Class D Preview: New Champ to Emerge

March 14, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

For two straight seasons, Pittsford didn’t lose a game.

But the Wildcats ended up in Class C this school year, and that means we’ll have a new champion in D this weekend – with a mix of familiar and new faces making the charge.

Waterford Our Lady and Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart are regulars for the final weekend of the season, and both have won Class D titles this decade. Adrian Lenawee Christian and Chassell have far less experience at this level – in fact, this is Chassell’s first trip to the Semifinals – but between them they are a combined 49-2 this winter.

Semifinals and Finals this weekend will be played at Calvin College’s Van Noord Arena in Grand Rapids.

Class D Semifinals Thursday
Chassell (25-1) vs. Waterford Our Lady (20-4), 5:30 p.m.
Adrian Lenawee Christian (24-1) vs. Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (25-0), 7:30 p.m.

Class D Final – Saturday, 10 a.m.

Tickets cost $10 per pair of Semifinals and $10 per two-game Finals session (Class D and Class A). 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.)

ADRIAN LENAWEE CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 24-1, No. 3
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Jamie Salenbien, first season (24-1)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2010.
Best wins: 62-31 over honorable mention Athens in Quarterfinal, 63-33 (District Semifinal) and 61-42 over honorable mention Morenci, 63-47 over Ida, 52-38 over Dexter.
Players to watch: Bree Salenbien, 6-2 fr. F (21.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.5 spg, 3.1 bpg); Dani Salenbien, 5-9 soph. G (13.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.7 apg, 3.8 spg, 46 3-pointers).
Outlook: Lenawee Christian is nine wins better than a year ago and will play its first Semifinal since 2010 under Jamie Salenbien, who formerly led Onsted to league titles all three of his seasons as head coach from 2011-13. This team has just one senior and seven underclassmen, with Bree Salenbien one of the most intriguing freshmen in the state. She followed her sister Dani with 37 3-pointers entering this week, and sophomore guard Libby Miller had 33. The schedule was filled with larger teams – the lone loss came by a point to Class A Monroe, while Class B Ida was a league champion and Dexter pulled off one of the biggest District upsets in Class A.

CHASSELL
Record/rank: 25-1, No. 6
League finish: First in Copper Mountain Conference Copper Country
Coach: Brandi Hainault, sixth season (79-57)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 58-41 over No. 4 Gaylord St. Mary in Quarterfinal, 52-46 over No. 2 Munising in Regional Semifinal, 58-55 (OT) over Bark-River Harris in Regional Final, 62-35 over Ewen-Trout Creek.
Players to watch: Milly Allen, 5-3 sr. G (15.5 ppg, 3.7 apg, 4.0 spg); Sydney Danison, 6-1 sr. C (13.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg).
Outlook: Chassell won its first Regional title last week, and after going 5-16 in 2014-15 has upped its win total for the third successive season. The Panthers have eliminated two top-five teams over the last two weeks and sandwiched the close win over Bark River-Harris (18-6) between them. They haven’t lost since opening night to Class C L’Anse. Junior guard Jenna Pietila adds another 9.6 points and 4.2 assists per game in helping to lead the veteran group.

MOUNT PLEASANT SACRED HEART
Record/rank: 25-0, No. 1
League finish: First in Mid-State Activities Conference.
Coach: Damon Brown (10th season (204-41)
Championship history: Class D champion 2014, runner-up 2016 and 2008.
Best wins: 49-29 over Bellaire in Quarterfinal, 37-20 over Fruitport Calvary Christian in Regional Final, 57-43 over Beaverton, 39-30 and 53-13 over Carson City-Crystal.
Players to watch: Scout Nelson, 5-9 jr. G (13.8 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.7 spg, 4.2 rpg); Sophia Ruggles, 6-0 sr. F (15.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg).
Outlook: The Irish have made the Semifinals for the third straight season returning their entire starting five from last year’s loss to eventual champion Pittsford – seniors Grace Reetz (7.8 ppg), Haydn Terwilliger (6.8) and Megan Nowak (6.1) join Nelson and Ruggles. Terwilliger, Nelson and Ruggles also started for the 2015-16 team. Although Sacred Heart doesn’t have wins over any opponents ranked at the end of the regular season, they saw their share of strong competition. Class C Carson City-Crystal finished 19-4, while Class C Beaverton and Calvary Christian were league champions and Bellaire finished 21-4.

WATERFORD OUR LADY
Record/rank: 19-4, No. 8 (tie) 
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League A North
Coach: Steve Robak, 11th season (204-65)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2012), runner-up 2013.
Best wins: 42-28 over No. 5 Kingston in Quarterfinal, 51-22 over Marine City Cardinal Mooney in Regional Final, 47-39 over Allen Park Cabrini, 41-40 over Royal Oak Shrine, 51-47 over Bloomfield Hills.
Players to watch: Tiffany Senerius, 5-8 sr. F (14 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 41 3-pointers), Isabelle Kline, 5-8 soph. G (10.5 ppg, 25 3-pointers).
Outlook: After falling in a Quarterfinal last season, Our Lady is back for its third Semifinal in four seasons and seeking its fourth championship over the last nine. The Lakers have won 18 of their last 19 games after an opening stretch that included losses to reigning Class B champion Detroit Country Day and current Class C contender Ypsilanti Arbor Prep. Cardinal Mooney, Cabrini and Shrine ended the regular season unranked, but all three won league titles. Three more players average at least six points per game – seniors Catherine Weddle (6.5) and Kayla Sanders (7.9) and freshman Brooklyn Robak (8.0).

PHOTO: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart's Grace Reetz drives past a defender during her team's Regional championship win last week. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)

Decade After Title Trips, 'Coach K' Just as Driven to Coach Up Grand Haven Contenders

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

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 kendra.tom@gmail.com 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.)