Three contenders who surely felt just a few steps away from claiming last season’s Division 3 championship are making the trip to Breslin Center this weekend to decide this year’s title, joined by a fourth set to make history when Thursday’s second Semifinal tips off.
Kent City was last season’s runner-up, losing 52-50 to Grass Lake in last year’s Final. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep, the overall top seed in Division 3 this winter, had lost to Grass Lake two games earlier in a Regional Final. And Maple City Glen Lake is back following its second-straight undefeated regular season and after suffering its lone defeat last year in the Quarterfinals.
They’re joined by Madison Heights Bishop Foley, which will play in its first Semifinal after also seeing last year’s run end a game shy of East Lansing.
DIVISON 3 Semifinals – Thursday
Maple City Glen Lake (25-0) vs. Ypsilanti Arbor Prep (23-2), noon
Kent City (25-0) vs. Madison Heights Bishop Foley (20-3), 2 p.m.
FINAL – Saturday – 4 p.m.
Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and are available via the Breslin Center ticket office. All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription to MHSAA.tv, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit’s primary channel as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio broadcasts of all Semifinals and Finals will be available free of charge from the MHSAA Network.
Here’s a look at the four Division 3 semifinals (with rankings by MPR and statistics through Regional Finals):
Record/rank: 25-0, No. 5
League finish: First in Central State Activities Association Silver
Coach: Aleah Holcomb, first season (25-0)
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up 2021.
Best wins: 34-33 over No. 6 Schoolcraft in Quarterfinal, 42-39 over No. 11 Hart, 43-23 over Division 2 No. 13 Sparta, 33-27 over Grand Rapids Christian.
Players to watch: Lexie Bowers, 5-7 jr. G (17 ppg, 71 3-pointers, 3.8 apg, 3.3 spg); Madelyn Geers, 5-9 soph. G (14.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.0 bpg); Taryn Preston (7.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg).
Outlook: The Eagles will return this weekend with four of the six players who saw minutes in that championship game, with 5-11 senior forward Emmalyn Geers (4.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg) joining Preston and Madelyn Geers as returning starters. Holcomb is a former Kent City standout as well and served five seasons as junior varsity coach before taking over the program this season. Preston and Emmalyn Geers are the only seniors.
MADISON HEIGHTS BISHOP FOLEY
Record/rank: 20-3, No. 7
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Intersectional #1
Coach: Ray Joseph, third season (50-15)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 55-48 over No. 14 Reese in Quarterfinal, 51-46 over Division 2 No. 18 Wixom St. Catherine, 60-23 over Clawson, 52-50 over Detroit Country Day.
Players to watch: Melanie Moore, 6-0 sr. C (17.1 ppg, 9.4 rpg); Alyssa Samartino, 5-7 jr. G (6.0 ppg, 3.0 apg); Ryan Moorer, 5-7 soph. G/F (10.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
Outlook: Bishop Foley has added its first Semifinal trip to its first Regional title won last week. The Ventures have won 16 games by double digits, with all three losses to teams with at least 15 wins including Division 3 overall top seed Arbor Prep by only five (66-61) in the regular-season finale. Moore and Samartino earned all-state honorable mentions last season, and Moore is the only senior starter and one of only two on the team.
MAPLE CITY GLEN LAKE
Record/rank: 25-0, No. 8
League finish: First in Northwest Conference
Coach: Jason Bradford, 14th season (254-69)
Championship history: Class D champion 1978, runner-up 1979.
Best wins: 50-29 over Lake City in Quarterfinal, 53-39 over No. 3 Calumet in Regional Final, 53-34 over No. 2 St. Ignace in Regional Semifinal, 57-47 (District Final) and 59-40 over Traverse City St. Francis, 48-41 over No. 10 Elk Rapids, 63-41 and 60-23 over Kingsley.
Players to watch: Grace Bradford, 5-11 sr. G (22.9 ppg, 40 3-pointers, 10.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 4.1 spg); Jessica Robbins, 5-8 sr. F (9.3 ppg, 4.3 spg, 1.4 bpg); Ruby Hogan, 5-7 jr. G (11.3 ppg, 3.2 spg).
Outlook: Glen Lake’s only loss over the last two seasons was last year’s to Calumet in a Quarterfinal, and the Lakers avenged it last week. This will be their third trip to the Semifinals over the last six seasons and first since 2018. The seven-point win over Elk Rapids on Dec. 7 was the only one by single digits this season. Grace Bradford made the all-state first team last season, and junior 6-foot center Maddie Bradford is another top contributor at 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.
YPSILANTI ARBOR PREP
Record/rank: 23-2, No. 1
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Scott Stine, fifth season (96-24)
Championship history: Class C champion 2016, two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 66-61 over No. 7 Madison Heights Bishop Foley, 65-38 over No. 4 Grass Lake, 66-38 over No. 16 Jonesville, 67-41 over Division 1 No. 16 Wayne Memorial, 63-48 over Division 1 No. 19 South Lyon East, 54-51 over Division 2 No. 2 Redford Westfield Prep, 65-39 over Division 2 No. 7 Lansing Catholic, 75-45 over Division 2 No. 5 Frankenmuth, 89-57 over Division 2 No. 12 Imlay City, 57-47 over Division 2 No. 16 Lake Fenton.
Players to watch: Mya Petticord, 5-9 sr. G (22.9 ppg, 43 3-pointers, 5.0 apg, 4.3 spg); Karianna Woods, 5-8 sr. G (12.1 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.6 spg); Stacy Utomi, 5-11 soph. F (11.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg).
Outlook: Arbor Prep will play its first Semifinal since 2019, when a freshman Petticord was the high scorer and Woods played 12 minutes in an overtime loss to eventual champion Pewamo-Westphalia. Three seasons later, Petticord was a Miss Basketball Award finalist and will continue her career at Texas A&M, and Woods will continue at Bethune-Cookman. The Gators have played one of the state’s strongest schedules in any division with their only losses to Division 1 No. 11 Parma Western and Division 2 No. 1 Detroit Edison. Sophomore Stephanie Utomi adds another 9.5 points and nearly a block per game.
PHOTO Kent City’s Lexie Bowers (23) and her teammates defend during Tuesday’s Quarterfinal win over Schoolcraft. (Photo courtesy of the Kent City athletic department.)
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.)