Countdown to Calvin: Regional Preview

March 5, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

We're just days removed from one of the most highlight-filled and upset-loaded Girls Basketball District weeks in recent memory. We could spend this entire "Countdown to Calvin" report noting every single game that sent a wave through the brackets.

But the tournament is about advancing and looking ahead, and we've got plenty to preview as Regional Semifinals tip off tonight. 

Below we mention five of the District results that especially made an impression, plus look at three Regionals of particular note in each class – all powered by MI Student Aid. Host sites are bolded, and matchups shown are for Regional Semifinals. (Click for brackets for every Regional in all four classes.)

Week in Review

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results:

1. Caledonia 46, East Kentwood 45 – A last-second basket pushed Caledonia past the reigning Class A runner-up and undefeated Falcons after East Kentwood has won the first two meetings between the teams.

2. Manchester 46, Pittsford 45 – In Class C, Manchester ended Pittsford’s winning streak at 76, two wins short of the MHSAA record.

3. Big Rapids 49, Stanton Central Montcalm 34 – In Class B, Big Rapids handed Central Montcalm its only loss after falling twice to the Hornets during the regular season.

4. Dexter 41, Ann Arbor Huron 36 – The Dreadnaughts knocked out a Class A contender in the District opener, ending the River Rats’ 18-game winning streak.

5. Ishpeming Westwood 59, Negaunee 44 – Westwood ended the Class C contender Miners’ perfect season after also falling twice to Negaunee earlier this winter.

Regionals at a Glance

These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:

CLASS A

Mount Pleasant
Marquette (16-6) vs. Saginaw Heritage (22-1), Flint Carman-Ainsworth (21-2) vs. Davison (11-12)

All three of Heritage’s District opponents last week had winning records, and things of course aren’t going to get easier. Marquette was the Great Northern Conference champion, and Carman-Ainsworth finished second to Heritage in the Saginaw Valley League. The Cavaliers’ losses came to the Hawks 60-44 on Jan. 5 and reigning Class B champion Detroit Country Day the next day 65-59. Davison had lost seven of nine to close the regular season, but bounced back at the right time to win three and the title last week.

West Bloomfield
Utica Eisenhower (19-3) vs. Waterford Kettering (16-6), Clarkston (18-4) vs. Bloomfield Hills Marian (18-4)

Eisenhower won the Macomb Area Conference White, Clarkston shared the Oakland Activities Association Red title and Marian shared the Detroit Catholic League Central championship. Kettering only finished second in the Lakes Valley Conference but then won its fifth straight District title. Marian has a 52-38 win over Kettering from Nov. 30 and some tournament experience as well having won the Catholic League A-B title and its seventh straight District championship.

Zeeland East
Caledonia (18-5) vs. Muskegon (21-2), Hudsonville (16-7) vs. East Grand Rapids (20-3)

Caledonia should be riding high after shocking previously undefeated and reigning Class A runner-up East Kentwood last week, and the Fighting Scots ran their winning streak to six in clinching the District title one game later. Next up is Muskegon, which hasn’t lost since Dec. 22 and survived a three-point scare against Grand Haven in their District Final. Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold runner-up East Grand Rapids has won 11 straight, and Hudsonville was one of six teams from the seven-team O-K Red that finished the regular season with a winning record.

CLASS B

Goodrich
Corunna (16-6) vs. Birch Run (20-3), Goodrich (18-4) vs. Freeland (21-2)

Half of the six-team Genesee Area Conference Red won District titles, including champion Goodrich and third-place Corunna. Next up they face two of the best from the Tri-Valley Conference – East champion Birch Run and Central title winner Freeland. The Falcons downed the Panthers 70-55 in a crossover Jan. 30, and also have a 61-43 win over the Martians from Jan. 16.

Grant
Comstock Park (19-4) vs. Muskegon Oakridge (20-3), Grand Rapids South Christian (18-4) vs. Howard City Tri-County (15-8)

Oakridge has won six straight West Michigan Conference titles and four Districts during that time, but is seeking its first Regional championship during this string of successes. It won’t come easy if this is the year. Comstock Park won the O-K Blue and has improved 11 wins this season from 2016-17. On the other side of the bracket, South Christian won the O-K Gold and is only two seasons removed from finishing Class B runner-up. And Tri-County is dangerous too; the Vikings claimed a trophy last week after finishing third in the Central State Activities Association Gold behind Stanton Central Montcalm (20-1) and Big Rapids (21-2). 

Milan
Ida (19-3) vs. New Boston Huron (20-2), Michigan Center (20-2) vs. Dearborn Henry Ford Academy (16-6)

Ida won the Lenawee County Athletic Association, Huron shared the Huron League title, Michigan Center won the Cascades Conference outright and Henry Ford Academy finished second in the Charter School Conference. Ida finished the regular season with a 19-point win over Huron co-champ Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, and that could be telling. Henry Ford Academy has the most losses for a reason – all but one came against teams that went on to win District titles as well. Michigan Center and New Boston Huron both found success after playing in different classes last year, Michigan Center Class C and Huron in Class A.

