20-0 Just Start for Senior-Driven Ravenna

March 4, 2020

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

With 20 seconds remaining in Tuesday night’s victory, the Ravenna student section started chanting:

“Undefeated! Undefeated!”

That was about as wild and crazy as the Bulldogs got after a truly historic achievement – moving to 20-0 and wrapping up the first-ever perfect boys basketball regular season in school history with a 71-51 victory over host Fruitport Calvary Christian.

Afterward in the locker room, one of the players wrote the following message on the whiteboard:


“That’s been our philosophy all year,” explained first-year Ravenna coach Courtney Kemp, whose team is ranked No. 5 in the final Associated Press state rankings. “I remember seeing 0-5 and 0-6 up there. We want to play with the humility, the hunger and the sense of urgency of a team that is desperate to get a win.”

The Bulldogs know they have accomplished something truly special on the hardcourt, an achievement that will be talked about in the small farming community in eastern Muskegon County for years to come.

They also know that they can’t afford to celebrate it right now, as they will be hosting a grueling Division 3 District, starting with a third showdown on Monday against West Michigan Conference rival North Muskegon (14-5). If they survive that, stern tests loom against a pair of tournament-savvy teams in Kent City and Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.

“It’s a season to remember, for sure,” said 6-foot-5 senior center Jacob May, who scored a team-high 21 points with five rebounds in Tuesday’s regular-season finale. “It’s been a blast. Our goal was to put a banner up in the gym and we got that conference title, but we can’t be satisfied with that.”

May is one of five senior starters who rose above some early setbacks to win the school’s first boys basketball conference championship in 40 years and first outright WMC title in 47 years. It was the school’s third boys basketball championship in 51 years in the WMC.

The perfect season becomes more impressive when you consider that the team lost its coach in June, when Justin Johnson left after five years to take the same job at Division 1 Muskegon Mona Shores. Johnson, whose teams won a combined 16 games over his first three years, guided the ‘Dogs to a breakthrough 15-7 finish last year and their first postseason win in more than a decade.

In August, star guard Josh Cox suffered a serious knee injury in the season-opening football game against Hopkins. Then in November, 6-5 senior Grant Parker learned he needed surgery and decided not to play basketball to recover in preparation for his college football career at Saginaw Valley State.

The ‘Dogs have never used any of those losses as an excuse, instead wearing down one opponent after another with their deep, senior-laden roster.

The strength of the team is a versatile front line of three seniors – May (14 points, nine rebounds, two blocked shots per game), 6-4 Calvin Schullo (14 points, five rebounds) and 6-4 Hunter Funk (nine points, 8.5 rebounds, four assists).

Kemp, who served as Ravenna’s junior varsity coach under Johnson, also brings good length off the bench in seniors Jack Emery (6-3) and Dom Mabrito (6-2) and junior Joel Emery (6-1).

The backcourt is in the hands of senior football standouts Connor Kilbourne and Trevor Sterken, with sharpshooter Dom Jones coming off the bench.

“They are all so competitive,” said Kemp, who like Johnson before him, played high school basketball at Unionville-Sebewaing. “Our depth is one of the biggest reasons for our success, which makes a huge difference in games and in practice. These guys go at each other hard every day, and it makes them better.”

That depth was on display Tuesday against Fruitport Calvary, which came out on fire from long range but ultimately couldn’t keep up for four quarters. May and Schullo were the only two Bulldogs in double figures, but 10 of the team’s 12 players scored.

Ravenna’s quest for perfection was tested during four consecutive road games in mid-February. The Bulldogs edged Wyoming Potter’s House on Feb. 11, then survived their closest call with a 54-52 win at North Muskegon two days later. Next came Ravenna’s most impressive win, a 70-36 overwhelming of neighboring rival Muskegon Oakridge on Feb. 18, followed by a win at Scottville Mason County Central to improve to 17-0.

Schullo said one of the biggest motivators was a pair of heartbreaking losses on the football field – during the regular season against Oakridge and a season-ending loss to Montague in the Division 6 District championship game.

“They took it from us in football, so we were determined to get it back in basketball,” said Schullo, who scored 13 points Tuesday.

The challenge now for Ravenna is to exhale, momentarily, and enjoy a historic hardcourt achievement at a school known statewide for football – boasting MHSAA Finals championships in 1994, 1996, 1997 and 2003 – while simultaneously preparing for a tough District where everyone will be out to hand the Bulldogs their first loss.

“It sounds funny to say, but we still don’t feel like we’ve accomplished anything yet,” said Kemp, who is assisted by Andy May and Tim Jones. “That has to be our mentality because teams are going to be gunning for us next week. We can celebrate 20-0 later.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Ravenna’s Jacob May attempts a free throw during a win this season. (Middle) Calvin Schullo operates the offense under the watchful eye of Bulldogs coach Courtney Kemp. (Photos courtesy of the Ravenna High School yearbook staff.)

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

April 4, 2024

WYOMING – As the final buzzer sounded, it was all I could’ve imagined – and more.

West Michigan

In the weeks leading up to March 16 and the Division 4 championship game, I experienced every emotion possible as I envisioned what it would feel like to be an assistant coach on the bench at Michigan State’s Breslin Center as the Wyoming Tri-unity Christian boys basketball team achieved its ultimate goal.

In my first year as the junior varsity coach at Tri-unity, I had been on the varsity bench for a majority of the season, assisting legendary coach Mark Keeler and fellow assistants Brent Voorhees, Bob Przybysz and Mike Kaman.

I was there encouraging, motivating and supporting the varsity team. It was a role I embraced, and had become accustomed to over my almost 30 years coaching high school basketball.

