Chassell Adds Chapter to Storybook Season

March 15, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

GRAND RAPIDS – The possibility of a Chassell basketball team playing for an MHSAA championship for the first time since 1958 was within reach with a half remaining Thursday. 

But earning that opportunity would take some work.

The Panthers trailed Waterford Our Lady by nine during their Class D Semifinal at Van Noord Arena – and senior point guard Milly Allen had an uncharacteristic eight turnovers.

“At halftime we realized we needed to push, and that if we played our game we’d be perfectly fine,” Allen said. “We came out in the second half, kept chipping away.

“We worked together as a team. We told each other we need to come out, we need to bounce pass, we need to be smarter with the ball all together.”

Chassell had only three turnovers as a team during the second half. Allen had none. And the ball spent most of the final minutes safely in her hands as Chassell’s girls team continued its longest run in program history with a 55-51 victory.

Chassell (26-1) will play Adrian Lenawee Christian in Saturday’s 10 a.m. championship game.

The Panthers’ Regional title last week was the first won by either the girls or boys basketball programs since the boys won three straight Class D titles from 1956-58.

 “This means the world. They’ve earned it,” Chassell coach Brandi Hainault said. “They’ve worked hard, and we always knew we could get here. … I guess in our minds, this is where we were going to go. For it to happen, it’s just an amazing feeling.”

Some big-time second half efforts made it reality.

Four players combined to score all but two of Chassell’s points – Allen finished with 17, senior center Sydney Danison 15, senior forward Meg Hokenson 10 and junior guard Jenna Pietila 11. But they’d combined for only 24 of those 53 points during the first half.

Allen scored 11 of her 17 during the final two quarters, and also finished with five assists and three steals – and plenty of praise from Our Lady coach Steve Robak.

“(She) was very fast and we didn’t do a good job containing her. She was able to get around us when we’d try to press or trap, and that’s what created the most problems,” he said.

“They tried to get the ball to (Allen) every time and have her try to do her thing, which is use her speed. Maybe in the first half we did a better job containing her, but I felt like most of the game we had trouble with (her) when she had the ball.”

The 6-foot-1 Danison also made an impression during the second half with nine of her points and a strong presence defensively.

The Lakers started off the game hitting 52 percent of their shots during the first two quarters. They then made only 27 percent during the third quarter and 21 percent during the fourth.

Our Lady had only nine turnovers for the game – but along with the tough shooting night was outrebounded 36-25.

Senior Tiffany Senerius had 19 points and four steals to lead Our Lady (20-5), and senior Kayla Sanders added 18 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.

“We had five seniors, three were starters, and I’m extremely proud of the entire team because the entire team had an incredible season,” Robak said. “We had four losses (before Thursday) all year to four really good teams, two of which are still playing. So I’m proud of this team and everything they gave. The seniors gave everything they had.”

Our Lady has had its share of storybook endings lately with three Semifinal runs over the last four seasons and three championships over the last eight.

In Chassell, stories of the 1956-58 boys championship teams continue to be told. Now the girls are carving out their place in local and state history.

“It’s awesome for them. They had three state championships, and that’s something you’re going to talk about for the rest of your time around,” Hainault said. “I guess we want to start our own story.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Chassell’s Milly Allen dives for a loose ball during Thursday’s Class D Semifinal. (Middle) Our Lady’s Kayla Sanders puts up a shot over Allen’s reach. 

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.)