By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Let the second half of Michigan high school girls basketball season begin. We have plenty to watch for right away.
Pewamo-Westphalia and Detroit Edison kick things off immediately with a huge matchup, and many more are on the way this week – we’ve listed a few of them below. Teams also are reaching the midpoints of their league schedules – with at least a few championships possibly being decided this week.
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 [email protected].
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 65, Detroit Country Day 60 – The Cavaliers bounced back in part from the previous week’s loss to reigning Class A champ Saginaw Heritage with this win over the 2018 Class B title winner.
2. Detroit Cass Tech 55, Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 44 – Downing Division 3 contender Arbor Prep on the Gators’ court Saturday should boost Cass Tech as it rolls into this week’s rematch with rival Detroit Martin Luther King.
3. Negaunee 46, Ishpeming Westwood 36 – The one-loss Miners handed Westwood its first defeat of the winter, lining up their second meeting Feb. 15 as the likely decider in the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference Iron.
4. Centreville 44, Schoolcraft 42 – Centreville won this highly-anticipated nonleague matchup of undefeated teams both highly-regarded in Division 3.
5. Charlotte 51, Portland 33 – The Orioles handed the Raiders their first defeat this winter to move into first place alone in the Capital Area Activities Conference White.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
• Ann Arbor Pioneer (8-1) – The Pioneers won nine games total last season and tied for fifth in the Southeastern Conference Red. Last week Pioneer handed Saline its first loss of the season, holding onto a first-place tie in the league with Monroe. Pioneer’s only loss was to one-loss DeWitt.
• West Bloomfield (8-1) – The Lakers are unbeaten aside from a loss to still-undefeated Walled Lake Western on Dec. 11, a vast improvement from last year’s 7-14 finish. West Bloomfield in turn handed Avondale its only loss of this season and is closing in on guaranteeing its first winning record since 2010-11.
• Carleton Airport (8-1) – The Jets have won 17 games in back-to-back seasons and could be making another jump; their only defeat this winter was to reigning Class D champion Adrian Lenawee Christian by six Dec. 13. A major matchup is set for Thursday: Airport faces one-loss Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central for first in the Huron League.
• Kingsley (9-1) – The Stags are coming off arguably the best week of any team in the state. The opened with a 42-point win over Highland Conference leader Manton and finished by taking over first place alone in the Northwest Conference with a 47-39 victory versus Maple City Glen Lake. An early loss to always-solid Goodrich aside, Kingsley hasn’t slowed down after making last year’s Class B Semifinals.
• Michigan Center (10-0) – The Cardinals, also Class B semifinalists last season, have had one of the most memorable first halves of this winter. They sit atop the competitive Cascades Conference and have nonleague wins over Adrian Lenawee Christian and Flint Carman-Ainsworth. They also beat Williamston 95-90 in five overtimes, tying the longest game and ranking second for highest-scoring in MHSAA history.
• New Haven (8-1) – The Rockets just missed reaching .500 last season, but did win reportedly their first District title. And the momentum has continued to build; New Haven lost early to St. Clair Shores South Lake, but is undefeated and atop the standings after the first run through the Macomb Area Conference Bronze schedule. The Rockets also have a chance to avenge that South Lake loss in a Feb. 8 rematch.
• Athens (8-1) – The Indians finished 21-5 overall and second a year ago in their first season in the Southern Central Athletic Association West. They’re lining up for a possibly similar run – they’ve won eight straight since falling to one-loss Battle Creek Calhoun Christian in the season opener, and they are tied for first in the SCAA West with one-loss Climax-Scotts coming up this week and undefeated Bellevue on the last day of the month.
• Bear Lake (6-0) – With one more league game played (and won), Bear Lake has a slim lead atop the West Michigan D League over Pentwater after those two shared last season’s title. They meet for the first time next week; no team has come closer than 17 points to catching the Lakers so far this winter.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Monday – Detroit Edison (10-1) at Pewamo-Westphalia (8-0) – This sets up as one of the best matchups statewide of the regular season after these two met in the 2017 Class C Final and 2018 Semifinals, both Edison wins.
Tuesday – Sandusky (9-1) at Brown City (9-1) – The matchup for first place in the Greater Thumb Conference East features two teams that also have statewide Division 3 aspirations.
Wednesday – Detroit Cass Tech (9-2) at Detroit Martin Luther King (10-0) – King won the first meeting by three two weeks ago and can clinch a share of the Detroit Public School League Midtown title with another victory in the rematch.
Thursday – Detroit Mumford (10-2) at Detroit Renaissance (8-4) – Mumford faces Cody first Wednesday, but with a win that night could head into this one able to clinch the PSL West-Town championship outright after winning the first meeting with Renaissance by two.
Friday – East Kentwood (8-2) at Grand Haven (9-0) – Two teams with Division 1 statewide possibilities will be playing this one for first in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red. Both are undefeated in league play.
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: Ithaca, here against Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary, is hoping to surge in the Tri-Valley Conference West during the season’s second half. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)
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.)