Sterling Heights High, Utica Ford basketball teams win division titles

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published February 22, 2017

 Utica Ford II’s Carly Schwarz, left, looks to make a play during a game against Grosse Pointe South earlier this season. The Falcons went 10-0 and won the Macomb Area Conference White Division. It’s the first division title for Ford since 2002.

Utica Ford II’s Carly Schwarz, left, looks to make a play during a game against Grosse Pointe South earlier this season. The Falcons went 10-0 and won the Macomb Area Conference White Division. It’s the first division title for Ford since 2002.

Photo by Deb Jacques

STERLING HEIGHTS — It’s been a good winter so far for basketball teams in the Sterling Heights Sentry coverage area.

That’s because the boys teams from Utica Ford II and Sterling Heights High, along with the Ford girls squad, have all won division titles. Both boys and girls Sterling Heights Parkway Christian teams were in line for division championships as well at press time.

There were also some long championship draughts ended. Ford’s boys basketball team’s last division title came in 2008, while the girls last won a division championship in 2002. Sterling Heights’ boys also ended a 24-year division title drought this winter.

Long time coming
Sterling Heights boys coach Ryan Kay guided his team to a 7-3 finish in the Macomb Area Conference Silver Division. The Stallions share the division crown with St. Clair Shores South Lake and Marysville High. Sterling Heights finished fourth in the Silver last season.

“We would occasionally look up at the championship boards hanging in the gym where they have the years of past team championships after practice,” said Kay, whose team, at press time, is outscoring opponents by 11.5 points per game. “We collectively knew that winning the division would be something that has not happened for the boys basketball program in quite some time. There have been some good teams that have come close in the past 24 years, and we knew after our alumni game how important it was to some of the former players who were rooting for us to win a division title.”

Several players have contributed to the team’s success, Kay said. That group includes seniors Shawn Kama, Antonio Sinisthtaj, Percy Daniel, Will Rose and Alaa Toma, along with juniors Malot Dushaj and Joshua Davis, and sophomore Trenell Payne.

“The seniors on our team were freshmen when I took over the program four years ago,” Kay said. “This group of seniors has played together with the expectation of playing solid man-to-man defense since year one. What separates them from the other classes have been their offensive skill sets. They as a group can dribble, shoot and score better than any other senior class that I have had the privilege to coach.

They have confidence, and that has helped them be successful on the court.”

The Stallions’ next game is against Madison Heights Lamphere at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 at home. Sterling Heights began play in the MAC Blue/Gold Division tournament after press time.

Falcons run leads to division crown
The Ford boys basketball team started the season 1-4 and hoped to turn things around starting with MAC White play. The Falcons did exactly that, winning eight of 10 MAC White matchups to secure the program’s first division title in eight years.

Ford shares the title with Grosse Pointe North.

Falcons coach Jeff Olson — who is in his fourth year leading the program — called the division title a big deal.

“This was one of our goals coming into the season,” said Olson, whose team sat at 10-6 at press time. “We felt that if we played to our potential, we could make that goal a reality.”

Ford has been consistent under Olson, finishing better than .500 in each of his seasons at the helm.

So what set this year’s group apart from those other teams?

“We have a core group of seniors who have played a ton of varsity basketball games,” Olson said. “Donnie Schuster is a four-year varsity player who broke the school record earlier this season for varsity games played. I definitely feel our experience is a huge part of our success this season.”

Schuster, along with seniors Alex Iafrate and Alek Ivanovic, have done a strong job of leading the team this season, Olson said.

The Falcons coach said those three carry the scoring load each night, and that the team is hard to beat when all three are playing well.

“I would say that the group of seniors we have, with all that experience, really lead by example and let the others know that in order to achieve our team goals, it will take a 12-man effort to make it happen,” Olson said.

Ford’s next scheduled game is against Beverly Hills Detroit Country Day at 7 p.m. Feb. 28 on the road. The Falcons began play in the MAC Red/White Division tournament after press time.

Falcons girls hoops unbeaten in MAC White play
The Ford girls basketball team went undefeated in MAC White play to claim the program’s first division championship since 2002.

The Falcons — 16-2 overall at press time — won the division by three games over Utica Eisenhower. Eisenhower won the MAC White last season.

Ford, at one point, had a 16-game win streak after dropping its opener. The Falcons fell 67-51 Feb. 14 to Port Huron Northern in the semifinals of the MAC Red/White Division tournament.

Earlier this season, Falcons coach Matt Joseph said the team’s eight seniors, led by co-captains Meagan VerVaecke, Julia Cianferra and Emily Karas, have played a lot of games together and that continuity is a big reason for the team’s success.

Ford’s next scheduled game is against Sterling Heights Stevenson in a Class A district quarterfinal at 7 p.m. Feb. 27 at home.