By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
RAVENNA – As Zara Weber explains it, part of growing up in Kent City is learning how to properly shoot the basketball.
“They start us young at camps, working on our form and things like that,” said Weber, one of two senior starters for Kent City (18-4), which rolled over Holton 55-13 on Wednesday and into Friday’s Division 3 District Final against Muskegon Western Michigan Christian at Ravenna.
“They get us started, and then it’s up to all of us to put in the time. We spend a lot of time in the gym. A few of us made it our goal to shoot 10,000 3-pointers over the summer.”
So, for Weber, the 3-pointer that she made late in the first quarter on Wednesday was just another shot – but it was also the shot that tied the team state record for most 3-pointers made in a season.
It was fitting that the record-breaking trey, which came less than a minute later, was made by a reserve, senior Janelle Krueger – because all of these Eagles can shoot.
“Almost every girl on the team can shoot it,” said 10th-year Kent City coach Scott Carlson, who knows something about scoring as the all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,263 career points. “I don’t think the record really mattered. We knew we were getting close. I just have a great shooting team.”
Kent City, which was ranked No. 8 in the final Associated Press Division 3 poll, finished with eight 3-pointers on Wednesday, pushing its season total to 244 – and breaking the old record of 237 triples by Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central set in 2005.
The boys state record is 356 by Whitmore Lake in 2009-2010.
Carlson did not make a big deal about the state record. The game was not stopped after Krueger’s record-setting shot, and no announcement was made; in fact, most of the Eagles did not know until after the game.
Earlier this year, Kent City broke the state record for 3-pointers in a single game, making 25 in a home win over Holton. Kent City had the previous record of 23 in a single game, set during the 2012-2013 season, when current assistant coaches Kendal Carlson and Aleah Holcomb were on the roster.
How do they do it?
The Eagles’ motion offense normally features four players spotted up at different points along the 3-point arc, with players taking turns driving and kicking it back out to one of those players, who are always ready to shoot. KC shoots 32 percent from 3-point range and averages 11 treys per game.
The “big three” for KC all season long has been Weber and sophomore standouts Jenna Harrison and Kenzie Bowers – who have all made more than 50 3-pointers this season. The other starters for the Eagles are sophomore Audrey Dreyer and senior Lauren Freeland, an all-state track and cross country standout who will run at Michigan State next year.
“Shooters got to shoot,” explained Harrison, who led all scorers on Wednesday with 13 points, including two 3-pointers. “We know that we have to shoot if we are open; that’s the way our offense works. If the defense comes out on us, then we have to drive.”
The Eagles know their games will keep getting tougher, starting with Friday’s District championship game against Western Michigan Christian. If the Eagles prevail, it could set up a blockbuster Regional Semifinal matchup at home Monday against top-ranked Pewamo-Westphalia.
“That’s the game everyone in town is talking about, but we’re just taking them one at a time,” Harrison said.
The Eagles’ outstanding season has been a pleasant diversion for Carlson, who has experienced more family tragedies resulting from car crashes than any one man should ever have to endure.
In 1989, his younger brother Todd was paralyzed in a car accident. One year later, his younger sister Shannon was paralyzed and suffered a closed head injury in a car accident. In 2009, his mother, Jane, died in another car accident (Todd lost his right leg in the same accident).
Then last August, Todd – who served as an assistant coach for the Eagles and helped run Kent City’s youth basketball program for 15 years – died in yet another crash at the age of 49.
“It’s been tough because he was such a big part of this team,” said Carlson. “I’ve learned you just have to keep going forward. Basketball is something we have always had to focus on and work on.”
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 [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Kent City’s Jenna Harrison lines up to shoot a 3-pointer against Cedar Springs during a Feb. 19 win. (Middle) Mikayla Loew (21) looks for an opening around the perimeter. (Photos courtesy of the Kent City athletic department/Sue Harrison.)
HOWARDSVILLE - There is a sign that hangs inside Howardsville Christian School's tiny gymnasium that accurately depicts the mission for the Eagles during the 2023-24 boys basketball season.
It reads "In Jesus' name we play."
Ken Sparks and the eight players on his varsity basketball roster have challenged themselves to help one another understand what it means to give their season to God.
"My goal is to help these boys find gratitude in playing for a greater power than themselves," said Sparks, a varsity standout himself at Howardsville from 1996-2000, member of the 1,000-point club and an honorable mention all-stater his senior year.
Nestled on the border between St. Joseph and Cass counties along Bent Road, Howardsville Christian, a Division 4 school for its sports with fewer than 80 students, has enjoyed a rich tradition of spiritual learning both in the classroom and on the court and playing fields.
The contribution of many talented athletes from several families has been instrumental in Howardsville's athletic success for years, especially this school year.
Howardsville won District titles this fall in boys soccer and girls volleyball. Now the Eagles hope to carry that momentum over to the basketball court.
With four starters returning, Sparks is looking for Howardsville’s boys team to battle for supremacy in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph League and improve on a 13-10 record from last season. The Eagles finished 7-7 in the league last winter and endured a disappointing District Semifinal loss to Marcellus. Howardsville Christian had won its District the season in 2021.
"We competed well with all the teams on our schedule and lost to some teams we shouldn't have," Sparks said. "There are eight teams in our conference, and this season we need to beat Benton Harbor Countryside to be the top team. It's been a good league for us."
Senior twin brothers Colin and Dylan Muldoon return for Howardsville, along with junior cousin Kaden Sparks, son of the head coach, and junior John Paul Rose.
The Muldoon brothers both are beginning their third year as varsity starters.
"Working together as a team is something we really want to do well. A lot of teams set a goal of winning Districts. The last two years we've fallen short of that goal. It's definitely something we want to achieve this year," Colin Muldoon said.
