By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – Pittsford’s girls basketball team returned to the Breslin Center on Thursday only a few players different than the team that fell in overtime of the Class D Final a year ago.
Three starters and six of eight players who saw the floor in last season’s championship game were among 10 who got time against the Lakers in a rematch of last season’s 57-26 Pittsford Semifinal win.
When a team hasn’t lost a regular-season game in three seasons, what goals are left? Only one, and now the Wildcats have the opportunity to achieve it.
“It’s just an amazing opportunity to play here at the Breslin Center, to play for a state title,” Pittsford junior guard Jaycie Burger said. “To already have been here to play for a state title, and to know what it feels like to lose; I don’t want that to happen again. I would definitely like to be able to win this time.”
Top-ranked Pittsford (26-0) will face No. 3 Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart at 10 a.m. Saturday. The Semifinal win brought the Wildcats to 74-2 over the last three seasons.
And they didn’t let Thursday’s game remain much of one past the midway point of the second quarter.
Junior center Maddie Clark nearly pulled a repeat of last season’s Semifinal performance. She made 9 of 10 shots from the field for 24 points and grabbed 16 rebounds – after tallying 26 and 15, respectively, against Our Lady a year ago.
The Lakers tried to find a way to draw a second defender to help on Clark, but Pittsford made enough shots from the perimeter to give their top post player room to do her work.
A 3-pointer by senior Laura Smith with 1:47 to play in the second quarter pushed Pittsford’s lead to 10 – and it never dropped back to single digits.
Wildcats coach Chris Hodos said the No. 6 Lakers were the best his team has seen this season.
But Pittsford was plenty prepared.
“Everybody always says ‘unfinished business,’ but this is a totally different team,” Hodos said. “But it’s been on our minds the whole year. We worked all summer, took all 15 of our dates, played everybody we could play. … We looked this year to get those games to be ready for this time right now.”
Burger added 15 points and three steals for Pittsford. Sophomore Tiffany Senerius had 20 points for the Lakers, and senior Alex Troy had seven and 10 rebounds.
The return to Breslin also added to a nice comeback for Our Lady (20-5). The Lakers made the Semifinals last season but still finished 12-13 after an even more uncharacteristic 8-13 in 2013-14.
This season’s run gave the Our Lady six 20-win seasons over the last eight and provided valuable experience for 10 players who should return next winter seeking the team’s fourth MHSAA title since 2010.
“It’s incredible, really, what’s happened in that last nine years,” Our Lady coach Steve Robak said. “This senior group wasn’t part of those first classes, obviously, but what’s happened at our school is they certainly saw what was going on. And when they got their chance, they were excited to put their mark on the school and get to Breslin and prove to people that first group of girls were not the only basketball players at the school.
“Last year (was) unexpected, but this year they came back very confidently because of that experience.”
The Girls Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.
PHOTOS: (Top) Pittsford’s Laura Smith works to get by Our Lady’s Alex Troy on Thursday. (Middle) Maddie Clark shoots surrounded by defenders during the Class D Semifinal.
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.)