway done."

Tuesday's triumph also enabled the Wolves to improve to 8-0 in the Skyline Central Conference.

"This is really awesome," senior point guard Haley Ernest said after Monday's 61-42 victory over Felch North Dickinson. "We're super happy with our season. We're a well-balanced team. When one is having an off night, another is ready to step up. It's hard to go an entire season without having an off night, especially with games packed in."

Due to the condensed season, the Wolves are playing or practicing 6-7 days a week.

"When we don't have a Saturday game, we take that day off," said Ernest. "Otherwise, we're playing or practicing every day. Sunday is game film day. After we're done with that, we have a shoot-around which is part of the easiest practice all week."

The Wolves, like other teams, had to endure numerous delays due to COVID-19.

"We're just happy to be playing,” Wagner said. “I actually love wearing the mask. I also have a little mouthpiece to keep from sucking it in."

Wagner says Coach Linder often reminds them to stay focused. The Wolves have been especially impressive defensively, as C-N is giving up only 28.6 points per game.

"He tells us not to look at the scoreboard and play the game," she added. "Our defense has definitely been a key, and I think we have good ball movement. We're definitely a fast team."

Sophomore forward Shae Linder also noted a variety of reasons why the Wolves are successful.

"We work together," she said. "We're like a machine out there. Our defensive intensity is a key, and our guards have good court awareness. Tessa is an amazing player. We know she's going to play hard overtime and she works for every rebound. A lot of people focus on her.

"Nobody is selfish on our team. We don't care who's putting up the points, just as long as somebody is putting them up. Our opponents have nothing to lose, and we have everything to lose. We're going to give it our all overtime. I think Haley is our (floor) leader. She brings our defense together and runs our offense."

Shae Linder said the Wolves decided to stay committed despite the extensions.

"We were looking forward to our first game," she added. "We agreed we were going to work hard every day (during the extensions). We love the game. All we could do was keep getting better and hope for the best. We were real excited when we found out we could start playing. We felt we had a pretty good chance to start 11-0.

The Wolves resume at home against Stephenson on Saturday.

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTO: Carney-Nadeau's Tessa Wagner, here last season against Rock Mid Peninsula, is averaging 22 points and 17 rebounds per game. (Photo courtesy of the Escanaba Daily Press.)

Decade After Title Trips, 'Coach K' Just as Driven to Coach Up Grand Haven Contenders

By Tom Kendra
Special for

February 1, 2023

Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer has experienced unforgettable highs and nightmarish lows during her 25 years as the girls basketball coach at Grand Haven.

It’s now the 10-year anniversary of an amazing three-year stretch from 2011 to 2013, when “Coach K” guided the Buccaneers to a combined 81-2 record, three consecutive berths in the Class A Semifinals and back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013.

The lows are harder to pick out, but the way Grand Haven lost at Hudsonville on Jan. 24 certainly qualifies.

The Bucs led 46-44 with time running out, when Haven was called for a shooting foul with one-tenth of a second remaining on a desperation half-court shot attempt. Hudsonville senior Maddie Peroelje then made all three free throws to pull out an improbable 47-46 win.

“That one was brutal,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who was feeling much better Tuesday, one week later, after Haven downed visiting Zeeland West 44-33 for its third-straight victory.

“I love all of it, the great teams and big wins, but also the struggles and trying to stay strong and figure things out.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, 52, might be in the midst of the best coaching job in her 31-year career, guiding a team with no returning starters to a 10-4 start, including an impressive 5-2 record after the first rotation in the rugged Ottawa-Kent Conference Red.

She is doing it with a team that only goes about six or seven deep, has no one in that group taller than 6-foot and lost its starting point guard, junior Abbey Klumpel, to a season-ending knee injury during the summer.

How is she doing it?

“She teaches a team game of basketball,” explained ninth-year Grand Haven athletic director Scott Robertson, who has been involved in high school sports for 32 years. “She is more invested in her sport, her kids, her program than anyone I have ever seen.”

