Bellaire, McBain Follow Longtime Leaders
March 22, 2016
By Dennis Chase
Special for Second Half
TRAVERSE CITY – Stan Sexton and Bruce Koopman have been down this road before.
When Bellaire rallied to edge Buckley last Wednesday, it was the Eagles’ sixth MHSAA Class D Regional basketball championship since 2000 under Sexton.
When McBain knocked off Tawas that same night, it was the Ramblers’ sixth Class C Regional title since 2002 under Koopman.
Now, the two coaches are one win away from leading their programs to a fourth Final Four appearance at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.
In tonight’s Quarterfinals, Bellaire (24-1) faces Fulton (18-6) at Traverse City West while McBain (25-0) takes on Ishpeming Westwood (12-12) at Petoskey.
It should come as no surprise that McBain and Bellaire are still in the mix this last week of the season.
The Ramblers graduated just two seniors off a 22-3 squad that lost in the Quarterfinals to Boyne City last March.
“Having gone through those wars last year and having that experience back has paid huge dividends,” Koopman said.
Sexton can say the same. He returned a solid nucleus from a 19-4 team that lost in the Districts to Boyne Falls.
“We had a good team last year,” Sexton said, “but we could get rattled in tight games. We’ve really developed some poise and confidence this season.”
That was evident Wednesday when the Eagles withstood the pressure to pull out a hard-fought 61-57 victory over Buckley.
“That’s coach’s favorite word - poise, poise, poise,” junior Gabe Meriwether said after the victory. “He wants us to be calm and collected (on the court), to play stable and confident basketball. That’s what we did, and that’s why we won.”
McBain had it a little easier, downing Tawas 63-36 with point guard Garett Gugle leading the way with 19 points. He hit five 3-pointers.
Now, Gugle said, the Ramblers need to stay focused. And the sting from last season’s Quarterfinal loss should act as motivation, he said.
“At this point, everyone is even,” Gugle said. “They’re (Westwood) undefeated in the postseason, we’re undefeated.”
Playing on the big stage in March has become a tradition for both Bellaire and McBain.
The Ramblers won the 2002 Class C title with a lineup that included current Ferris State basketball coach Andy Bronkema, former NFL defensive end Dan Bazuin, and Trent Mulder, an all-Great Lakes Interscholastic Athletic Conference pitcher at Northwood.
This, however, is Koopman’s first team to reach the Quarterfinals undefeated. The 2002 squad lost two games – to eventual Class D champ Wyoming Tri-unity Christian and to Class A Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern – in a holiday tournament at Cornerstone University. Those losses, Koopman said, turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“We never lost after that,” Koopman said. “That taught us we had to be tougher, more physical. Had we not played in that tournament, I don’t think we would have won (the Class C title).”
So how does this team compare to the 2002 squad?
“I don’t know if you can compare teams because there are so many variables,” he said. “I can tell you this, if this team wins another game or two, regardless if they win it all, they deserve to be mentioned in the top two or three during my time here.”
Bellaire came as close as a team can come to winning an MHSAA crown in 2005, only to be denied by Detroit Rogers 71-68 on a miraculous four-point play with 1.6 seconds left in overtime. The Eagles, led by brothers Brandon and Michael McClary, reached the Final Four three times in a four-year span. The McClarys went on to play at Olivet College where Michael became the school’s all-time leading scorer.
The players on this Bellaire team still remember those days.
“When we were younger we looked up to the McClarys when those teams were making their Breslin runs,” senior leader Hayden Niepoth said. “We saw that, and now we want to copy it.”
“They’ll ask, ‘Are we as good as the team of ’05?’” Sexton added. “We (coaches) have to say we don’t have any McClarys on this team, but we have some very good basketball players. We have that important trait the ’05 team had – we’re a team. We play together, we support each other.”
Sexton, who was inducted into the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Hall of Fame in 2011, is in his 27th season as the varsity coach. He did a three-year stint from 1978-81, stepped down and then took the job again in 1992. During that span, he’s posted a 493-139 record, a 78 percent win mark.
