Marshall Leaves No Room for Regrets

March 19, 2016

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING — Sal Konkle couldn't hold back the tears as she watched her Marshall basketball players celebrate the fulfillment of a dream that appeared to vanish 35 years ago.

Konkle was a star senior on the only other Marshall team to play for an MHSAA championship, but she was on the losing end of a 64-52 decision to Okemos in the 1981 Class B title game. 

In almost every case, that's where the dream ends. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes and goes. High school athletes move on with the rest of their lives, but can have lingering regrets about the championship that got away.

The first step toward redemption for Konkle occurred back in 1999 when she became Marshall's head coach and won her first 23 games. But 11 District championship teams in her first 15 seasons couldn't take it all the way. 

Her 16th season proved to be the sweetest, as Marshall beat Grand Rapids South Christian, 51-42, in the Class B championship game Saturday night at the Breslin Center.

"I got numerous texts from former teammates saying we can do it," Konkle said. "One is in the stands. She called me this morning. She said to me, 'Hey, I know you're busy, and I'll be there, but not a lot of people get do-overs in life, and you got a do-over. So, can you just make this happen?' I got a text from coach (Tom) Duffey, who was my coach at the time. He said, 'Second time's a charm; you've got this.'" 

Making the championship even more special for Konkle is she was able to achieve it with her 14 daughters — her actual flesh and blood, junior guard Jill Konkle, and 13 other girls she regards as adopted children.

"They're kind of all my girls," coach Konkle said. "When you grow up in a small town, these kids are over at your house. Jill hangs out with them. They go to proms. They do everything together. That's what makes it so special for us. These kids are close. This is something they're going to remember the rest of their lives. I remember doing it with my best friends. It's just very, very special." 

Jill Konkle said her mother doesn't bring up tales of her glory days or the opportunity that got away in 1981 often, but the topic came to the forefront more in recent weeks as the current group of Marshall players chased that elusive championship. This year's team and the 1981 squad are the only ones from Marshall to get past the MHSAA Quarterfinals.

"Only because we got this far did we talk about it more," said Jill Konkle, who scored a team-high 13 points against South Christian. "Other than that, not as much. She did bring it up with the team a bit. We talked about it the last couple of weeks quite a bit. I was always telling her, 'I'm gonna get it. I'm gonna beat you,' and I did." 

Marshall won the Class B title with a group of girls who have played together since their early elementary school years. It was back in those formative years that they became acquainted with the woman who would coach them to a championship as teenagers.

"We all have this respect for her," said Emily Delmotte, the only senior on the team. "I've had it since I was little, watching her teams since I can remember. She's always been a presence. It's not like the kind of coach that as soon as you get into high school is the first time you meet her. In basketball, the first time I met her was in first or second grade. She makes herself present. She's a part of the program, no matter what age you are." 

Coach Konkle's pregame message to her team hinted at the lingering pain of that 1981 loss.

"I told them, 'You can do anything for 32 minutes,'" she said. "'If you do this for 32 minutes, you're going to be state champions. If you don't do it for 32 minutes, you're going to regret that for the rest of your life.' Every timeout, every quarter, I'm telling them, 'Eight more minutes, eight more minutes, you've got this. Or 3:20, you've got this.' They're a resilient group. They're a hard-working group — and they got this." 

With the largest cheering section of the weekend in their corner, the Redhawks took the lead with 2:01 left in the first quarter and never relinquished it. Marshall built a 12-point lead late in the first half before taking a 25-15 advantage into the break.

When Nicole Tucker scored on the fast break with 4:24 left in the third quarter, Marshall had its biggest lead of the night at 33-19. 

South Christian, which had three seniors who played on the 2014 MHSAA runner-up team, battled back. A basket by Mariel Bruxvoort with 6:44 left in the game cut Marshall's lead to 37-32.

The Redhawks responded with a 5-0 run, all from the free throw line, to go up 42-32. What could have been a key moment for the Sailors came when Markayla Vander made a free throw and missed the second one, only to have Bruxvoort score off an offensive rebound and get fouled. When Bruxvoort made the free throw, South Christian had four points in a one-second span to get within 42-36 with 3:38 left. 

The Sailors didn't get a chance to build on that momentum, as Taryn Long made a 3-point play with 3:10 left to put Marshall up 45-36. South Christian couldn't put together consecutive scores the rest of the game.

"It took us a little while to get into an offensive flow," South Christian coach Kim Legge said. "Actually, I'm not really sure we did get into an offensive flow. Marshall did a good job with their defense on us. Obviously, they had scouted well. We've been behind before and usually can make runs, but they did an excellent job of stopping that. The momentum never did swing to our favor." 

Taryn Long finished with 10 points and Carlee Long had five assists for Marshall (26-1), which won its final 26 games after a season-opening 40-33 loss to Williamston.

Vander had 16 points and Jennifer DeBoer 13 for the Sailors (25-3), who had only four players score. Vander, DeBoer and Sydney DeYoung were the only holdovers from the 2014 South Christian team that went into the Class B title game with a 26-0 record before losing to Eaton Rapids. 

"It's definitely been a fun four years," DeBoer said. "I've enjoyed every second of the experience. I think the thing I'm going to miss the most are my teammates and all the memories we made. I'll never get these experiences back, so I'm just really thankful for them." 

Click for the full box score.

The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: (Top) Marshall players storm the floor while coach Sal Konkle, far left, covers her face for a moment after her team had clinched the Class B title. (Middle) Jill Konkle works to hold onto the ball with South Christian’s Jennifer DeBoer (4) trying to gain possession.

Howardsville Christian Striving to Transfer Fall Successes to Basketball Court

By Scott Hassinger
Special for

November 28, 2023

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.

Southwest CorridorIt 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."

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. 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.

The boys soccer and girls volleyball teams earned District titles during the fall. (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 HassingerScott 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.)