By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
As we embark on the final month of this girls basketball season, the first league championships are being clinched and the first conference tournament brackets are filling in.
A matchup of two champions from a year ago and the continued surge by the reigning Class A winner are among subjects of today’s report. 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 help us fill in missing scores, email me at [email protected].
Week in Review
The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:
1. Detroit Edison Public School Academy 62, Detroit Country Day 46 – Reigning Class C champion DEPSA has bounced quickly back from its lone loss earlier this month, to Ypsilanti Arbor Prep, with this win especially impressive over the reigning Class B title winner.
2. Pittsford 56, Bellevue 40 – The undefeated Wildcats have won 67 straight games, tied for the fifth-longest winning streak in MHSAA history, and this one over the two-loss Broncos was the 66th in a row and one of most impressive this winter.
3. Bloomfield Hills Marian 34, Farmington Hills Mercy 25 – They could meet again in the Catholic League A-B Tournament in two weeks, but Marian gladly will take in a regular-season sweep of its rival, which could end up cementing the Catholic League Central title.
4. Harper Woods Chandler Park 59, Ypsilanti Arbor Prep 35 – Chandler Park looks ready to make a move in Class B, with this the most recent of intriguing results against tough competition.
5. Freeland 71, Hemlock 35 – Freeland has put together another strong run, improving to 11-2 with the latest this victory over previously-undefeated Hemlock in a crossover of first-place teams in the Tri-Valley Conference Central and West, respectively.
With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each class making sparks:
Flushing (11-2) – With a group of key seniors to replace and a couple of tough opponents to start this winter, Flushing fell out of the Class A conversation for a bit. But the reigning champ Raiders are back in with 11 straight wins since those opening losses to Flint Carman-Ainsworth and Midland Dow. They’ve opened up a nice lead in the Flint Metro League, but a Feb. 6 matchup with Goodrich will be telling.
Grosse Pointe North (9-2) – The Norsemen, 12-11 a season ago, are on a five-game winning streak that has included avenging this season’s losses to Macomb Dakota and Warren Cousino. That run has put North just a half-game behind Dakota in the Macomb Area Conference Red standings, but with a couple of tough matchups with Port Huron Northern coming up over the next two weeks.
Clawson (12-1) – The Trojans clinched the MAC Bronze championship outright last week and have won every league game by at least 14 points. They can finish a second straight perfect run through the league schedule Thursday at New Haven and soon could equal last season’s 16 wins as well – the only loss was by five to Madison Heights Bishop Foley (now 8-5) at the beginning of December.
Detroit Mumford (10-3) – The Mustangs are perfect in 2018, enjoying a six-game winning streak capped by last week’s 74-66 victory over league rival Detroit Renaissance. Mumford ended 2017 with three straight losses to Class A powers Detroit Martin Luther King, Clarkston and DeWitt, but should be tough in the Detroit Public School League and Class B tournaments.
Flint Hamady (9-4) – A string of four losses in five games quieted talk about the usually dominant Hawks, but it’s important to keep those defeats in context – they came to Chandler Park, Goodrich, Flint Beecher and Country Day. Hamady, a Class C semifinalist last season, avenged the Goodrich loss with 49-44 win Friday and gets Beecher this Friday.
St. Ignace (12-0) – The Saints have been a level above even the best teams on their side of the Upper Peninsula and below the bridge. The latest evidence was last week’s 68-21 win over Cedarville, which is leading the Eastern U.P. Athletic Conference and is 12-2 overall – the Trojans also lost to St. Ignace at the start of December. Circle a Feb. 10 game against Class B Goodrich and Feb. 17 against Detroit Edison among the most intriguing matchups in the state the rest of the way.
Morenci (10-2) – Losses to Pioneer North Central (Ohio) and undefeated Class C Pittsford are all that’s kept Morenci from perfection as it’s looked to build on last season’s 13-9 finish. The Bulldogs finished second in the Tri-County Conference last year but lead it today coming off a two-point win over reigning league champion Adrian Madison last Thursday. Morenci still has both games with second-place Ottawa Lake Whiteford coming up as the first was postponed two weeks ago.
St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran (11-1) – Aside from an early six-point loss to Watervliet (now 8-3), the Titans have been perfect. They have a commanding lead in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference White and have played only one other game where the margin has been fewer than 17 points – a three-point win over Class B Buchanan (now 7-4).
Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up:
Tuesday – East Lansing (13-0) at Williamston (14-0) – The Hornets have continued their perfect run despite losing top guard Maddie Watters to a season-ending injury two weeks ago; East Lansing is a Class A contender and should be the toughest test before playoffs begin.
Thursday – Clarkston (11-2) at Southfield Arts & Technology (9-4) – The Wolves are undefeated in the Oakland Activities Association Red with a 55-50 win over Southfield A&T on Dec. 22 remaining the Warriors’ only league loss.
Thursday – Macomb Dakota (10-3) at Port Huron Northern (10-4) – This matchup might have the best chance to mixing up what’s becoming a mashed-up MAC Red race; these two are among four teams at the top with either two or three league losses.
Friday – East Kentwood (14-0) at Grand Haven (10-3) – The Falcons finished the first half of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red schedule undefeated, but their closest win in or out of league this season was a four-pointer over Grand Haven in the first meeting Jan. 5.
Friday – DeWitt (12-1) at St. Johns (8-3) – The Panthers lead the Capital Area Activities Conference Red by two wins on St. Johns, but the Redwings are 5-1 since falling to DeWitt by 12 in mid-December.
PHOTO: A Freeland ball handler navigates the Hemlock defense during last week’s meeting of first-place teams in the Tri-Valley Conference. (Click for 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.)