Davis Adding to Pittsford Winning Ways

December 13, 2019

By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half

PITTSFORD – Aaron Davis doesn’t have to worry about rebuilding Pittsford girls basketball.

While Davis is putting his own stamp on the program that has won two MHSAA Finals championships over the past five seasons, he knows the pieces already were in place when he was named the varsity head coach in June.

“There is a lot of ground work already in place at Pittsford,” said Davis. “It all starts with the youth level, and that’s already there. That is a blessing.”

Davis is in his first season at Pittsford and has the Wildcats off to a 3-0 start. He took over for Chris Hodos, who helped make Pittsford a household name in Class D girls basketball circles over the past decade.

“There are things that I do differently, but Chris and I shared a lot of the same philosophies about basketball,” said Davis, a 2007 graduate of North Adams-Jerome. “There are some things that we do that are from Chris. We still run some of the same presses.”

Davis was a three-sport athlete at North Adams-Jerome, playing basketball, football and baseball. He was a four-year varsity baseball player and spent a year on the Adrian College diamond, but an injury that dated back to his high school days cut his college career short.

“I tried it for a year, but it got to be too much stress on my body and arm,” he said.

Davis said that while growing up, his dad coached him in multiple sports. Davis also learned a lot from his high school coaches while playing at North Adams.

“My wife and I had always talked about me getting into coaching someday,” he said.

Davis got his start in coaching at his alma mater. He coached the junior varsity boys basketball team and had coached baseball with Hodos. In fact, when Hodos contacted him about coaching at Pittsford, Davis thought he was talking about baseball.

“After a few minutes, I was like, ‘Oh, you are talking about basketball,’” Davis said. “Chris was a great mentor. He helped me become a better coach.”

Davis spent three seasons as the Wildcats JV girls basketball coach. Hodos, he said, let him run the JV team as he wanted. That valuable experience has paid off in multiple ways early this winter.

Pittsford’s 3-0 start includes wins over Hudson (41-25), Tekonsha (50-12) and Waldron (68-15). Thus far, the Wildcats are giving up just 17.3 points a game. That’s by design.

“We’re real athletic, and we play good defense,” Davis said. “I have a lot of great defenders. Everything starts with our defense.”

Davis said the team presses, often full-court, and likes to create havoc for the other team as it works to just get the ball over the timeline.

“We are built to run, pressure and play fast,” he said. “We do a lot of trapping and try and force the other team into making bad passes. We like to try and create our offense with our defense.”

The Wildcats have 11 players: five seniors, four juniors and two sophomores. Jordyn Cole has been the team’s top scorer through three games. Another senior, Sara Cole, is right behind her. The other seniors are MaKayla McDaniel, Sam Leggett and Brooke Campbell.

“Jordyn and Sara, I’d say, take the majority of our shots,” Davis said, “but we really don’t have just one girl who can score for us. We don’t have that one player we rely on. We have girls up and down the line who are comfortable shooting. We like to spread it out.”

One thing that has helped in his transition is that every girl on the varsity roster played for Davis for at least a season. They all are familiar with him and his systems. He also brought on Greg Mallar to coach the Pittsford JV team. Mallar is also familiar to the girls because he has been coaching in the Wildcats youth program.

“He’s actually helped develop a lot of the girls,” Davis said.

Pittsford became a state power under Hodos. In his seven seasons as the head coach, the Wildcats went 156-14, including five consecutive 20-0 regular seasons and the Class D titles in 2016 and 2017. They fell just shy of Michigan’s record of 78 consecutive wins during that time frame.

Pittsford athletic director Mike Burger said the program is in good hands.

"I think that the way that he approaches coaching girls basketball fits quite nicely with the overall small-school athletics philosophy we have here at Pittsford,” Burger said.

The Wildcats play in the Southern Central Athletic Association with North Adams-Jerome, Jackson Christian, Hillsdale Academy and Camden-Frontier. Camden-Frontier and Hillsdale Academy both return several players from quality teams and also will play in the same District as Pittsford.

“It’s still early,” Davis said. “We’ve struggled at times offensively, but I’m not worried about that at this point. If we play up to our potential, we can make a run. But, like I said, it’s early. We’ll see what happens.”

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 DougDonnelly@hotmail.com with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) First-year Pittsford varsity girls basketball coach Aaron Davis talks things over with his team during a practice this season. (Middle) Davis and his team are off to a 3-0 start. (Top photo courtesy of James Gensterblum; middle photo provided by Pittsford girls basketball program.)

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.)