EAST LANSING – Breanna Perry was tired of looking at a lonely state championship banner in the Flushing gymnasium – especially one twice her age.
So the Flushing senior and her teammates went out and got another one.
The Raiders defeated East Kentwood 49-38 Saturday in the MHSAA Class A girls basketball championship game at the Breslin Center. It was the school’s first MHSAA Finals title in the sport, and first in any since winning a girls golf title in 1977.
“We had one banner, and it was how many years ago?” said Perry, who had 12 points and 13 rebounds in the win. “It’s nice to have another banner, and it’s nice that it’s recent. I’m going to have to come back like every day just to look at it.”
Flushing (24-3) was making its first appearance in a girls basketball championship game, and had just one run to the Semifinals (1976) in program history. It entered the postseason not only outside The Associated Press’ top 10 rankings in Class A, but also wasn’t listed in the “others receiving votes” category.
On the way to the title, the Raiders knocked off No. 4 Midland Dow – which had defeated them earlier in the season – and reigning Class A champion Warren Cousino.
“This whole tournament has been an out-of-body experience for me, and I think for all the other girls,” Flushing senior Carson Wilson said. “We’re just still trying to comprehend it all. It’s a lot to take in.”
While Flushing was a veteran team – with four seniors in the starting lineup – it was short on postseason experience, as the program had not made it out of the Regional since 2009. That didn’t seem to bother the Raiders on the biggest stage.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world right now, to be able to be part of what these guys have accomplished at Flushing,” Raiders coach Larry Ford said. “What they did today and throughout the whole tournament, I think was nothing short of special – almost, probably, divine in some respects. They’re a team that stays true to themselves, and they showed that today. Everything for these guys starts on the defensive end, and they let the offense take care of itself.”
Lauren Newman led Flushing with 19 points, 13 of which came in the second half. Shelby Morrow added 10 points and six rebounds, while Kamryn Chappell had five assists. Perry added four steals and three blocks.
Corinne Jemison led East Kentwood (26-2) with 12 points, while Mauriya Barnes had seven. East Kentwood shot 28.1 percent from the field, and was held to six second-chance points despite grabbing 18 offensive rebounds.
“We shot very poorly from the free throw line (36.4 percent) and we shot very poorly from the floor,” East Kentwood coach Jimmy Carter said. “You’re not going to win a game like that against a good team with that type of shooting.”
Flushing held a 19-17 lead at the half after getting points from six players, led by six points from Newman.
Aggressiveness on defense and the offensive glass kept the Falcons close in the half, as they shot just 21.4 percent from the field, compared to 47.1 percent for Flushing. East Kentwood grabbed 11 offensive rebounds in the first half, and forced 14 Flushing turnovers. East Kentwood had an 11-5 advantage in points off turnovers at the half.
But in the third quarter, Flushing cleaned things up, both on the offensive glass and in the turnover department, to start to pull away from the Falcons. Perry had seven rebounds in the quarter to spark the effort.
“I think we were a little bit more focused, and effort was part of it,” Ford said. “That first half was pretty physical, so we talked about what we had to do at the half – bear down and get a little more physical without fouling. We knew we had to take care of the turnover situation, and I think we cut down our turnover situation.”
The Raiders led by as many as 15 points in the fourth quarter, and as the clock ticked down, the student section sang “We Are the Champions,” and Ford was able to give his seniors a curtain call.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me that we are state champions,” Newman said. “It kind of just feels like another game in our season. But to achieve that goal and finally get a banner to put up, it’s an unreal feeling and it’s a great accomplishment for our team.”
While East Kentwood didn’t get to finish the season with the same feeling, the Falcons were able to lift their program to a place most didn’t expect it to be four years after winning just one game.
“I’m really proud of our team,” East Kentwood senior Andraya Johnson said. “We went from being an unranked team to being second in the state. That’s a pretty big deal even though we didn’t win.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Flushing’s Breanna Perry pushes the ball upcourt during Saturday’s Class A Final. (Middle) East Kentwood’s Andraya Johnson (21) gets a shot past the outstretched hand of Flushing’s Lauren Newman.
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.)