By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Plenty of familiar uniforms will be running the Breslin Center floor during Friday’s Class A and B Semifinals.
Only one team is seeking its first championship game berth – the other seven semifinalists have a combined 25 MHSAA titles.
And the familiarity doesn’t end there. Reigning Class A champion Bloomfield Hills Marian is top-ranked and played No. 2 Detroit Martin Luther King to a one-point win only three weeks ago – and they meet in a Semifinal. Capital Area Activities Conference Red rivals DeWitt and Haslett don’t meet this weekend because they play in different classes – but are representing their league well after sharing its championship.
Saginaw Heritage has a player whose dad made national headlines on the Breslin court, and Benton Harbor has a star who will join the Spartans upon graduation. Goodrich and Detroit Country Day are both regulars at Finals weekend, and back after a short time away.
All four Class A and B Semifinals will be played Friday, with all four championship games Saturday.
Semifinals - Friday
DeWitt (24-1) vs Saginaw Heritage (24-3), 1 p.m.
Bloomfield Hills Marian (24-1) vs Detroit Martin Luther King (24-1), 2:50 p.m.
Benton Harbor (20-5) vs Haslett (21-5), 6 p.m.
Goodrich (25-1) vs Detroit Country Day (20-4), 7:50 p.m.
Finals - Saturday
Class A - Noon
Class B - 6 pm
Class C - 4 pm
Class D - 10 am
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 title games on FOX Sports Detroit's primary channel and the Class B game on FOX Sports Detroit-PLUS. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
And now, a look at the semifinalists in Class A and B. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through Regionals Finals.)
BLOOMFIELD HILLS MARIAN
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 1.
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Central.
Coach: Mary Cicerone, 32nd season (584-194).
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 51-42 over No. 7 Waterford Kettering in the Quarterfinal, 49-33 (Regional Final), 65-28 and 54-32 over honorable mention Farmington Hills Mercy, 47-36 over No. 3 Southfield-Lathrup in the Regional Semifinal, 50-49 over No. 2 Detroit Martin Luther King. 68-41 over Benton Harbor, 56-26 over Class C No. 3 Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
Players to watch: Brittany Gray, 5-11, sr. F (12 ppg, 4.9 rpg); Samantha Thomas, 6-0 soph. G (11.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.4 spg).
Outlook: Marian is the favorite to repeat after last season winning its first championship since 1998. The Mustangs are 67-7 over the last three seasons and lost this winter only to Chicago Whitney Young, by four points. Senior guard Kara Holinski (9.7 ppg, 3.3 apg) and junior guard Bailey Thomas (7.4 ppg, 3.7 apg, 3.1 spg) joined Gray and Thomas starting in last season’s Final, and senior guard Jaeda Robinson played the most minutes off the bench and adds another 7.4 points per game to the starting lineup.
DETROIT MARTIN LUTHER KING
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 2.
League finish: First in Detroit Public School League East.
Coach: William Winfield, 33rd season (687-55).
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2006), six runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 43-36 over No. 9 Grosse Pointe South in the Regional Semifinal, 43-36 (District Final), 66-53 and 53-49 over Detroit Cass Tech, 49-35 (Quarterfinal) and 68-34 over Romulus.
Players to watch: Janae Williams, 5-8 sr. G (15.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.3 spg); Malaysia McHenry, 6-3 F/C, sr. (10 ppg, 12 rpg, 2.1 bpg).
Outlook: King is making its first trip to Finals weekend since 2006 but hasn’t won fewer than 22 games since 2002 or lost more than one in a season since 2010. The lone loss this winter was to top-ranked Marian, by a point, making their rematch Friday the must-see game of the Semifinal round. No team left has as much size as the Crusaders; McHenry is joined in the starting lineup by 6-3 senior Leah Mathis, with 6-2 junior Jasmine Flowers filling in off the bench. Sophomore guard Alicia Norman adds 11.4 points per game. Williams has signed with Division I Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 4.
League finish: Tied for first in Capital Area Activities Conference Red.
Coach: Bill McCullen, 19th season (357-78).
Championship history: Class C champion 1977.
Best wins: 48-43 OT over No. 5 Ann Arbor Huron in the Regional Semifinal, 65-53 over Kalamazoo Central in the Regional Final, 53-38 (District Final), 62-48 and 54-51 over Lansing Waverly, 51-47 over Class B No. 8 Haslett.
Players to watch: Claudia Reid, 5-7 sr. G (10.3 ppg, 6.5 apg, 2.6 spg); Abby Nakfoor, 5-10 sr. F (12 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
Outlook: A three-time Class B semifinalist (most recently in 2009), DeWitt moved up to Class A for 2011-12 and has this winter tallied the third-most wins of McCullen’s successful tenure. Reid is a four-year varsity point guard and with Nakfoor is joined by two more seniors in the starting lineup in guards Cayce Palmer and Maria Moss, with junior 5-10 center Lilly George the team’s third leading scorer at 8.2 ppg.
Record/rank: 24-3, honorable mention.
League finish: Second in Saginaw Valley Association North.
Coach: Vonnie DeLong, second season (38-8).
Championship history: Class A champion 2002, runner-up 2001.
