By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – On paper, at least, there were a few semi-viable reasons to not forecast Goodrich returning to Saturday’s Class B championship game at the Breslin Center.
Most of them centered on multiple injured starters, including Penn State recruit Aketra Sevillian, who never got on the floor. And after a perfect 2011-12 season, the Martians lost three games this winter – fantastic for most teams, but just a cut below what Goodrich had accomplished before.
But senior Taylor Gleason never bought any of it. She knew all along how this month would play out.
She and her teammates took another giant step in that plan Friday, downing No. 7 Grand Rapids South Christian 57-43 to advance to the title game for the second straight season – and this time set up an all-Flint Final against Powers Catholic.
“I didn’t once doubt it, even though we had three starters go down,” Gleason said. “I knew we could do this for them, we could do this for our community, We could do this, no doubt.”
“I wasn’t as sure as Taylor,” Goodrich coach Jason Gray added, Gleason and sophomore guard Tania Davis at his sides. “But these two really make it easy. They make so much happen for us. They make it so easy for their teammates. They stepped up to completely another level this year.”
The No. 3 Martians will face Powers at 6 p.m. in the day’s final championship game. The two met in District play a year ago, but found themselves on opposite sides of the bracket when lines were drawn for this season.
Goodrich’s 2012 championship further affirmed the program as one of the state’s current elite. But Powers has won four titles and long ruled Flint basketball. Late Friday night, the social media buzz already was beginning to heat up.
As they have throughout this season, Gleason and Davis led the way in their Semifinal as the Martians never trailed after the game’s first five minutes. Davis finished with 23 points and five steals, despite a hard fall that resulted in a bruised knee and a few jammed fingers. And Gleason – the Miss Basketball runner-up this week and an Illinois recruit – had 21 points, six rebounds, five assists and six steals.
The pair has played together since Gleason was in eighth grade and Davis in sixth, and their deep-rooted on-court chemistry has paid off all the more this season – as has been necessary.
“My mindset coming in (to the season) was to feed off Taylor and Kiki (Sevillian’s) energy. When Kiki went down, my whole mindset went from supporting them to stepping up and creating for myself and making my team feed off my energy,” Davis said. “I’ve really stepped into my leadership role. ... Me and Taylor both, we’re just doing an awesome job. And both of our mindsets have changed from just scoring to we have to score for us to win.”
Senior forward Anna Timmer led South Christian with eight points, nine rebounds and four assists, and the Sailors as a team outrebounded Goodrich 35-26.
But other numbers being equal or close (both had 19 field goals and South Christian just five more turnovers), Goodrich took a definite edge on free-throw shooting making 15 of 23 compared to South Christian's 2 of 5.
“We knew who their players were. They’re gamers. We tried to stop (Gleason). We tried to make things happen. We just kinda came out slow,” South Christian coach Jim DuBruyn said. “Maybe we had nervous jitters out there. They got a little lead, pulled to 5-4, and before I knew it, it was 8-4 and then it was 11-4. We had too many lulls in there. Defensively, we’ve held most teams to 33 points, but they were just a step quicker at times.”
South Christian finished 24-2, increasing its win total for the third straight season and also winning its Regional for the first time since 2004.
Ties between Saturday’s championship game opponents came to light quickly after Friday’s last game was done. Gleason’s aunt Aimee Pearson was a standout at Powers from 1995-98 and is tied for 14th-most career rebounds, with 1,009, in the MHSAA record book.
Although they don’t know each other well, Gray and Powers coach Thom Staudacher live in the same neighborhood. And Saturday surely will feel like a neighborhood clash between friendly rivals from one of the state’s traditional basketball power bases.
“We’re the two elite programs in our county, and we look to them as … they’ve won a few more state titles than we have,” Gray said. “They’re still the big dogs in the long run."
“We have a nice healthy rivalry. We’ve got rabid fans on both sides. This has the opportunity to be a real special environment (Saturday) night.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Goodrich's Tania Davis prepares to shoot a free throw during Friday's Semifinal win over Grand Rapids South Christian. (Middle) Goodrich's Katrina Ellis works against South Christian's Kayla Diemer (right) for rebounding position. (Photos by 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.)