Koopman is finishing his 22nd season as McBain’s varsity coach. He’s also won 78 percent of his games, compiling a 407-116 record.
To make it even sweeter, Sexton, 74, and Koopman, 50, are coaching at the same schools they attended.
Sexton’s backstory, though, is quite different than most. He did not play sports in high school. And he certainly wasn’t thinking of a coaching career until Bellaire’s head basketball coach Ed Stoneburner approached him one day at school.
“I was teaching fourth grade at the time,” Sexton recalled. “Ed came up and said, ‘I need a fifth and sixth grade basketball coach.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about it.’ He said, ‘That’s all right. We’ll teach you.’”
That was in 1971. To this day, Stoneburner’s influence is part of Sexton’s philosophy.
“What I really took from him was to play this game aggressively,” Sexton said. “Play it hard, play it with intensity. That’s what we preach and I think it shows, especially in our defense.”
Sexton also watched and learned from some of the area’s best coaches – Maple City Glen Lake’s Don Miller, Leland’s Larry Glass, Traverse City’s Jim Anderson and Central Lake’s Gary Johnson, among others.
“I’d pay my two or three dollars to get in, and I’d watch these guys coach,” Sexton said.
He would also pore over the boxscores that were published in the newspaper in those days. One line that caught his attention – team fouls.
“I noticed Glen Lake would always have 8, 9, 10 fouls and the other team would have 18, 19, 20 – with guys fouling out,” Sexton said. “Fouling is poor defense. When you’re sending people to the line you’re giving them a 70 percent chance (to score). That’s what impressed me about Glen Lake. You could see the discipline in Don’s teams.”
Sexton, who also coached girl’ varsity basketball for two years and the baseball team for nearly 20, is aided by a veteran coaching staff that includes Paul Koepke, Jeff Smith and George Mason. All three have been with him for years.
“Great coaches,” he said. “They bring a lot to the game.”
Koopman, meanwhile, played basketball at McBain under Hall of Fame coach Bruce Brumels in the early 1980s. After graduating, he spent a year working in a factory in Cadillac before enrolling at Central Michigan University.
Four years later in 1989, it was Brumels, then the principal, who hired Koopman as a teacher.
“I was very fortunate,” he said. “Everything fell into place.”
Koopman coached junior varsity basketball for five years under Steve Anderson before taking over the boys varsity program in 1994. In addition, he coached girls basketball from 1990-98 and again from 2003-07. He stepped down soon after the girls season switched to the winter. At that time, he also took on the boys JV coaching duties to go with the varsity.
Koopman cites two reasons for his program’s continued success – community support and great players.
“Let’s be honest,” he said. “Great players make good coaches.”
Perhaps another reason is that McBain starts initiating interest in basketball early on. Right after Koopman was hired, the school instituted a co-ed basketball program for elementary students in grades 3-6. It runs seven consecutive Saturdays, starting in January.
“We had close to 140 kids involved this year,” Koopman said.
The elementary program dovetails into the middle school, the feeder program for the high school. Interest has remained strong. Koopman said 29 players tried out for JV basketball this season.
Koopman – who was mentored by Brumels, Anderson and former girls coach Dale Marie DeZeeuw – brings an “old school” approach to coaching. His practices start with defensive drills, followed by rebounding drills.
“We have some practices where that’s all we do,” Gugle said.
After that comes the offensive drills, where once again discipline is required.
“I’m all about patience, working the ball and looking for that good shot,” Koopman said.
His players get the point.
“He likes the basics,” Gugle said. “Nothing fancy.”
Craig Sterk, a 6-foot-7 junior who “plays everywhere,” leads the Ramblers, averaging 15.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. Cole Powell, a 6-3 senior, and Logan Eling, a 5-10 junior, average better than 14 points per outing. Powell is in his fourth year on varsity.
“We have experience, balance and depth,” Koopman said. “We defend pretty well. We rebound pretty well.”
Gugle is in his second season running the point. That experience is invaluable, Koopman said.
