Country Day Follows Freshman to Title

March 21, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — Detroit Country Day knew it had a potential star on its hands when Kaela Webb arrived as a freshman in the fall.

But regardless of her status as the latest prodigy for one of Michigan's most successful programs, Webb didn't receive preferential treatment.

She was treated just like any other ninth-grader, which meant knowing her place in the team's pecking order at the beginning of the season.

"It was weird, because freshmen had to get the water, and I just wasn't used to that," Webb said. "We had to get the jerseys and everything."

Freshman initiation didn't last long for Webb and Country Day's four other ninth-graders, who eventually blended seamlessly into the team and left their mark in the school's rich history.

Webb stepped into a leadership role on the biggest stage in the sport, scoring a game-high 20 points to lead Country Day to a 49-41 victory over Haslett in the MHSAA Class B girls basketball championship game Saturday night at the Breslin Center.

It was the 11th MHSAA title for Country Day (22-4), but its first since 2009. The Yellowjackets hadn't gone six years between titles since a similar drought between 1989 and 1995.

Some of the greatest players in Country Day history came and went without winning a championship since the 2009 title. The Yellowjackets restored their tradition by playing four freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and two seniors against Haslett.

"It's an honor to bring back the legacy after six years," senior Kristina Grace said. "It's an 'awe' moment. You wouldn't expect for a team like us who is so young to make it all the way. We were the underdogs and we did it; it's amazing."

After losing in the 2010 title game, Country Day was eliminated in the Quarterfinals each of the last five years, the first three by Goodrich, the last two by Flint Powers Catholic.

"The biggest joy of all is to see these young women be proud Lady Jackets and keep the legacy of our program," veteran Country Day coach Frank Orlando said. "I know we are so blessed to win a state championship. I don't care about the number; I care about these kids."

Country Day's all-stater is a sophomore, Destiny Pitts. She finished with 12 points, but was held to four in the second half. Webb came through with 11 points after halftime, going 6 for 6 from the line during the final 1:28 to put the game away.

"For a freshman, that's phenomenal, but for anybody that's phenomenal," Orlando said.

Haslett (22-6), which lost 57-43 to Country Day late in the regular season, was able to limit Pitts, but couldn't find an answer for Webb.

"(Webb) had a stellar night tonight," Haslett coach Bob Currier said. "Boy, for a freshman, what a nice player with quickness, control, good defense. She did a great job. They don't play like freshmen and sophomores, that's for sure, but they have such great physical attributes that it kind of makes up for that some."

Country Day broke away from a 10-10 tie after one quarter to take a 23-17 halftime lead. The Yellowjackets expanded that lead to 30-20 on a basket by Arika Tolbert with 3:02 left in the third quarter.

With the game possibly slipping away from them, the Vikings fought back to within striking distance. A layup by Kenzie DeCook off a turnover got Haslett within 37-35 with 2:52 remaining in the game. Haslett was again within two points when two free throws by DeCook made it 39-37 with 2:14 to go.

Country Day scored the next six points and went 12 for 14 from the line in the fourth quarter. Webb showed no signs of freshman jitters, hitting all six of her free throws.

"I just went up there confident I was going to make them," said Webb, a 77-percent free throw shooter who averages eight points a game. "My coaches said to stick 'em and make sure my wrist is straight. I believed them, and that's what I did."

Haslett may have worn down at the end, not using a player off the bench in the second half until DeCook fouled out with 1:28 left in the fourth quarter.

For DeCook, Makenna Ott and Adrianna Stolicker, it meant the end of four-year careers during which they helped Haslett post a 78-20 (.796) record and reach its first MHSAA Final. The Vikings' longest postseason run prior to this season was in 1995 when they lost in the Class B Semifinals. They made the 1975 and 1976 Class C Quarterfinals.

Haslett was 10-11 the season before those three arrived.

"Their record is wonderful for the four years we've had them," Currier said. "The three girls have done everything we've asked. They changed Haslett, I hope for good. I hope we're on that path. The work outside of practice, working on your game, the good attitude, the total teamwork — they brought all that to us."

Ott had 17 points and 10 rebounds, while DeCook had 17 points for Haslett.

Click for a full box score and video from the postgame press conference.

PHOTO: Detroit Country Day accepts is championship trophy to finish the girls basketball season Saturday night at the Breslin Center.

Few in Number, Tecumseh Pursuing Sizable Success with Zajacs Setting Pace

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

December 5, 2023

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. 

Southeast & BorderNow, 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.” 

Kristy Zajac coaches her team, which finished 20-5 in 2022-23. 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 DonnellyDoug 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.)