By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Everyone loves snow days. But here’s hoping the frigid weather warms up quickly enough to make way for the start of the final month of girls basketball season.
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. Detroit Edison 53, Pewamo-Westphalia 39 – This was the third straight season these powers had met, with Edison adding to its wins in the 2016 Class C Final and 2017 Semifinals.
2. Detroit Cass Tech 61, Detroit Martin Luther King 59 – Cass Tech avenged a three-point loss to King on Jan. 9 to join the Crusaders in a first-place tie in the Detroit Public School League Midtown with one league game left for both.
3. Grand Haven 78, East Kentwood 55 – After falling twice to East Kentwood last season, Grand Haven took over first alone in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red with this big win.
4. Flint Kearsley 55, Flushing 50 – This close win pulled Kearsley into a first-place tie in the Flint Metro League with Fenton just ahead of Flushing, which beat Fenton two weeks ago.
5. New Lothrop 47, Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 41 – After a rough start, the Hornets finished the first half of the regular season with four straight wins, this one over an annual championship contender the most encouraging.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:
• Bloomfield Hills Marian (11-0) – Two wins in two weeks over rival Farmington Hills Mercy has Marian comfortably atop the Detroit Catholic League Central after Marian and Mercy shared the title a year ago. Marian added a District title last season and could be line for more – the Mustangs remain the only team to defeat 2018 Class A semifinalist Grosse Pointe North this winter.
• Walled Lake Western (12-0) – We featured Western on Second Half two weeks ago, and the Warriors have added two more wins since to remain the only team unbeaten in Lakes Valley Conference play. A league title would be the program’s third straight, and Western has won 21 straight LVC games since falling in the season opener last winter.
• Corunna (12-0) – The Cavaliers have won nine straight by double digits and can all but lock up the Genesee Area Conference Red title with another victory Friday over second-place Flint Hamady, which Corunna beat in overtime on Dec. 14. Corunna had finished third in the league the last two seasons but did earn a District title to close last winter.
• Stanton Central Montcalm (11-0) – The Hornets have run their regular-season winning streak to 31 and hold a slim lead over Fremont in the Central State Activities Association Gold after a 30-point win in their first meeting Jan. 4. Central Montcalm has won all six of its 2019 games by at least 30 points, showing plenty of bounce-back after last season’s run was stopped abruptly by a first-round District loss.
• Brown City (11-1) – The Green Devils have climbed to the top of the Greater Thumb Conference East thanks in part to last week’s overtime win over second-place Sandusky. They then matched last season’s win total with another victory Friday over Capac (after going 11-10 in 2017-18), and the lone defeat this winter came over holiday break to one-loss Kingston.
• Carson City-Crystal (8-3) – The Eagles have three defeats, but to teams that are a combed 29-5 including Central Montcalm (mentioned above). Carson City-Crystal sits atop the Mid-State Activities Conference after ending Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s 24-game league winning streak last week, 31-27. They meet again in the regular-season finale, Feb. 28.
• Camden-Frontier (9-4) – The Redskins are tied for first in the Southern Central Athletic Association East with annual power Pittsford and already have avenged two early losses with rematch wins over Reading and Waldron. Camden-Frontier improved to finish 14-9 a year ago and closed with a District title, and could be on the verge of another step up.
• Kingston (11-1) – The Cardinals are eyeing a seventh-straight league title, with a slight lead on Deckerville in the North Central Thumb League Stars. They’ve won 53 straight league games going back to 2012-13 and are trying to build on last season’s Quarterfinal run. The only defeat this winter was by four to Division 1 Utica Eisenhower, and Kingston beat Deckerville by 29 in their first meeting.
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – East Lansing (12-0) at DeWitt (11-1) – The Trojans hold a slim lead on the Panthers in the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue thanks to a 45-41 win in their first meeting Dec. 14.
Tuesday – Southfield Arts & Technology (12-1) at Royal Oak (12-0) – The winner will finish the first run through Oakland Activities Association Red play alone in first; the rematch is Feb. 28.
Friday – Midland Dow (10-1) at Saginaw Heritage (10-0) – This will be a full house for much more than the MHSAA’s Battle of the Fans visit; these two are tied for first in the Saginaw Valley League Red, and Heritage also beat Dow in a District Final last year on the way to winning the Class A title.
Friday – Flint Hamady (10-1) at Corunna (12-0) – Some of the details are noted above; Hamady also will be coming off a Tuesday matchup with Detroit Country Day.
Saturday – Stanton Central Montcalm (11-0) vs. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (9-4) at Northwood University – This stacks up as Central Montcalm’s toughest test as it looks to finish a second straight regular season unbeaten.
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: Negaunee's Abigail Nelson (42) tries to grab the ball away from Ishpeming's Jocelynn Nyman (10) as teammates MacKenzie Karki (3) and Chloe Norman (22) provide support. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)
TECUMSEH – First, the good news: Nearly everyone on the Tecumseh girls basketball team has aspirations to play college basketball – and several of them at a very high level.