I started coaching in 1995 as Jim Ringold gave me my first opportunity as the freshmen girls coach at Wyoming Kelloggsville High School. I would then coach Kelloggsville’s freshmen boys team for eight seasons, while also coaching the freshmen girls at Grandville High School. I would also coach the junior varsity teams at both schools.

I love coaching. I have a passion for it. I’ve always enjoyed getting the most out of my players while creating a bond between player and coach.

When girls basketball season moved from fall to winter joining the boys in 2007-08, I stayed at Grandville. I spent 21 seasons there before stepping down.

I still wanted to coach, and I heard that the Tri-unity junior varsity position was available. I had always respected and liked Keeler and was excited for the prospect of joining a perennial powerhouse.

I didn’t really know about Tri-unity growing up in the Wyoming Park school district. But as a young kid, I would rush home and eagerly await the afternoon delivery of the Grand Rapids Press. I would quickly find the sports page and read it from front to back, hoping one day to see my byline.

I began writing for the Press’ sports department in 1997. It was my dream job. And that’s also when I first started covering Tri-unity boys basketball.

I remember watching eventual NBA all-star Chris Kaman, along with Bryan Foltice and others play for this little Christian school and have unbridled success under Keeler.

MHSAA Tournament runs became the norm for the Defenders. They won their first Finals title in 1996, and they would claim four more over the next 26 years. They also had six runner-up finishes.

Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action.I was sitting on media row writing for MHSAA.com in 2022 when Brady Titus led Tri-unity to its fifth state championship.

I never thought that two years later I would be on the coaching staff as the Defenders pursued another one. But there I was.

I knew this year’s team had the potential to be special.

Tri-unity had returned four of its five starters from a year ago, after suffering a heart-breaking two-point loss to Munising in the Division 4 Final.

Eight seniors were on the roster. The team had a mix of talented guard play, senior leadership, size and depth. We had shooters and we played great defense, a trademark of Keeler’s teams.

This was the year, and that heaped lofty expectations on Keeler and the team. It was basically “state championship or bust.” Anything less would be considered a disappointment.

Keeler wanted it badly, and I knew the players did as well. I think they felt the pressure at times of living up to the expectations that had been set.

We had several lopsided wins, but also had a few tough losses to Division 2 and Division 3 teams – Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Wyoming Lee, Grandville Covenant Christian and Schoolcraft – all talented teams that I think made us better despite falling short.

As the postseason started, there was anxiety and excitement.

We were one of the favorites, but it wouldn’t be easy. We would have to earn each of the seven victories needed to win it all.

First came a District title, but then we had to play a quality Fowler team in its home gym in the Regional Semifinal. This was a game we knew would be a challenge – and it was.

We led by only one at halftime after a 7-0 run to end the second quarter. The score was tied 33-33 in the fourth quarter before senior Lincoln Eerdmans made a key 3-pointer to spark our victory.

As we went through the handshake line, several Fowler players said, “Good luck in the Finals.”

Our defense played extremely well in the Regional Final and state Quarterfinal to secure our team another trip to the Breslin.

St. Ignace was our opponent in the Semifinal, and we had to face a senior guard who could do it all – Jonny Ingalls. He lived up to the hype. He was good, and we didn’t have any answer for him in the first half. We trailed by one, only to fall behind by seven late in the third quarter.

Was this the end? Were we going to fall one game short of our goal?

Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. We were down by five points in the fourth quarter, but junior guard Keaton Blanker, and others, rose to the occasion. We rallied to win a tight one, and now we were one win away from a Division 4 title.

The night before the championship game, we stayed at a hotel in East Lansing as we had the first game of the day at 10 a.m. We had a team dinner, and the players seemed relaxed and eager to close out the season the way they had intended.

There was one thing that worried me. We were playing Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. A team we had played in the second game of the season and defeated by 30 points.

Would we be overconfident? I had no idea. They were a different team now, but so were we. Anything could happen.

Keeler gave a spirited and emotional pregame speech. In last year’s loss to Munising, he felt like the team played not to lose, and this season his big thing was “I want to win.” He said it to every starter that Saturday morning during the final moments in the locker room before tipoff, asking all five individually to say it back – which they did, the first one quietly but followed by teammates replying louder and louder as everyone got fired up and “I want to win” rang through the locker room. I think it inspired all of us.

After a competitive first quarter, we started to find our rhythm and expanded the lead. We were ahead by double-digits at the half, and a state title was within our grasp. Senior Wesley Kaman buried a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the third quarter to give us a 20-point cushion. It was at that point I knew we were going to win.

All five starters reached double-figure scoring, led by Jordan VanKlompenberg with 19 points and Owen Rosendall with 14. That balance was intentional and a successful sign for our team all season.

The exhilaration of winning was intoxicating. I loved watching the boys celebrate something they had worked so hard to accomplish. I will never forget their faces. I looked to my right from my seat on the bench and watched them running onto the court, just wearing their joy. They were just elated.

I was so happy for Keeler, a devout Christian who is respected by so many people in high school basketball circles. I learned so much from him this season. The way he approaches each game, his competitiveness. He instills his strong faith in his players and understands that the game of basketball is a bridge to a higher purpose.

Keeler is the fourth-winningest coach in state boys basketball history with a record of 694-216, and will be the winningest active coach next winter as all-time leader Roy Johnston retired from Beaverton at the end of this season.

The tournament run was one of the best coaching experiences I have had, and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to be a part of a state championship season.

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) The Wyoming Tri-unity Christian bench, including the author (far right) and head coach Mark Keeler (middle), celebrate a 3-pointer late in the Defenders’ Division 4 championship win over Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart. (Middle) Tri-unity’s assistant coaches, including Holzwarth (second from right), monitor the action. (Below) Holzwarth and the coaching staff greet Keaton Blanker (4) as he comes off the floor. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)