“That’s another reason we’re better,” he said. “Whatever teams throw at us doesn’t faze him. He handles it and get us into our offense. He doesn’t look to score, but (Wednesday night) they were leaving him open and he was popping ‘em.”
It’s been an exciting winter for Koopman. His oldest daughter, Michaela, played on the girls varsity team, which advanced to the Regional Finals. His son, Jarrett, is a sophomore on the boys varsity.
The Ramblers were taken to the wire twice during the regular season – both in games outside the Highland Conference. A Jimmy Schneider 3-pointer at the buzzer beat Big Rapids, a Class B quarterfinalist, on the road early in the season. Then a Sterk 3-pointer in the waning seconds forced overtime in a late season win at Frankfort.
Bellaire’s only setback came early in the season to a red-hot East Jordan team, which won the Lake Michigan Conference.
The Eagles ran the table in the Ski Valley, handing Johannesburg-Lewiston its only two regular-season losses. Bellaire also downed Onaway, a Class D quarterfinalist, twice. The Eagles’ tournament resume includes wins over Boyne Falls, Frankfort and Buckley.
“It means a lot (to win a Regional),” Niepoth said. “But we’re not done. We don’t want to just get to the quarters, we want to get to the Breslin, and we want to win at the Breslin. That’s our goal. We just have to keep working and getting better every day.”
Meriwether and Niepoth are the catalysts for the Eagles, averaging 18 and 14 points per game, respectively. Niepoth is also the team’s defensive stopper and assists leader.
“He plays both ends of the court,” Sexton said.
Jamal Lockhart provided some big plays in the win over Buckley, scoring 14 in the low post.
But that’s history now. It’s all about the present and tonight’s Quarterfinals.
“Anybody can beat anybody at this stage,” Meriwether said. “It’s survive and advance.”
Dennis Chase worked 32 years as a sportswriter at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, including as sports editor from 2000-14. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Gabe Meriwether dunks for Bellaire against Fife Lake Forest Area, while McBain’s Cole Powell works for position in the post against Tawas. (Middle) McBain coach Bruce Koopman, far left, stands with his team after its Regional championship win. (Below) Bellaire’s Hayden Niepoth drives to the hoop against Mancelona. (Bellaire photos courtesy of Michael Smith and The Antrim Review; McBain photos courtesy of Marc Vieau and The Cadillac News.)
Breslin Bound: 2022-23 Boys Quarterfinal Preview
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
March 21, 2023
It finally feels like spring, at least here in East Lansing. And tonight, 32 teams will attempt to build into their spring breaks a trip to Breslin Center.
Below is a glance at all 16 of tonight’s Quarterfinals across four divisions, with all games tipping off at 7 p.m. unless noted. Winners advance to Thursday and Friday’s Semifinals, and we’ll detail the teams more then as we preview those concluding rounds of this year’s tournament.
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Ann Arbor Huron (23-2) vs. Detroit Cass Tech (25-1) at University of Detroit Mercy, 5:30 p.m.
After an early postseason exit last season, 2021 Division 1 runner-up Huron has put together another deep playoff run. Sophomore guard Macari Moore leads three players averaging double-digit scoring at 17 points per game. After winning its first Regional title last season since 1998, Cass Tech is back at the Quarterfinals for a second straight March. Darius Acuff is another super sophomore, also leading three double-digit scorers at 21.6 ppg to go with 5.8 assists per contest.
Grand Blanc (24-2) vs. Rochester Adams (17-8) at Lake Orion
Last season’s runner-up is two wins away from playing for another title, but this time the Bobcats are led by first-year coach Tory Jackson. Seniors Tae Boyd (15.4 ppg) and RJ Taylor (14.3) are a strong 1-2 punch. Adams is coming off its first Regional title in this sport, with junior 6-foot-7 football standout Brady Prieskorn among top contributors for a Highlanders hoops team that has won seven of its last nine games.
Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (14-10) vs. Warren De La Salle (17-8) at University of Detroit Mercy
These Detroit Catholic League Central rivals will meet for the third time, with St. Mary’s winning the first matchup by 17 on Jan. 10 and the reigning Division 1 champion Pilots taking the rematch by 12 on Jan. 31. Sophomore Trey McKenney is a force at 25.5 points and 11.1 rebounds per game for the Eaglets, while Phoenix Glassnor is another sophomore standout leading De La Salle at 18.4 ppg.
Muskegon (24-2) vs. East Lansing (16-9) at Caledonia
East Lansing has won six straight and 12 of its last 14 games, with three of those wins over opponents responsible for four of their losses this winter. Only one starter is a senior, and sophomore Cameron Hutson leads the way at 19.3 ppg. Muskegon is in the midst of a ninth 20-win season over the last decade and earned its first Regional title since 2015. Senior Jordan Briggs (18.7 ppg) has qualified for the MHSAA single-season record list with 84 3-pointers, connecting on nearly 40 percent of his tries from beyond the arc.
Cadillac (22-4) vs. Saginaw (20-6) at Alma
The Trojans are seeking their first Semifinal appearance since 2013 and have lost only to Division 1 opponents this season, with guard Javarie Holliday leading a mostly senior-powered lineup at 15.8 ppg. Cadillac also won its Regional last season and is seeking to return to the Semifinals for the first time since 2015, with 6-6 junior Charlie Howell the leading scorer (15.3 ppg) and rebounder (7.4 rpg).
Ferndale (18-8) vs. Goodrich (22-4) at Lake Orion, 5:30 p.m.
The Eagles are working to reach Breslin and the Semifinals for a third-straight season and have won 13 of their last 14 games while navigating a power-packed schedule again this winter. Senior Chris Williams leads a balanced lineup at 13.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Goodrich is a combined 93-20 over the last five seasons and playing to make the Semifinals for the first time with senior Jack Locey (18.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, 2.0 spg, 45 3-pointers) among those filling the stat sheet.
Hudsonville Unity Christian (18-9) vs. Grand Rapids South Christian (23-3) at Calvin University
These rivals will be filling Calvin for a rematch after South Christian won the regular-season meeting 58-50 on Dec. 16. The bad news for the Sailors is they lost leading scorer Carson Vis (17.7 ppg) to injury in the Regional Final, but senior Jacob DeHaan (13 ppg) leads three others averaging at least 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Unity has won 11 of its last 12 games, with two-point upsets of Grand Rapids Catholic Central and Grand Rapids Christian along the way. Juniors Trayton Fisher and Colin Neiuwenhuis both average about 11.5 points per game and have combined for 97 3-pointers.
Chelsea (21-5) vs. Romulus Summit Academy (24-2) at Milan
These are two more teams looking to reach the Semifinals for the first time, Summit having played in a Quarterfinal as recently as 2021 and Chelsea’s last trip to the season’s final week in 2000. Juniors Jacob Stephens (22.7 ppg) and Joseph Cabana (22.2) set a strong pace for the Bulldogs. The Dragons have doubled up all four of their postseason opponents so far and done the same in 16 wins total this winter.
Detroit Loyola (25-1) vs. Flint Beecher (21-4) at Waterford Mott
A 67-58 loss to Division 1 Flint Carman-Ainsworth on Jan. 29 remains the only defeat on Loyola’s list this winter. All five starters are seniors, with Dashawn Martin (15.1 ppg) leading three averaging double-figure scoring. Beecher’s losses were to Division 1 and 2 opponents, including three playing tonight. Robert Lee leads a senior-dominated lineup at 24.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game as the Bucs attempt to make the Semifinals for a third-straight season.
Laingsburg (25-0) vs. Ecorse (19-4) at Ypsilanti Lincoln
The Wolfpack’s closest game this season was seven points, its Regional Semifinal win against Jonesville, as it attempts to reach Breslin for the first time since 2013. Junior Zander Woodruff is averaging more than a point per minute of playing time, leading at 24.4 ppg. Ecorse is seeking a return trip to the Semifinals and has won 17 of its last 18 games. Senior guard Malik Olafioye also is putting the finishing touches on a high-scoring career.
