EAST LANSING – West Bloomfield girls basketball coach Darrin McAllister said his team has played all sorts of opponents and their varying styles this season, but he admitted he hadn’t seen a team like Rockford.
And that included Detroit Edison, a squad that hadn’t lost to a Michigan school since 2017-18 before West Bloomfield won their February matchup.
“We have not faced a team that shoots that amount of threes and has the ability to make them,” McAllister said of Rockford.
Indeed, in Friday’s first Division 1 Semifinal at Michigan State’s Breslin Center, West Bloomfield saw Rockford attempt a whopping 37 shots from 3-point range against the Lakers’ zone, making 13 of them.
In contrast, West Bloomfield made only three shots from behind the 3-point line.
“I do play a lot of different zones, but I was definitely searching for something,” McAllister said.
Despite the barrage of 3-pointers and 30-point disadvantage from behind the 3-point line, McAllister saw his young team overcome and find a way, as West Bloomfield made the winning plays at the end to earn a 66-63 win over Rockford.
The Lakers (24-1) advanced to the championship game for the first time since 1989, when it finished runner-up to Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills.
“I’m happy that we won, but if I had hair I’d probably have pulled it out by now,” McAllister joked.
The big reason why West Bloomfield was able to survive was its sophomore forward duo, Indya Davis and Summer Davis.
Indya Davis had 24 points and eight rebounds, while Summer Davis had 16 points and seven rebounds.
Senior Myonna Hooper added 14 points, and junior Sydney Hendrix had 10 points and 10 rebounds as well for the Lakers.
“I didn’t take it upon myself,” Indya Davis said of her performance. “I took it upon the whole team and doing it for the team.”
With the game tied at 58-58 with 1:02 remaining, West Bloomfield took a 60-58 lead after two free throws by Hooper.
Following a turnover by Rockford, West Bloomfield extended the lead to 61-58 when sophomore Destiny Washington hit the first of two free throws with 40 seconds to go.
Washington missed the second free throw, but Summer Davis got the offensive rebound and passed the ball back to Hooper, who was fouled and drained both free throws to give West Bloomfield a 63-58 advantage with 36.6 seconds remaining.
On Rockford’s next possession, a 3-point attempt by Gabrielle Irwin rimmed out and was rebounded by Indya Davis, who got the ball up to Washington.
After being fouled, Washington split a pair of free throws with 14.1 seconds remaining to give West Bloomfield a 64-58 lead and all but seal the game.
The teams then traded two free throws each before Rockford hit a 3-pointer right at the buzzer to account for the final score.
Rockford saw six different players connect on 3-pointers, led by sophomore Grace Lyons, who drilled five en route to a team-high 21 points.
Rockford coach Brad Wilson admitted his team usually doesn’t shoot that many 3-pointers in a game.
“That’s more than normal, but we are fully capable of doing that,” Wilson said. “Sometimes, you take what the defense gives you. We believe in our kids. It’s a little bit unusual, but all five players on the court have the green light at all times. We just believe in them. We attack gaps and pass where the help comes from. We rep that out all year, so we have confidence that it’s going to go in.”
Rockford was making its first appearance as a program in a Semifinal, and the community certainly followed with a good portion of Breslin Center covered in orange.
“I am so proud of our community and the support they gave,” Wilson said. “Just to be a part of something like that, a sea of orange, was just so much fun.”
Rockford held a 31-26 lead at halftime and was up 36-30 in the third quarter before West Bloomfield went on a 9-0 run to take a 39-36 lead with 5:52 left in the period.
Rockford then got hot from the perimeter again, hitting three more 3-pointers before the quarter ended to take a 49-48 lead into the fourth.
PHOTOS (Top) West Bloomfield celebrates its Division 1 Semifinal win over Rockford on Friday. (Middle) The Lakers’ Sydney Hendrix (5) gets a shot up over a pair of Rams defenders. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
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.
It 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."
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.
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 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.)