By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The most exciting basketball played at Van Noord Arena this weekend could feature a foursome of Class C powerhouses.
All four semifinalists making the trip to Calvin College in Grand Rapids played in Semifinals last season as well. Today’s first game features a rematch of last season’s Class C championship game – which Detroit Edison won 46-44 over Pewamo-Westphalia.
The second game features two more tournament veterans, Maple City Glen Lake and Ypsilanti Arbor Prep. The Gators finished runner-up in Class B last season and are the only team to beat Edison this winter.
Class C Semifinals – Thursday
Detroit Edison (22-1) vs. Pewamo-Westphalia (25-0), noon
Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (20-5) vs. Maple City Glen Lake (23-2), 2 p.m.
Class C Final – Saturday, 4 p.m.
Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Class C and Class B). All Semifinals will be streamed live on MHSAA.tv and viewable on a pay-per-view basis. All four Finals will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Detroit and streamed live on FoxSportsDetroit.com and the FOX Sports Go! app. Free radio broadcasts of all weekend games will be available on MHSAANetwork.com.
Below is a glance at all four semifinalists. Click on the name of the school to see that team’s full schedule and results from this season. (Statistics are through teams' Regional Finals.)
DETROIT EDISON PUBLIC SCHOOL ACADEMY
Record/rank: 22-1, No. 7
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Monique Brown, seventh season (101-36)
Championship history: Class C champion 2017.
Best wins: 88-56 over No. 2 (tie) St. Ignace, 57-55 (OT) over Class A No. 3 Saginaw Heritage, 71-69 and 64-50 over Class A No. 10 Wayne Memorial, 66-40 over Class A No. 5 Ann Arbor Huron, 62-46 over Class B No. 2 Detroit Country Day.
Players to watch: Rickea Jackson, 6-3 jr. G (22.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 1.5 bpg); Gabrielle Elliott, 5-10 soph. G (16.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg).
Outlook: Despite its relatively low final regular-season ranking in Class C, Edison is considered by many to be the top team in Michigan regardless of Class. Nearly all of its in-state wins during the regular season were against Class A or B teams, including as well a 70-42 defeat of annual power Detroit Martin Luther King. Jackson likely will be a Miss Basketball candidate next season; Elliott could be the same in 2020. Nine of 12 players are underclassmen, and freshman Damiya Hagemann is another intriguing talent averaging 9.1 points and 8.4 assists per game.
MAPLE CITY GLEN LAKE
Record/rank: 23-2, No. 10
League finish: Second in Northwest Conference.
Coach: Jason Bradford, 10th season (155-54)
Championship history: Class D champion 1978, runner-up 1979.
Best wins: 60-56 over No. 2 (tie) St. Ignace in Quarterfinal, 66-35 over Charlevoix in Regional Final, 52-47 (District Semifinal) and 60-49 over Traverse City St. Francis, 55-48 over Manton in District Final, 53-36 and 48-40 over Benzie Central.
Players to watch: Savannah Peplinski, 5-8 sr. G (15.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3.0 apg, 3.9 spg); Jennifer LaCross, 5-8 sr. F (11.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.1 spg).
Outlook: Glen Lake is back in the Semifinals for the second straight season, its only losses this time to Class B semifinalist and Northwest Conference rival Kingsley. Peplinski, LaCross, junior center Kaitlyn Schaub (9.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg) and senior forward Allie Bonzelet (10.2 ppg) also started last season. Glen Lake beat league champions in St. Francis (17-4), Manton (18-4) and St. Ignace (23-2) during the tournament, while Charlevoix (19-5) and Houghton Lake (15-8) rounded out a tough postseason slate that should have the team plenty prepared for this weekend.
Record/rank: 25-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Central Michigan Athletic Conference.
Coach: Steve Eklund, ninth season (180-34)
Championship history: Three runner-up finishes (most recent 2017).
Best wins: 45-30 over Kent City in Quarterfinal, 45-29 over Hemlock in Regional Final, 48-33 (Regional Semifinal), 44-20 and 53-19 over Laingsburg, 59-36 over honorable mention New Lothrop, 64-41 over Detroit Renaissance.
Players to watch: Emily Spitzley, 5-10 sr. G (17 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 65 3-pointers); Hannah Spitzley, 5-10 soph. F (10.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.1 spg).
Outlook: After falling by a basket to Edison in last season’s Final, P-W has been all but unstoppable beating opponents by an average of 40 points and with only Springport (18-5) in the District Final coming closer than 15. Laingsburg’s only losses this season in going 20-3 were to the Pirates. Kent City (22-4), Hemlock (21-4) and New Lothrop (20-3) all were league champions, and Class A Renassiance (16-8) was runner-up in the Detroit Public School League tournament. P-W makes 40 percent of its 3-point attempts; sophomore guard Ellie Droste (9.5 ppg) is another of six players with at least 15 makes from beyond the arc.
YPSILANTI ARBOR PREP
Record/rank: 20-5, honorable mention
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Scott Stine, first season (20-5)
Championship history: Class C champion 2016, Class B runner-up 2017.
Best wins: 61-55 over No. 2 Schoolcraft in Quarterfinal, 54-49 over No. 1 Detroit Edison, 66-65 over Class B No. 2 Detroit Country Day, 48-45 over Clarkston, 60-39 over Goodrich.
Players to watch: Lasha Petree, 6-0 sr. G (20.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 5.4 spg, 42 3-pointers, Mahri Petree, 5-11 jr. G (10.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg).
Outlook: In addition to being the only team to hand Edison a loss this season, the Gators faced a schedule of nearly all Class A and B opponents. Class A Clarkston (18-5) and Class B Goodrich (20-5) were league champs, and Arbor Prep also avenged an earlier loss to another Class B league champ in Harper Woods Chandler Park (17-7). Lasha Petree was a Miss Basketball finalist this season and scores more than 40 percent of her team’s points, on average. Junior forward Kashyra Jackson is another contributor, averaging 6.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game with a team second-best 16 3-pointers.
PHOTO: Detroit Edison's Rickea Jackson works for an open shot surrounded by Pewamo-Westphalia defenders during last season's Class C Final.
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.
It 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."
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.
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 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.)