The defensive leader Tuesday was gritty senior guard Grace Harrison, who held Zeeland West’s top perimeter threat scoreless.

On offense, junior forward Emerson Berndt turned in a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds. She scored 14 of those points in the second half to help the Bucs put the game away.

Berndt had the hot hand Tuesday, but in other games this season sophomore guard Gillian Sorrelle or junior forward Maddie Schopf have carried the team from outside. The inside leader is 5-11 senior center Heidi Berkey, who held her own against ZW’s 6-4 senior center Kara Bartels.

Berndt, who leads the Bucs with 12 points and five rebounds per game, said this team has a special bond with its head coach.

“Coach has established such a close relationship with all of us, and she knows how to get us going,” said Berndt, who is one of the five Haven starters who all average at least six points per game. “She’s always joking around, but getting after it at the same time.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. Haven, which is a surprising second in the O-K Red at the halfway point, starts the second half of the slate Friday at first-place and No. 3-ranked Rockford (13-1).

Kowalczyk-Fulmer, a standout player at Caledonia and then Hope College, began her coaching career at the age of 21 when she was still a senior at Hope – coaching the seventh-grade girls team at Caledonia.

She then worked five years at Hastings, including the final three as girls varsity head coach, before taking the job as a physical education teacher and varsity girls basketball coach at Grand Haven in 1997.

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and her husband, Paul, have one son, Drew, a 12-year-old sixth grader at Grand Haven who was just a toddler when the Buccaneers were enjoying their magical three-year run a decade ago.

Haven made its presence known on a statewide level in 2011, when 6-5 sophomore Abby Cole led the Bucs to a 26-1 record, with the only loss coming by a single point to Detroit Renaissance, 39-38, in a Class A Semifinal at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

The Bucs took the final step in 2012, erasing an 18-point, third-quarter deficit as senior guard Shar’Rae Davis drove the length of the court for the game-winning layup with nine seconds remaining in a 54-53 victory over Grosse Pointe South. Haven finished 27-1, with its only loss coming early in the season against O-K Red rival East Kentwood.

GH did it again in 2013 with a perfect 28-0 record, which might have been the most impressive because the only returning starter was Cole, who would go on to an all-Big Ten volleyball career at Michigan. The Bucs committed a staggering 32 turnovers, but made up for it with 22-of-29 shooting (76 percent), in a 60-54 overtime victory over, once again, Grosse Pointe South.

“Those are the glory days, and here we are 10 years later and you realize just how special it was,” said Kowalczyk-Fulmer, who has also coached track at Grand Haven. “We always stayed humble and worked hard.

“Obviously, having someone like Abby Cole as the last line of defense is something special. But she had such great character and leadership, as well. I can still see her out there when things weren’t going well, and she would wrap her long arms around her teammates and tell them it was going to be OK. And it was.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer has amassed 391 victories as a head coach, with six O-K Red titles, eight District and four Regional championships – along with the two Class A Finals wins.

“Those trophies are getting hard to come by – I’m thinking about buying one on eBay,” said Coach K, displaying the quick wit that her fellow coaches, referees and players know very well.

She works hard, but also has plenty of fun and laughs along the way, which is why she doesn’t plan on retiring any time soon – even though this school year marks her 30th year of teaching.

As Kowalczyk-Fulmer was finishing up her media obligations after the Zeeland West victory, her son – a sports junkie who has literally grown up in the Grand Haven bleachers and locker rooms – sat waiting in the hallway.

“I plan to be here until he graduates,” she said with a nod to her only child. “I love it. It’s my passion, and I’m really lucky. Grand Haven is such a great place to live and coach.

“I’m not ready to stop.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Grand Haven girls basketball coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer talks things over with her team during a game earlier this decade. (Middle) Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. (Top photo courtesy of the Local Sports Journal.)