Class A Champs Repeat in Grand Fashion

March 16, 2013

By Bill Khan
Special to Second Half

EAST LANSING — With the cameras capturing Grand Haven’s championship celebration, Abby Cole successfully avoided an emotional meltdown.

That changed in the privacy of the Bucs’ locker room deep inside the Breslin Center.

It was there that the 6-foot-5 senior center was struck by the realization that she would never play a meaningful basketball game again. It certainly didn’t help during a postgame tribute to her seniors that coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer uttered the words, “Abby, I love you. I’m going to miss you.”

That’s when the tears flowed. At least Cole held it together for the photographers.

“I promised myself this year if we won that I wouldn’t cry, because I looked awful in all the pictures last year,” Cole said following Grand Haven’s 60-54 overtime victory over Grosse Pointe South in the MHSAA
Class A championship game on Saturday. “The honor of getting this medal put on my neck, holding up the trophy with my team, singing to our student section … then we go in the locker room.”

Cole said she has played basketball since she was 5 or 6 years old. She has known Kowalczyk-Fulmer that entire time. Now Cole will never again play for her long-time mentor, moving on to play volleyball at
the University of Michigan.

“Once she got to me (in the locker room), I couldn’t handle it,” Cole said. “I’m done with basketball. That’s so hard for me. It’s been a huge part of my life, definitely helped shape me as a person. I’m really going to miss it.”

And Grand Haven fans definitely will miss Cole.

The program had reached the MHSAA Semifinals only once (1981) before getting at least that far the last three seasons and winning 51 straight games. The Bucs lost 39-38 to Detroit Renaissance in the 2011
Semifinals, then won a 54-53 thriller over Grosse Pointe South in last year’s Final.

The rematch was as good as advertised, although it took time for the drama to build.

Grand Haven (28-0), which rallied from 18 points down to beat South last season, led 40-29 with 34 seconds left in the third quarter. With Cole on the bench with four fouls, the Blue Devils (25-2) began
cutting into the lead. They went ahead for the first time since early in the first quarter, 49-48, when sophomore Cierra Rice scored with 3:25 left in the fourth quarter.

That would be South’s only lead, as Grand Haven’s Hannah Wilkerson responded with a basket eight seconds later. There was no more scoring in the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by South’s Gretchen Shirar
tied the game 52-52 with 1:52 left in regulation.

The Blue Devils held for the final shot after getting the ball with 45.9 seconds left. A pass down low went out of bounds with 6.4 seconds left.

South attempted the same play that worked for a back-door bucket by Rice on the Blue Devils’ go-ahead basket three minutes earlier.

“I think they saw it coming,” Rice said. “They had a bunch of defenders there ready to take the ball. It just bobbled everywhere once we tried to run it again.”

Grand Haven scored the first five points of overtime, including four on back-to-back baskets by Cole. The margin was never closer than three points after that. Cole, who finished third in Miss Basketball voting, was only 2 for 5 with seven points during regulation time. She finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and eight blocks.

“Abby can score inside, but they weren’t just going to let us lob it in,” Kowalczyk-Fulmer said. “She wasn’t going to be able to score 30 points or anything. We just had so many contributions from so many

Grand Haven shot 75.9 percent from the field to overcome an otherwise bizarre stat sheet. South took 78 field goal attempts to Grand Haven’s 29 and had only five turnovers while forcing the Bucs into 32.

“Having lost for the second straight year to the same team, obviously it hurts,” South coach Kevin Richards said. “But I just love the way our girls competed. Even at halftime, I like how we played hard. We
had the tempo we wanted. Give Grand Haven credit — they made some plays when they needed to.”

Cole was only Grand Haven’s third-leading scorer in the championship game, as senior Wilkerson shot 8 for 8 while scoring 17 points and junior Taylor Craymer shot 5 for 7 in a 14-point effort.

“Last year we had a lot of talent,” Wilkerson said. “This year a lot of girls stepped up. We worked hard for this one.”

Click for the full box score. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Grand Haven's Abby Cole blocks a shot during Saturday's Class A Final; she had eight blocks in the game. (Middle) Grosse Pointe South's Cierra Rice (5) attempts to drive past Cole. (Click to see more at

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

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.

Southwest CorridorIt 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."

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. 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.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (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 HassingerScott 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.)