By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Michigan’s high school girls basketball teams wasted no time firing up highlights as their season tipped off last week.
Without giving the rest of this first “Countdown to Calvin” report away, we saw one reigning MHSAA champion fall and another just barely remain unbeaten – while an incredible winning streak ended and a few much shorter but perhaps someday notable ones got started.
Countdown to Calvin is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at MHSAA.com. To offer corrections or fill in scores we’re missing, email me at Geoff@mhsaa.com. (And remember, new this season: The tournament is now organized by Divisions, 1-4, instead of the traditional Class A-B-C-D.)
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Adrian Lenawee Christian 57, Detroit Country Day 52 – The reigning Class D champion Cougars bounced back off an opening-night loss with a statement downing reigning Class B champ Country Day.
2. Hudson 38, Pittsford 30 – The Tigers put an end to Pittsford’s 106-game regular-season winning streak that stretched back to Jan. 28, 2013.
3. Saginaw Heritage 45, Southfield Arts & Technology 43 – The reigning Class A champion Hawks are favorites for the Division 1 title, but the Warriors look like contenders now as well.
4. Michigan Center 59, Adrian Lenawee Christian 54 – That last season’s Class B semifinalist Cardinals won this opener wasn’t stunning, but it looks even better considering Lenawee Christian’s work later in the week noted above.
5. East Kentwood 52, Muskegon 51 – The Falcons earned a slight upper hand in a matchup of what should be a pair of Division 1 contenders this winter.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
• East Lansing (3-0) – The Trojans graduated the Miss Basketball Award winner off last season’s Class A runner-up team and immediately bounced back to open with a 59-55 win over Division 2 contender Williamston, followed by a big victory over Lansing Waverly and a 66-63 win over last season’s Quarterfinal opponent, Muskegon.
• South Lyon East (2-0) – The Cougars nearly doubled their 2016-17 win total last season in finishing 13-8, and victories last week over Livonia Churchill (47-42) and Canton (50-41) set them up nicely for this week’s test against Ypsilanti Arbor Prep.
• Chelsea (2-0) – The Bulldogs began building on last season’s 17-5 finish with wins over Marshall (40-38) and Dearborn Divine Child (54-46), the Marshall win avenging one of last winter’s defeats.
• Hamilton (2-0) – Two straight 20-win seasons and a trip to last winter’s Class B Quarterfinals have the Hawkeyes established among teams to watch. They opened with a 62-42 win over Grand Rapids South Christian, coming off a 19-win season, and then edged Grand Rapids Catholic Central 42-40.
• Whittemore-Prescott (2-0) – The Cardinals won four games all of last season but are halfway to matching that total after opening victories over Posen (50-45) and Fairview (36-35).
• Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (2-0) – Last season’s Class C runner-up opened with a 60-52 win over Division 1 power Clarkston (a Class A quarterfinalist last winter) and 59-55 victory over another impressive Division 3 team, Maple City Glen Lake.
• Ewen-Trout Creek (2-0) – The Panthers opened the season with a 49-45 win over Chassell, one of the only teams to beat them during last winter’s 16-5 run. Ewen-Trout Creek nearly doubled up Lake Linden-Hubbell to close the first week.
• Rudyard (3-0) – The Bulldogs’ fast start last week included double-digit wins over Manistique and Frankfort and a three-pointer, 54-51, over Newberry. Rudyard lost twice last season to Newberry in finishing 9-14, but showed signs of what may be to come by winning a District title.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – Waterford Kettering (1-1) at Bloomfield Hills Marian (2-0) – Combined these two went 35-12 last season, and Kettering’s loss last week was by two to reigning Class C champion Detroit Edison.
Tuesday – Negaunee (2-0) at Marquette (2-1) – These likely are two of the best in the Upper Peninsula, with the Redettes’ loss last week by just two to Brighton.
Tuesday – Williamston (1-1) at Wayne Memorial (0-0) – After making the Class A Semifinals a year ago, Wayne’s new lineup gets an early test.
Friday – DeWitt (1-0) at East Lansing (3-0) – This is one of those matchups to always circle; eventually they also meet in the postseason, and often that victor makes a run at the title.
Saturday – Detroit Renaissance (0-1) vs. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (2-0) at Detroit Edison – This might be the most intriguing in-state matchup of the DEPSA Holiday Classic as Renaissance also won its District last year.
Second Half’s weekly “Countdown to Calvin” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.
PHOTO: Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart's Scout Nelson makes a move toward the basket against Morley Stanwood in a season-opening win. She went over 1,000 career points last week. (Click to see 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.)