Seniors Come Up Big Again as Arbor Prep Clinches 1st Title since 2016

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 19, 2022

EAST LANSING – Kent City never lost hope Saturday that it could come back and knock off Ypsilanti Arbor Prep in the Division 3 Girls Basketball Final. 

With less than a minute to play, the Eagles’ hope turned into a legitimate chance to do just that, as they had the ball and trailed by just four.

But Kari Woods took it all away.

The Arbor Prep senior guard stole a pass near midcourt and raced for a layup to extend her team’s lead to six points with 30 seconds to play, ending Kent City’s last, best chance, and sealing what ended up a 54-50 win for the Gators.

“I knew the game was tight, and we had been practicing up the line, all day, every day, every practice,” Woods said. “I knew I was there. I saw it and went for it.”

It was the second title for Arbor Prep, which also won in 2016 before finishing as runner-up each of the next two years. 

Arbor Prep/Kent City basketballThis was the Gators’ first trip back to the season’s final day since 2018, and they made sure to make the most of it.

“It’s difficult to get here,” Arbor Prep coach Scott Stine said. “Six years ago, we won on March 19, 2016, the same day. Six years ago, you would have never told me it was going to take six years to get another one. It is difficult. COVID has played a part in that. For our kids coming back, we just have to keep getting better. They know what it takes.”

That group learned from a small but vital senior class that included Woods, Texas A&M-bound Mya Petticord and forward Jazmin Chupp.

“(Kent City) is a great program,” Stine said. “They’re going to be back here again next year. Our goal for the rest of the girls in that locker room is to get good enough to improve enough that we can play them again next year. But I’m just happy. The seniors, all three of these girls at some point made plays to put us where we’re at. Mya, offensively, did what we know she’s capable of. Jazmin made some plays on both ends of the court. Kari Woods made arguably the most important defensive play of the game when she blew up that handoff and took it for a layup. That was a huge play. That’s what she does. Proud of all three of these girls.”

Petticord led the Gators (25-2) with 27 points. She had 20 points at halftime after connecting on seven of her first nine shots, and each of her first three 3-point attempts. 

“It was really all about my focus,” Petticord said. “My nerves didn’t get the best of me today. Knowing this was my last high school basketball game, I just had to end it off with a lot of focus. Knowing it was my state championship game for the team – yeah, I was just focused.”

Woods added nine points and four steals, including the big one at the end. She played airtight defense all game against dangerous Kent City guard Lexie Bowers, who finished with nine points and nine rebounds. Bowers came into the Final averaging 17 points per game. Stine credited Woods, calling her the best perimeter defender in the state.

Arbor Prep/Kent City basketball“I think they play really tight, so (Bowers) had a hard time getting herself open off of that,” Kent City coach Aleah Holcomb said. 

Arbor Prep’s tight defense frustrated Kent City (26-1) throughout the game, and the team that averages 26 3-point attempts per game could get off only 11 on Saturday. The Gators also forced 15 turnovers.

“I thought we had a difficult time handling their pressure,” Holcomb said. “They really made it difficult for us to get into our offense.”

Arbor Prep led by as many as 11 points late in the second quarter, and held at least a two-possession lead for nearly the entire second half.

But the Eagles never let the Gators fully get away, and cut the lead to as few as three when Madelyn Geers, who totaled a team-high 27 points, scored with 2:15 to play.

They never got the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead, however.

It was the second-straight runner-up finish for Kent City, which lost 52-50 against Grass Lake in last year’s Final.

“It’s frustrating, but I think we worked our butts off this season,” Kent City senior Taryn Preston said. “Obviously God got us here for a reason. I think he’s gifted every single person on the team, and we worked hard to get the best that we can out of our abilities. That’s just something that’s really, really cool to see as a member of the team. So, yeah, it’s frustrating at times, but I know that we worked our butts off to get here.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Arbor Prep’s Karianna Woods (3) drives with Kent City’s Lexie Bowers defending. (Middle) The Gators’ Mya Petticord (1) prepares to make her next move. (Below) Stacy Utomi (24) defends against Bowers. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)