By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The 2017-18 season is barely a week old, and we already have plenty to talk about – in addition to a new name for our weekly girls basketball report.
Each Monday, we’ll update you on five results from the previous week that made the biggest headlines. We’ll introduce two teams in each class that should be on your radar as you look ahead to league races and even farther down the road to the start of the MHSAA tournament at the end of February. We’ll also give you five games of note coming up over the next seven days, and why you should check them out.
So let the countdown to this season’s Finals weekend at Calvin College begin. These reports are based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com – to offer corrections, email me at Geoff@mhsaa.com. Countdown to Calvin is powered by MI Student Aid.
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Wayne Memorial 73, Detroit Country Day 70 – Opening with a win over the reigning Class B champion? Wayne will take it after going 17-5 a year ago and with title aspirations in Class A.
2. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 48, Clarkston 45 – This edging of a 17-6 Class A team from a year ago stuck out most from an impressive three-win week by the reigning Class B runner-up Gators, who are back in Class C this winter.
3. East Lansing 42, Marshall 32 – The Trojans started by handing Marshall only its fourth regular-season loss since the start of 2015; Marshall, a Class B semifinalist last season, also fell to Williamston to end the week.
4. Walled Lake Western 56, Southfield Arts & Technology 51 – Walled Lake Western hopes to build on last year’s District title and got a good sign with this opening win over a Southfield A&T team that made the Class A Semifinals last winter.
5. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 59, Flushing 38 – There’s no question Flushing graduated major talent last spring, but this still counts for the Cavaliers as a win over the reigning Class A champion.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Flint Carman-Ainsworth (3-0) – As noted above, Carman-Ainsworth opened with a win over the reigning Class A champ Raiders, who ended the Cavaliers’ season in last year’s District Final. Carman-Ainsworth last week also downed Swartz Creek by 24 on Friday and then Southfield A&T by 20 a day later, lending confidence to high hopes coming off last year’s 18-4 run.
Roseville (3-0) – A two-point win over Center Line in the middle of last week was the only test, but Roseville has now won 16 of its last 17 going back to last January. The Panthers were 16-6 last season after starting 1-4.
Lansing Catholic (2-0) – The Cougars have finished either a win or two below .500 the last two seasons, but could be on the move if last week was an indication. Lansing Catholic opened with a 12-point win over Perry and followed with a 42-pointer over Olivet; those two opponents were a combined 28-15 last winter, and Olivet was a league champ.
Reed City (1-0) – After going 0-21 in 2014-15, Reed City has finished just a game under .500 the last two seasons. Could this be the winter the Coyotes take another big step? Last week’s 37-35 win over Leroy Pine River was just one victory, but the Bucks were 22-3 last season and beat Reed City by 17 to start that campaign.
Manton (2-1) – Yes, Manton took a loss during opening week, but to a Class A Marquette team that won 20 games last season. In the meantime, the Rangers (14-8 a year ago) beat two other Class A teams in Mount Pleasant and Petoskey and after falling to Petoskey a year ago.
Pewamo-Westphalia (2-0) – How to the Pirates come back from falling in last season’s Class C championship game by a basket? They open with a 23-point win over New Lothrop (17-5 last winter) and then another 23-pointer over Class A Detroit Renaissance (16-5 a year ago).
Brethren (2-0) – Mariah Pringle scored 42 of her team’s 71 points in wins over Buckley and Pentwater last week. The 39-34 win over the Falcons avenged one of few losses a season ago as Brethren went 18-5.
Walkerville (2-0) – The Wildcats have actually won six of their last eight going back to last season, when they finished 9-13. They opened last week by beating Class C Ravenna by nine and then Big Rapids Crossroads by 33 after falling to Crossroads a year ago.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – DeWitt (2-0) at East Lansing (2-0) – These two will be in the same league for the first time next season, and this has been one of the Lansing area’s top nonleague games annually for years. DeWitt won in December by a point last winter, and East Lansing avenged with a one-point win in the District Final.
Tuesday – Midland (0-1) at Saginaw Heritage (0-0) – Heritage was last season’s Saginaw Valley League North co-champion thanks in part to a pair of wins over third-place Midland.
Friday – Buchanan (0-0) at Niles Brandywine (1-1) – Buchanan was last season’s Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Red co-champion at 16-4 overall, and Brandywine finished third before winning a District and ending up 19-5.
Friday – Houghton (1-0) at Negaunee (2-0) – After Houghton won their early-December 2016 matchup 48-46, these teams went on to finish a combined 38-8 and both won District titles.
Friday – Utica Ford (1-1) at Grosse Pointe North (1-0) – Utica Ford won 20 games last season and a league title, while Grosse Pointe North won a District title and nearly upset Bloomfield Hills Marian in the Regional.
PHOTO: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, a Class D semifinalist last season, opened this winter with a 76-14 win over Vestaburg on Friday. (Click for more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.”
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 email@example.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.)