Best wins: 39-31 over No. 10 Flushing in the Regional Final, 50-31 over No. 7 Marquette in the Regional Semifinal, 52-38 (District Final) and 49-39 over No. 6 Midland Dow.
Players to watch: Allie Miller, 5-7 sr. G (9.6 ppg, 4.7 apg, 3.4 spg); Jaela Richardson, 6-0 fr. F (8.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.4 bpg).
Outlook: Heritage has stormed through the postseason, beating Dow after finishing second to the Chargers in league play and then downing Flushing after falling to the Raiders in overtime Feb. 24. No player averages in double figures scoring, but six score at least six points per game and four players grab at least four rebounds per. Richardson, the daughter of Philadelphia 76ers guard Jason, surely will carry some intrigue as she plays on her dad’s former college home floor.
Record/rank: 20-5, honorable mention.
League finish: Second in Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West.
Coach: Lisa Harvey-Gondrezick, fifth season (69-46).
Championship history: Class A champion 2009, Class A runner-up 1984.
Best wins: 50-47 over No. 10 Plainwell in the Regional Final, 56-53 over Class A honorable mention Stevensville Lakeshore, 90-79 over Kalamazoo Central.
Players to watch: Kalabrya Gondrezick, 5-8 sr. G (17.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 8.1 apg, 2.8 spg, 1.1 bpg); Kysre Gondrezick, 5-9 jr. G (27.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 5.4 apg, 3.6 spg).
Outlook: Benton Harbor has steadily improved in five seasons under Harvey-Gondrezick, a former Benton Harbor standout, and has won 13 straight heading into this weekend. Her daughters are stars now; Kalabrya was a Miss Basketball finalist and will play at Michigan State, while Kysre is the team's leading scorer and rebounder and only a junior. Senior guard Dennee Brown adds 10.1 points and 1.2 blocks per game, and 6-1 senior center Gabrielle Dortch is one of two players 6-0 or taller in the playing group; she averages 9.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 20-4, No. 6.
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Frank Orlando, 34th season (710-110).
Championship history: Ten MHSAA titles (most recent 2009), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 47-39 over honorable mention Dearborn Divine Child in the Quarterfinal, 57-43 over No. 8 Haslett, 72-36 over Class C No. 5 Flint Hamady, 59-52 over Class C No. 10 Saginaw Nouvel.
Players to watch: Destiny Pitts, 5-10 soph. F (15.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 2.8 apg, 45 3-pointers); Kaela Webb, 5-6 fr. G (7.8 ppg, 2.1 apg, 2.1 spg, 28 3-pointers).
Outlook: Country Day has won 18 straight Regional titles but is making its first Semifinal appearance since 2010 – although this lineup seems to indicate a return to Breslin regular. Although the Yellowjackets start two seniors, they are the only seniors on the team, and there are seven underclassmen including 6-3 starting sophomore center Tylar Bennett. The losses came to three strong Class A teams and Class C contender Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
Record/rank: 25-1, No. 2.
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red.
Coach: Jason Gray, 17th season (340-45).
Championship history: Class B champion 2013 and 2012.
Best wins: 57-40 over No. 7 Manistee in the Quarterfinal, 55-43 over No. 8 Haslett, 45-41 over No. 9 Frankenmuth in the Regional Semifinal, 50-48 over No. 1 Midland Bullock Creek in the Regional Final.
Players to watch: Tania Davis, 5-5 sr. G (19.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 5.7 apg, 2.9 spg ); Alexis Sevillian, 5-7 jr. G (15.6 ppg, 2.2 apg, 2.4 spg).
Outlook: Not that it required justification, but Goodrich has more than proved why it belongs back at Breslin and as the likely favorite. The Martians eliminated three top-10 teams and handed Bullock Creek and its trio of 1,000-point scorers its only loss this season. Davis was named Miss Basketball on Monday and teams with Sevillian for a dominating backcourt. Senior Isabella O’Brien provides plenty of presence to complement the star guards down low; she’s 6-2 and averages 9.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
Record/rank: 21-5, No. 8.
League finish: Tied for first in the Capital Area Activities Conference Red.
Coach: Bob Currier, sixth season (102-38).
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 48-38 over No. 3 Grand Rapids Catholic Central in the Quarterfinal, 63-56 over No. 4 Wayland in the Regional Final, 53-43 over No. 5 Williamston in the District opener, 55-44 over No. 4 DeWitt.
Players to watch: Makenna Ott, 5-10 sr. F (13.2 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Karson Tripp, 6-0 jr. F (11.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.5 spg, 1.4 bpg).
Outlook: The Vikings are one of the most intriguing stories this weekend; they made the Regional Finals in Class A last season, then moved to Class B with a senior-dominated lineup and high expectations but worked through a tough stretch midseason with Ott out with an injury. She’s back and the team has knocked off three top-five teams during the last three weeks. Ott and Tripp are the leading scorers, but hardly the only key contributors. Senior guard Kenzie DeCook averages 11.5 points per game and had 34 3-pointers entering the week, while senior guard Adrianna Stolicker is a captain with Ott and averages 10.3 ppg.
PHOTO: DeWitt guard Maria Moss goes up for a shot in the Panthers’ Quarterfinal win over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of tcp-photography.)
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.)