Pittsford Arrives at Cusp of History Again

March 16, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Their record alone – 102-2 – is simply incredible to consider.

And by the end of Saturday morning, Pittsford seniors Jaycie Burger and Maddie Clark could finish their careers alone as the winningest girls basketball players in Michigan high school history.

The Wildcats’ all-state duo tied former St. Ignace standout Kelley Wright (102-5 from 2011-14) for first on the MHSAA's varsity wins list with their team’s 57-39 Class D Semifinal victory Thursday over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart.

And that set up one more history-making opportunity Saturday for a team that has put its small Hillsdale County town on the sports map. Top-ranked Pittsford will take on unranked Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary in the Class D Final riding a two-season, 54-game winning streak as it looks to finish with a second straight Finals title.

“It’s, honestly, kind of unbelievable,” Burger said. “We come from a small town. No one had every heard of it before the first time we came here. Pittsford … tiny. Like Maddie said last year, we just got a Family Dollar, and that’s like the biggest news ever. 

“So for us to be able to come here three years in a row and have the possibility to win a second state championship is just awe-inspiring. And I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to play this long with these girls and with my team, and I’m thankful to do something that’s this great.”

Pittsford will attempt that repeat finish at 10 a.m. Saturday. But getting the opportunity wasn’t as easy as showing up Thursday to what’s become a home court away from home. 

Wildcats coach Chris Hodos called Sacred Heart the toughest team his has faced this season, and with good reason. The Irish, without a senior, fell to only 25-2 with the loss after playing in their third Semifinal in four seasons. Sacred Heart was Class D champion in 2015 and fell to Pittsford in the championship game last winter, 48-30.

The Irish led into the second quarter this time and tied the score again with two minutes to play in the first half – before the Wildcats scored the final five points of the half to slowly start to pull away.

“Very simple. Our gameplan was to attack the press and attack the basket,” Sacred Heart coach Damon Brown said. “The energy of putting pressure on them was something we really wanted to do. I think last year we were a little hesitant. I think we were caught up in the moment last year, but this year we were more aggressive. I loved how we played this year.”

Pittsford stifled Sacred Heart with defense and rebounding, forcing 28 turnovers while giving the ball up only 13 times and outrebounding the Irish 37-29 – including 21-5 on the offensive boards.

Clark led with 19 points and eight rebounds, and Burger had 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Junior guard Marissa Shaw chipped in eight points and eight steals – her 171 steals this season rank seventh in MHSAA history.

“Her anticipation is just off the hook,” Hodos said. “You can’t say enough about her. She made big baskets for us tonight. She makes some great passes.”

Sophomore guard Scout Nelson led Sacred Heart with 16 points, and junior forward Sophia Ruggles added eight points and five rebounds. As noted, Sacred Heart didn’t have a senior – the Irish were paced by six juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen.

“The locker room was a little bit different this year. There was some sadness, but the motivation and the energy to get back at it again and get back here next year has already started,” Brown said. “And that’s what I like, a group of girls who are committed to being the best team they can be. This is just a small hurdle that we’ll overcome.”

“I think it’s a big motivation for us,” Ruggles added. “Like he said, we’re all hungry to get back in the gym and compete, and it just adds a little fire to (our) want to get better.”

Meanwhile, Pittsford's four seniors, including forward Katelyn Kafer and guard Katie Clement, can cement their Breslin legacy with one last win.

And they're prepared to face the hype that will go with that historic opportunity.

"As long as we keep the same mentality we’ve had all year, just to play our game and execute our gameplan, we should be OK,” Burger said. “As long as we don’t let the hype that surrounds the state championship interfere with our team chemistry and our gameplan, I think that definitely should be OK.

“But it’s definitely going to be surreal feeling. It’s going to be the last time I’m out there with my girls. And it’s going to be, definitely, a game to remember.” 

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Pittsford defenders tie up Sacred Heart’s Sophie Ruggles during Thursday’s Class D Semifinal. (Middle) The Wildcats’ Maddie Clark (10) works to get a shot up over Grace Reetz (2).

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

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)