Stifling D, Board Domination Earns Fowler Full Repeat Celebration

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

March 19, 2022

EAST LANSING – Carly Andros could have simply gotten back on defense. 

The Fowler junior missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with less than two minutes to play Saturday in a game her team had essentially already wrapped up.

But Andros did what Fowler had done throughout its 61-46 Division 4 Girls Basketball Final victory against Plymouth Christian Academy – crashed the boards, secured the offensive rebound and turned an empty possession into a layup.

Fowler dominated the glass on its way to a second-straight Finals title, out-rebounding Plymouth Christian 42-20, including a 15-2 edge on the offensive boards. Fowler turned that into 14 second-chance points, continually turning Plymouth Christian defensive stops into backbreaking scoring plays.

“We’re not the most imposing team, but they just work so hard and they’re always going at the glass,” Fowler coach Nathan Goerge said. “We talk about taking away second-chance opportunities for the other team, and because we’re willing to attack the offensive glass, we have so many second-chance opportunities. So it’s just a huge opportunity for us.”

It was the third title for the Fowler program, which had three Finals appearances during the 1990s, including the Class D win in 1991.

Fowler/Plymouth Christian basketballWinning a second straight would have been special on its own, but being able to celebrate with a large contingent of fellow students and fans – which was missing last year because of COVID-19 protocols – added to the experience.

“We are so blessed to have had both of these opportunities,” Fowler senior Mia Riley said. “Even last year when the fans couldn’t come. It was, not really downplayed, but people couldn’t be there and it wasn’t the same environment. To be able to have it this year and to be able to get everything (that was missing) last year just made everything so worth it. It was such a great experience, and I’m so glad to go through it with this group of girls.”

Riley led Fowler with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while her younger sister, Emma, had 14 points. Emma Riley scored her 1,000th career point early in the third quarter.

Grace Epkey added 10 points and 11 rebounds for Fowler. Taylor Weber had nine points on a trio of 3-pointers, and Andros had seven rebounds.

“Understandably so, (the Riley sisters) get so much attention because they’re such fantastic players,” Goerge said. “I kind of said it before, this game was going to come down to our role players, if you will, and all of them stepped up huge. It was a total team win for us tonight. I couldn’t be happier for the girls.”

Senior Anna Fernandez scored 23 points to lead Plymouth Christian in her final high school game. Junior Morganne Houk added 17 points.

Fowler/Plymouth Christian basketball“Our kids came to win,” Plymouth Christian coach Rod Windle said. “There was a little bit of disappointment at the end in terms of what they dreamed for, what they hoped for. Certainly, in reflection when the day is done there will be some rejoicing about the season we had. I’m really proud of the effort these players gave. They’re competitors, they dream big and they got after it tonight.”

Plymouth Christian was within four midway through the second quarter, but a 9-0 Fowler run over the final 2:21 of the half blew the game open.

Weber started it with a 3-pointer, and Mia Riley and Epkey ended it, working for a pair of layups in the final minute to put their team up 27-14 at the break.

Plymouth Christian, meanwhile, went scoreless over the final 4:25 of the half.

Fowler didn’t shoot well during the first half (10 of 30), but grabbed nine offensive rebounds and had seven second-chance points. Epkey had five offensive boards herself in the half.

Fowler also moved the ball effectively and had eight assists on 10 first-half field goals. While piling up twice as many assists as turnovers (four), their defense forced seven first-half turnovers of Plymouth Christian.

That, combined with 5 of 20 shooting, made offense difficult for Plymouth Christian.

“Plymouth Christian is a fantastic team with exceptional guard play, so the challenge was to contain (Fernandez and Houk) and kind of run them off the 3-point line as best we could,” Goerge said. “I’m sure those two had some high-scoring totals, but I thought overall the girls did an amazing job defensively.”

Plymouth Christian got as close as eight points in the third quarter, but each time it did, Fowler had an answer. That included a pair of 3s from Madison Wirth and another from Weber late in the third, with each directly countering big plays from Houk and Fernandez and giving Fowler an 11-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.

“We made some runs that I thought might roll into us coming back, but we got denied by their own runs,” Windle said. “They were able to run back and continue to maintain their lead tonight.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Fowler celebrates its repeat Division 4 championship Saturday at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Eagles’ Mia Riley (25) dips into the lane among Plymouth Christian’s defenders including Grace Fernandes (4) and Sophia Arlen-Olsen (12). (Below) Carly Andros (4) gets up a shot as Morganne Houk (2) defends. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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.)