Now, the twist: There are only eight girls in the entire program.
Tecumseh head coach Kristy Zajac, starting her seventh season, is unfazed by the lack of numbers. Tecumseh will field just a varsity team this season but should contend for a Southeastern Conference White championship and pursue a deep playoff run as well.
“This is a great group of girls,” Zajac said. “At least six or seven of them want to play college basketball. The basketball IQ is so much higher than we have had in the past. We’ve never had a full team of basketball-first kids.”
Zajac said that dynamic has changed practices and the approach on the court.
“We do a lot more high-level skill stuff and high-level thinking,” she said. “We do more read-and-react stuff where they have to play on the fly, which makes us harder to scout. We want to try and give the kids a chance to use that basketball IQ and make opportunities for themselves on the floor so they can score without having to run a set play.”
The list of college prospects starts with her daughter, 6-foot-2 junior Alli Zajac. She holds about 15 Division I offers, and the list seems to grow daily.
She’s been receiving recruiting attention since before she played a game in high school. As a freshman, she was the Lenawee County Player of the Year and has been all-state both of her first two seasons. Last winter, she scored 433 points as Tecumseh went 20-5.
Her sister, Addi Zajac, hasn’t played a varsity game yet but has received a lot of attention as well as a college prospect after several great years of travel ball. She’s 6-foot and a true center.
“She wears a size 14 shoe,” Zajac said. “We are hoping next year she is 6-3 or 6-4. She has such a strong body; I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anyone that strong at her age. She can push people around.”
The sisters are very different types of players. They also are extremely competitive, as witnessed when they play 1-on-1 at home.
“It usually ends in a fistfight,” Zajac said. “They are both very competitive.”
The team is loaded with more talent than just the Zajac sisters.
Sophomore Makayla Schlorf made 28 3-pointers last season, and sophomore Chloe Bollinger made 26. Junior Ashlyn Moorhead averaged just under double figures in scoring and averaged 3.7 assists a game last year. Junior Lauren Kilbarger also is back from last season and joined by newcomers Faith Wiedyk, a junior, sophomore Sophia Torres and freshman Amaria Brown.
Maddie VanBlack is another travel ball veteran but is out this season due to tearing an ACL.
Tecumseh athletic director Jon Zajac – Kristy’s husband – said it is disappointing Tecumseh won’t field a junior varsity team this year. He said kids playing travel ball in other sports, along with the youth of the current team, are factors.
“It is frustrating,” he said. “Hopefully this is the only year for that.”
Kristy (Maska) Zajac grew up near Tecumseh in Britton, played four years on the varsity and scored more than 1,800 career points under coach Bart Bartels, now an assistant on her staff. She played at Eastern Michigan University, where she was one of the top scorers in school history. Jon Zajac, played at EMU and professionally overseas.
The entire family is crazy about basketball. In addition to Alli and Addi, son Ryder played four years at Tecumseh before heading off to college to play football, and the youngest in the family, Avery, is a budding star in her own right.
“There were a few travel games this year where my team was short on numbers and Avery got to play with Addi and Alli,” Kristy Zajac said. “That was cool to see. She held her own. She won’t get to play with Alli in high school (Avery is in seventh grade), but she’ll get two years with Addi. I got to play with my sister, and I wouldn’t trade that time for anything.”
Jon Zajac stops by practice now and then to coach as well. He and Kristy coach Avery’s travel team.
“He is a great person to have as part of the program,” Kristy Zajac said of her husband. “Anytime I can get him to help with the post players and with the girls is great. He’s a huge help.”
The family often schedules trips around basketball and is seemingly always pulled in multiple directions as the three girls compete at various levels.
“It’s pretty much basketball all day, every day,” Zajac said. “It’s fun to see how the kids enjoy it and love the game.”
Tecumseh, which has won a combined 39 games over the past two seasons, has loaded up its schedule, playing a collection of nonconference teams that made deep tournament runs and won conference championships last season. Tecumseh plays in the Icebreaker event at Ypsilanti Arbor Prep against Detroit Country Day on Saturday and also faces Temperance-Bedford (23-1 last season), reigning Division 3 runner-up Blissfield and Grand Blanc.
Without a senior on the team and no JV squad, Tecumseh will play essentially this group for the next 50 or more games. It’s a two-year window with virtually the same team.
“We’re doing what we can to win this year,” Zajac said. “We want this year to be super successful. We are just taking it one game at a time and going from there. We want to keep building and getting better every day, every game. Hopefully by the end of next year, we’ll be where we need to be.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Tecumseh’s Alli Zajac makes her move toward the lane last season against Adrian. (Middle) Kristy Zajac coaches her team, which finished 20-5 in 2022-23. (Photos by Deloris Clark-Osborne/Adrian Daily Telegram.)