Dylan Muldoon echoed that sentiment.
"Our success in soccer makes us want to attain the same goals in basketball. We know we are capable of reaching those, so I think it makes us want to pull things together," Dylan Muldoon said. "There's a lot of long-distance running in soccer, but there's also a lot of quickness and turning in basketball, especially when you're guarding or driving around someone. You just have to be quick."
Kaden Sparks, another three-year starter, will be Howardsville's best shooting guard.
"Winning Districts is achievable. We have to learn to work together. I played summer ball, and the biggest takeaway is that it taught me that I have to always give 100-percent effort out there. We had a great soccer season, and It’s taught us a lot about accountability," Kaden Sparks said.
Rose will be Howardsville Christian's starting point guard. He has been a starter since his freshman year, along with Kaden Sparks.
"The team chemistry and communication we had in soccer easily transfers over to basketball. As our point guard, it's important for me to try to get the ball to other guys who have open looks," Rose said. "I want to be more aggressive defensively, push the ball up the floor more and increase my scoring."
In addition, Ken Sparks believes the physicality a majority of his team learned from soccer will be a big benefit on the basketball floor.
"You build up your physicality from playing soccer with having to always body up. Watching them play sometimes hurts me, but that's what I want them to do in basketball. It helps them to want to draw contact and be physical on the floor," Ken Sparks said.
The lack of upperclassmen on Howardsville's varsity the last couple of years gave Rose and Kaden Sparks an immediate opportunity to play as freshmen.
"The fact John Paul and Kaden had that early chance at the varsity level is really paying off now,” Ken Sparks added. “Kaden is an excellent shooter. I want him to get the confidence that I had when I was in high school. He tends to be a little more passive on the floor than I like, but he's finally getting that aggressive nature that you need offensively.”
Kaden, Colin Muldoon and Rose all averaged double-digit scoring last season, while Dylan Muldoon is the Eagles' best defensive player. The Muldoon brothers will serve as Howardsville's team captains.
"Kaden is very self-motivated to become a better basketball player. His goal is to be the best player that he can be," Ken Sparks said. "John Paul is explosive and has really refined his jump shot to where he can be a scoring threat. He sees the floor very well and can really push the ball up the floor without turning it over. We're going to see big strides from him because of his determination and drive.
"Colin is a great overall player. He's a threat from the outside and can score inside with his height as well. If we're going to be successful, he and Dylan have to bring the same drive that John Paul and Kaden bring to the court.”
"I've coached all of the guys on our team for the last three seasons except one,” Sparks added. “We talk about being well-rounded. These guys are the best academically and spiritual leaders in our school."
Howardsville Christian’s most well-known alumni is Dylan Jergens, the third-leading scorer in state history with 2,782 career points.
During the fall soccer season, the Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose helped Howardsville win a second-straight District title. The Eagles then lost 5-0 in the Regional Semifinal to eventual Division 4 champion Muskegon Western Michigan Christian. Both Muldoons, Kaden Sparks and Rose were named to the first-team all-BCS and District soccer squads.
The Muldoons were the two main catalysts in the Eagles' soccer run, along with Lukas Krueger. Dylan Muldoon had 28 goals and nine assists, while Colin Muldoon posted 14 goals and eight assists. Krueger added 19 goals to go with 16 assists. Kaden Sparks had five goals and four assists, and Rose added three goals and three assists.
Steve Muldoon, Colin and Dylan's father and Howardsville's head boys soccer coach, sees many correlations between soccer and basketball that will bring the Eagles success in hoops this winter.
"Communication is key. A team that doesn't talk on the field/court isn't going to win. They learn how to correct and encourage one another to deal with problems without getting too negative," Steve Muldoon said. "Individually, they learn how to anticipate. There isn't much difference between anticipating a pass and stepping in front of it in soccer or basketball or making a hard run down the court/field to get open for a layup/counterattack. They learn how to react and make the correct decision under pressure. The skills needed to do it in soccer and basketball are different, but most of it is mental and that carries over."
Determination was another big factor for Howardsville's soccer success this fall.
"We beat Lansing Christian this fall in a weekend soccer tournament and they are a much bigger and physical team than us, but we managed to beat them," Colin Muldoon said. "That win gave us a lot of confidence for the remainder of the season that we could beat anyone."
The family dynamic doesn't stop with Howardsville's boys basketball team.
Senior Kyla Sparks, Ken's daughter and Kaden's older sister, is one of three cousins on the roster for a Howardsville girls team that finished 12-11 last year. All five starters are back for that Eagles team as well.
"As a team, we want to improve on last year's record. With all our starters back, we feel we have a good shot to finish at the top of both our conference and District. Most of our basketball team also played volleyball this fall, and we view us all as family," Kyla Sparks said. "Being able to play with my two cousins makes good lifelong memories."
Kyla Sparks, who averaged 12 points per game her junior year, starts with sophomore cousins Kelsie Muldoon and Kate Evans. Those three also started on the varsity volleyball team that captured its first District title since 1997.
Coincidently, the mothers of Kyla, Kelsie and Kate were all on the 1997 District champion volleyball team.
Scott Hassinger is a contributing sportswriter for Leader Publications and previously served as the sports editor for the Three Rivers Commercial-News from 1994-2022. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Colin Muldoon drives to the basket against his twin brother Dylan Muldoon during recent Howardsville Christian boys basketball practice. (Middle) Eagles varsity boys basketball coach Ken Sparks, far left, is pictured by the school's trophy case with his four returning starters Colin Muldoon, Dylan Muldoon, Kaden Sparks and John Paul Rose. (Below) The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (Top and middle photos by Scott Hassinger. District championship photos courtesy of Howardsville Christian School.)