EAST LANSING – Shellis Hampton and Tiesha Stokes have enjoyed more victories during their Grand Rapids Catholic Central careers – literally – than most players in MHSAA history.
But there’s something special about winning a championship as a senior – and they hope to cap their final seasons with that lasting feeling Saturday evening.
They and Grand Rapids Catholic earned that opportunity Friday with a 72-49 Semifinal victory over Freeland.
One more win would give Hampton and Stokes each 100 wins for their careers – which would leave them tied for second in the MHSAA girls basketball record book. Both also were key contributors on the Cougars’ 2010 Class B championship team. But they’re cherishing this run even more.
“I think it’s better. We’re seniors. This is our last year in high school,” Hampton said. “We got to win sophomore year, which is great. But you always want to go out with a win. And the only way to go out with a win is to win the state championship.”
Grand Rapids Catholic Central, ranked just No. 10 entering the postseason, will face either Goodrich or Dearborn Divine Child in Saturday’s 6 p.m. Final.
The Cougars were 75-5 over the last three seasons coming into this one, and improved to 24-3 this winter with Friday’s victory. A four-year varsity player can win a maximum of 112 games during her career (and only if her teams don’t receive District byes). Grand Rapids Catholic has reached three of the last four Class B Finals weekends – another big advantage Friday against a Freeland team with no seniors that was playing for its first championship game berth since 1998.
“You have a sense of composure and familiarity, every time you come (to Breslin),” Cougars coach Colleen Lamoreaux-Tate said. “It’s fun to play here, but it felt like just another game.”
That was evident early Friday. Grand Rapids Catholic jumped out to a 23-8 lead midway through the second quarter and led by as many as 35.
Stokes finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and Hampton added 13 points and seven rebounds. Junior Courtney Zenner added 12 points and senior Addie Johnson had 10.
And those were just the offensive contributions. Freeland junior Tori Jankoska, who will sign with Michigan State this fall, ranked multiple Cougars as the best defenders she’s faced this season – although she still finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.
“Normally we can take away either the inside or outside game. But this team had both going tonight,” Freeland coach Tom Zolinski said. “Our inexperience showed a little bit. Definitely, their experience took over early and throughout the entire game.
“It’s an emotional ride. To go high and low just like that, it’s a feeling that will help us for next year.”
The seeds of Friday’s loss should take hold immediately, as Freeland (22-4) had no seniors this season. Zolinski spoke as well of not having to give a sad good-bye speech after the loss; instead, he got his Falcons revved to make a return trip to East Lansing.
“That’s the best part about it. I’ve grown so close to this team already, and we don’t have to say bye to any of our family members, essentially,” Jankoska said. “I don’t think any of our team had ever been to a Regional Finals beside me. … Everyone’s going to be back next year, and hopefully we can make a run at it, since nobody expected us to get here this year. No one knows how far we’re going to get next year."
PHOTO: Grand Rapids Catholic Central senior Tiesha Stokes takes a shot Friday. She made 8 of 13 for a team-high 17 points. (Photo courtesy of Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.
Now, 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.”
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 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.)