Hudsonville Earns Historic Win with Signature Skill

By Jason Schmitt
Special for

April 7, 2021

EAST LANSING – Hudsonville head coach Casey Glass is beyond the point where he’ll mince words — particularly when it comes to his team’s defensive play.

He knows how good his Eagles are.

“It’s not a secret anymore, but I think we’re one of the best defensive teams in the state of Michigan,” Glass said. “We’ve got kids that come out every day ready to play and D it up.”

That was the case for Glass and his team during their Division 1 Semifinal game against Midland Dow Wednesday at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Hudsonville put on a defensive clinic, holding the Chargers scoreless for the first 6½ minutes of the fourth quarter and limiting them to just 14 second-half points during a 49-35 victory which catapulted the Eagles into the championship game, where they’ll face Detroit Renaissance.

“You get Alaina (Diaz) and Eva Joldersma on their two best players, and we really just tried to use a little bit of extra height and athleticism to shut down their two best players and I thought we did a really good job of that,” Glass said.

Dow’s top two scorers, Alexa Kolnitys and Jada Garner, came into the game averaging a combined 30.6 points per contest. But they were limited to just 14 against the Eagles.

“I feel like most of our game is (about) defense, and every day at practice we push ourselves to play defense,” said Diaz, who finished with eight points, seven rebounds and a pair of steals. “We play against each other and push each other to play harder.”

Hudsonville led by seven after one quarter and upped its lead to 17-8 moments into the second. But Dow went on a 10-0 run, fueled by a pair of 3-pointers by juniors Kennedy Caldwell and Abby Rey, a putback by Kolnitys and a pair of free throws by Rey, to take an 18-17 lead with 4:32 left in the first half.

Hudsonville/Midland Dow Division 1 Semifinal 2“We make our run in the second quarter, when we hit a few 3s and you get on a roll and take a lead. Then in the second half, we go 0-for-9 from beyond the 3-point line,” Dow coach Kyle Theisen said. “All year long, we’ve said that when we’re making shots, we can beat anybody, and when we’re missing shots, anybody can beat us. That’s what the second half was. We were missing shots. We got good looks at 3s and they didn’t go down for us.”

For the game, Dow shot just 12 for 46 from the field, including 4 for 15 from 3-point range.

“We don’t usually shoot that poorly,” Theisen continued. “We got the shots we wanted, but sometimes they just don’t go down. I absolutely loved the effort of our girls. I loved the all-out hustle on every play and never giving up.

“Diaz did a good job. We tried to get some switches on ball screens and she did a really good job of getting over the top or underneath on those ball screens. We were trying to attack some of their bigs with our guards, and she made it difficult. She’s a really good defender on the ball.

“When you have that much height protecting the rim on the help side, there were no easy points to be had.”

Rey led Dow with 13 points, including a pair of 3-pointers. Kolnitys had 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Chargers, who finished their season 22-1.

“Got to give (Midland Dow) credit, they’re well coached,” Glass said. “Those girls gave everything they had. Fortunately for us tonight, we had a little bit more in the tank.”

Hudsonville sophomore Maddie Petroelje led her team with 15 points. Junior Jaci Tubergen had seven points and a team-best 11 rebounds, while senior Emmalynn Costen added six points and 10 rebounds. The Eagles (22-1) will now take on Renaissance (13-4) in Friday’s Division 1 championship game, a first-time appearance in the finale for Hudsonville. The Phoenix defeated Wayne Memorial, 75-72, in Wednesday’s first Semifinal.

“Renaissance is a team that puts a lot of pressure on you,” Glass said. “We’re fortunate to have kids on our team that can handle that pressure. We’ll get back to Hudsonville, watch some film and get back to the drawing board and come up with a game plan for Friday.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hudsonville's Alaina Diaz (23) makes her move as Dow's Jada Garner defends Wednesday at Breslin Center. (Middle) Diaz works to grab a loose ball while surrounded by Chargers.(Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

Few in Number, Tecumseh Pursuing Sizable Success with Zajacs Setting Pace

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

December 5, 2023

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. 

Southeast & BorderNow, 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.” 

Kristy Zajac coaches her team, which finished 20-5 in 2022-23. 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 DonnellyDoug 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.)