CLASS C

Bridgman
Schoolcraft (23-0) vs. Kalamazoo Hackett (15-8), Niles Brandywine (21-2) vs. Bronson (17-6)

Schoolcraft has followed up its Quarterfinal run of a year ago with perfection, including wins of 13 and 18 over Hackett as they finished first and second, respectively, in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley. All but one of the Eagles’ win have been by double digits; that lone single-digit win came 62-61 over Bronson on Dec. 12. The Vikings tied for third in the strong Big 8 Conference and face Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red runner-up Brandywine, which has won Regional titles five of the last six seasons. The Bobcats’ only losses this season were to Class B Comstock (19-2).

Escanaba
Iron River West Iron County (18-4) vs. Ishpeming (19-3), St. Ignace (21-1) vs. Houghton (15-7)

Ishpeming – which finished runner-up to Negaunee in the Mid-Peninsula Athletic Conference – emerged from their District last week after rival Westwood ended the undefeated Miners’ season. Now the Hematites could get their chance to topple another undefeated power; first up is Western Peninsula Athletic Conference runner-up West Iron, but St. Ignace looms on the other side of the bracket. The Saints open with West PAC champ Houghton, annually one of the Upper Peninsula’s best as well. But St. Ignace’s only loss was to reigning Class C champ Detroit Edison, and it put up an impressive 87-56 win on Class B Goodrich (also noted above) on Feb. 10.

Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian
Pewamo-Westphalia (22-0) vs. Laingsburg (20-2), Grandville Calvin Christian (11-11) vs. Hemlock (20-3)

Reigning Class C runner-up Pewamo-Westphalia has been all but unstoppable, winning by an average margin of 41 points per game. Springport, falling only 34-27 in the District Final, gave the Pirates by far their toughest test; two teams, including Class A District champ Detroit Renaissance, got within 23 during the regular season. Laingsburg got within 24 on Feb. 15, and both of its losses this season were to P-W – this matchup could be even closer. On the other side, Calvin Christian finished second in the O-K Silver despite playing a number of larger schools. Hemlock won the TVC West, with its losses to Class B Freeland and Birch Run (see above) and league runner-up Saginaw Valley Lutheran. The Huskies made the Quarterfinals last season.

CLASS D

Big Rapids Crossroads Academy
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (22-0) vs. Onekama (12-10), Fruitport Calvary Christian (19-3) vs. Bear Lake (17-5)

Sacred Heart is arguably the favorite to win the entire Class D tournament after falling to reigning champion Pittsford in either the Semifinals or Final the last two seasons. Onekama has been on a roll, though, with five wins in its last six games and seven over its last 10 – with the three losses during that run to Class B Kingsley (23-0) and Benzie Central (17-5) and Class C Maple City Glen Lake (20-2). Bear Lake shared the West Michigan D League title and has rattled off nine wins over its last 10 games. The Lakers open against Alliance League champion Calvary Christian, which has won 15 straight and avenged one of those three losses by beating Muskegon Heights Academy in the District Final.  

Kingsford
Bark River-Harris (17-5) vs. Crystal Falls Forest Park (13-9), Munising (22-1) vs. Chassell (22-1)

The second game of the night pits the Skyline Central Conference large-school division champion Mustangs against the Copper Mountain Conference Copper Country title winner Chassell. The Panthers haven’t lost since falling to L’Anse by four in their opener. Munising’s lone defeat came Jan. 4 to Gwinn. Tonight’s first game is a rematch of SCC-Large rivals – the teams split 12-point wins, with Forest Park’s coming in the regular-season finale Feb. 22 as part of a six-game winning streak. Bark River-Harris has won nine of its last 11, however.

St. Ignace
Harbor Spring Harbor Light Christian (19-2) vs. Cedarville (19-3), Gaylord St. Mary (21-1) vs. Rudyard (9-13)

Cedarville has taken a big jump this season after going 13-9 a year ago. Not only did the Trojans win the Eastern UP Athletic Conference, but their lone losses were twice to Class C contender St. Ignace and once to Sault Ste. Marie, a Class B District champ. But Northern Lakes Conference champ Harbor Light Christian will provide an immediate challenge this week. Rudyard, which plays in two leagues including the EUP, upset Engadine to win its District and has won five of its last six games. Gaylord St. Mary has won 21 straight, with a perfect run through the Ski Valley Conference, as it looks to get back to the final week of the season after falling in its Regional Final by three points a year ago.

PHOTO: Unionville-Sebewaing celebrates its Class C District title after defeating Cass City in overtime last week. (Click to see more from Varsity Monthly.)

Decade After Title Trips, 'Coach K' Just as Driven to Coach Up Grand Haven Contenders

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

February 1, 2023

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.”

Kowalczyk-Fulmer and son Drew accept the Class A championship trophy after the Bucs’ second-straight title win in 2013. 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 kendra.tom@gmail.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.)