St. Ignace (22-4) vs. Traverse City St. Francis (22-4) at Gaylord
St. Ignace is playing in its first Quarterfinal since 2001, seeking to reach the Semifinals for the first time since 1983. Junior Jonny Ingalls (22.4 ppg) leads three Saints averaging at least 13, plus he’s dishing 5.4 assists per game. St. Francis has won 11 of its last 12 games with that lone loss to Cadillac (see above) in overtime in the regular-season finale. Senior Wyatt Nausadis has paced the scoring at 20.1 ppg after quarterbacking the football team to a Division 7 runner-up finish in the fall.
Pewamo-Westphalia (19-6) vs. Niles Brandywine (24-2) at Portage Central
Brandywine has reached the final week for the first time with its first Regional title, and its only losses this season remain against Division 2 Benton Harbor. Junior Jaremiah Palmer leads a lineup with four players averaging at least 9.7 ppg at 12.9 per game. P-W is making its second-straight Quarterfinal appearance after edging North Muskegon by three and then Grandville Calvin Christian by two last week. Senior Jamison Eklund is averaging 22.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Painesdale Jeffers (25-1) vs. Munising (24-1) at Negaunee
The Upper Peninsula is guaranteed to send a one-loss team downstate to the Division 4 Semifinals, and for both programs it would be a first-time trip. Jeffers is playing its first Quarterfinal, and Munising its first since 1954. Junior Levi Frahm leads four Jets scoring in double digits at 20.5 ppg, while senior Kane Nebel is surrounded by a similar balanced attack and leads four double-digit scorers at 15.8 ppg.
Taylor Trillium Academy (21-3) vs. Marine City Cardinal Mooney (15-11) at West Bloomfield
Trillium is another first-time Regional champion, taking this step after falling just a four-point loss shy of reaching the Quarterfinals a year ago. Senior DaMaryon Fishburn is averaging 22.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game for the Wildcats, and junior Keymarryon Fishburn adds 15.3 ppg. Cardinal Mooney has won seven of its last nine games to reach the Quarterfinals for the first time since 2016 and after falling in Regional Finals the last two seasons – avenging the 2022 loss to Genesee Christian to advance. Senior Trent Rice leads three double-digit scorers at 12.9 ppg.
Frankfort (17-8) vs. Hillman (22-4) at Gaylord, 5 p.m.
Frankfort is another team on a nice streak with eight wins over its last nine games including 50-44 over 2022 semifinalist Lake Leelanau St. Mary in last week’s Regional Final. Senior Emmerson Farmer and sophomore Carter Kerby supply the backcourt with between 10-11 ppg apiece. This will be Hillman’s fourth Quarterfinal over the last nine seasons as the Tigers seek their first Semifinal trip. Trenton Taratuta is a big-time scorer averaging 27.4 ppg with 60 3-pointers but also 9.7 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 5.2 steals per game.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (20-6) vs. Kalamazoo Phoenix (17-2) at Richland Gull Lake
This is a familiar spot for Tri-unity Christian, the reigning Division 4 champion. All five starters average between 6-13 ppg and four have high games of at least 20 points this season; senior Roy Fogg tops both lists at 13 ppg and 25, respectively. This is new territory for Phoenix, which won one game just two seasons ago but has won 10 in a row heading into this week. Senior Cameron Lewis-Atkins (19.9 ppg) leads five players averaging 11 or more points per game. Phoenix avenged one of its losses, to Eau Claire, in the Regional Semifinal.
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PHOTOS (Top) A fan holds up a sign supporting Painesdale Jeffers between the third and fourth quarters of last week’s Regional Final win over Stephenson. (Middle) Tri-unity Christian’s Roy Fogg pulls in a loose ball during his team’s Regional championship victory over Lansing Christian. (Top photo by Cara Kamps; middle photo by High School Sports Scene.)