EAST LANSING – Detroit Edison girls basketball is back on top.
After having their past two seasons ended without a postseason loss, the Pioneers took back their throne Saturday night with a 73-55 Division 2 Final win against Grand Rapids West Catholic at the Breslin Center.
“Winning a state championship, it means everything to me,” Edison senior Ruby Whitehorn said. “Not getting it the last couple years really has been our motivation to get it this year. All our previous teammates, that’s why it’s so important to me, because they didn’t get the chance to do it.”
The title was the fourth for the Edison program, which won three straight from 2017-19 – the first two coming in Class C and the third in Division 2.
The tournament was canceled midway through in 2020 because of COVID-19, and Edison was forced to pull out of the 2021 tournament, also because of COVID-19. Both of those seasons, Edison was at least among the title favorites.
When given the opportunity to finish it on the court again, the Pioneers took full advantage.
Whitehorn, this season’s Miss Basketball Award winner and a Clemson signee, led the way, scoring 28 points and grabbing nine rebounds. DePaul signee Madisen Wardell added 17 points and 10 rebounds.
The only two seniors on the Edison roster came up biggest at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, when the Pioneers turned a tight game into a comfortable victory.
“I would say it was our defense and talking on defense that always brings us back in the game,” Wardell said. “We weren’t down by much, but I know if we talk on defense, it’ll bring us back.”
The defense was led by Dakota Alston, who switched onto West Catholic star Abbey Kimball in the second half. Kimball, a Michigan State signee, scored 26 points in the game, but just seven during the second half, thanks in large part to the move to switch the bigger Alston onto her.
“I just made sure I didn’t let her have the ball,” said Alston, who added 10 points. “Coach (Monique) Brown said the best way to stop a good scorer is to make sure she doesn’t get the ball.”
Kimball noticed the change, and gave credit to Edison (19-3) for making things more difficult for her over the final 16 minutes.
“The first half, obviously I hit shots, got open and my teammates found me,” Kimball said. “In the second half they started to do more face guarding throughout the whole court. That was different. Kudos to them, they had really great defense and it’s tough to score on them regardless.”
The game was back and forth into the third quarter, and West Catholic (25-2) had a 36-35 lead about midway through it.
But with Whitehorn picking up her third foul and getting a quick breather, the Pioneers not only held on, but grabbed a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, thanks to some free throws and a putback by Wardell.
“That was a competitive game,” West Catholic coach Jill VanderEnde said. “I thought we did a really nice job with our gameplan, really attacking Detroit Edison, and showing them that we wanted to come and we wanted to show them our best game. I thought we started out the game very physical and aggressive. Throughout the game we had that effort and tried to stay positive, which was really (a proud moment) for me.”
When Whitehorn came back, she took over, with several tough drives to the basket, eventually putting her team up 11 points in the fourth.
“We tried to contain her in a couple different ways with a couple different strategic defenses,” VanderEnde said. “And she’s just so athletic, she just maneuvered all around what we were trying to do strategically.”
Whitehorn is the fourth straight Miss Basketball to come from Edison, following Damiya Hageman, Gabrielle Elliott and Rickea Jackson. What she displayed Saturday was what Edison coach Monique Brown called a combination of all her predecessors, as she also added four assists and three steals to the stat sheet.
“I think Ruby, the last four years, she was able to, first of all, learn from each and every one of those players,” Brown said. “She has something that each one of those players were good at – she has a piece of all of those. She can pass the ball, she can score the ball, she plays good defense, she’s a good slasher. Gabrielle was a good slasher, Rickea Jackson could score, Damiya Hageman can pass the ball. She’s blended all of those three young ladies, and she can do a lot of different things on the court to help us be who we are.”
Devin Hageman had eight points and eight assists for Edison. Cadence Dykstra had nine points for West Catholic, and Emma Tuttle grabbed nine rebounds.
PHOTOS (Top) Detroit Edison celebrates Saturday’s final championship after clinching in Division 2. (Middle) Edison’s Ruby Whitehorn beats a pair of defenders to the basket for a layup. (Below) Dakota Alston (4) launches a pass over West Catholic’s Abbey Kimball. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.)