Saints Survive to Earn Repeat Try

March 13, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – St. Ignace senior Kelley Wright set an MHSAA record by being part of her 102nd high school basketball victory Thursday at the Breslin Center.

This had to be one of the ugliest – but could end up one of the most meaningful as well.

Wright and the Saints earned an opportunity to play for a second-straight MHSAA championship and third in her four season with a 34-30 Semifinal win over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett.

St. Ignace improved to 24-2 this winter after finishing 27-0, 25-1 and 26-1, the last three seasons, respectively. Redford Bishop Borgess’ Aiysha Smith formerly held the record with 101 wins from 1994-97.

“All I know is I’ve lost four times. I never really thought about all the times I’ve won,” Wright said. “I play for a really good team, and I can’t take credit for that just because I moved up freshman year. All of us deserve it, and fortunately we’re all getting the benefits from it.”

Wright said after she expects to “feel sick and little nervous” before her team takes on Saginaw Nouvel in Saturday’s 4 p.m. Final.

Saints coach Dorene Ingalls joked about firing husband Doug as the team’s shooting coach after a performance that left both teams at least in some disbelief, if not feeling a little ill as well.

St. Ignace made a meager 19 percent of its shots from the floor. Liggett connected on 25 percent. Still, the Saints led by seven heading into the fourth quarter – but Liggett tied the score at 30-30 with 2:36 to play.

The Knights (20-4) had an opportunity to go ahead before St. Ignace senior Emily Hinsman gave the Saints back the lead with a put back with 1:37 to play. The teams then traded misses and turnovers as Hinsman stepped in to intercept a pass into the paint with 39 seconds. Junior guard Margo Brown made two free throws seconds later to push the lead to its final margin of four.

“It was frustrating at first. They’d just trap you as soon as you got the ball in your hands,” said Liggett junior Lauren Ristovski, who led the team with nine points. “They’d just jump out and trap you, making you throw the ball away.”

It’s not the kind of game Wright has been part of winning too often during the last four seasons and especially during this current 18-win streak. But the Saints made it go in part with 59-36 rebounding advantage, which included grabbing 28 on the offensive side. The Saints also had only 12 turnovers to Liggett’s 18.

Wright led the Saints with eight points and nine rebounds, while Hinsman grabbed 13 rebounds and sophomore center Abbey Ostman had seven points and 12 rebounds.

“Once we got back in January, our practices when we came back were intense. Just a different level,” Dorene Ingalls said. “Our team took over a different identity at that moment. Kelley and I were on the side, and (I told her) this is going to be really good.

“I’m glad we got an opportunity to show on Saturday that we’re better than we showed tonight. But you’ve got to give Liggett a lot of credit for that.”

St. Ignace also got a helpful and inspiring bucket late from junior Autumn Orm; she had four points total, despite being restricted to only 30-second spurts of playing time because of a neurological disorder that won’t allow her to be active for longer, Ingalls said. “She was getting deflections, getting rebounds. That was our inspiration. That’s why we won,” Ingalls added.

The Knights nearly pulled off the comeback despite all five starters playing all 32 minutes. The team’s rotation got down to that minimum in part because Liggett lost junior forward Haley Neuenfeldt to a knee injury in the final regular-season game.

But three of this season’s starters also started on the 2012 team that finished Class C runner-up. And they helped the Knights improve on last season’s run, which ended during the Regional.

“I expected for us to play hard enough to get through the District and do better than last year. That’s what we preached,” Liggett coach Omar Ahart said. “Once we got to the Regional Final, and got through that one, (I thought) someone has to win state. Why not us?”

Click for a complete box score and video from the press conference.

PHOTOS: (Top) St. Ignace’s Emily Hinsman (34) and Liggett’s Kendall McConico battle for a loose ball Thursday. (Middle) Saints junior Autumn Orm (10) drives against Knights senior Angelia Evangelista.

HIGHLIGHTS: (1) Autumn Orm takes a pass from Emily Hinsman and hits a jumper with 3:37 to play to give St. Ignace a 30-26 lead against Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett. (2) Nia Ahart of Liggett ties the game at 30-30 with 2:36 to go on a nifty runner. St. Ignace won the game, 34-30.

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.)