Bellaire's 'Captain' Robinson Making Senior-Year Impact Sure to Last
By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com
February 18, 2022
Oh, the glory days.
When Paul Koepke took over Bellaire basketball, he stepped into some mighty big coaching shoes.
He’s got the Eagles on the right track as they work to return to being a powerhouse program. The culture almost fits the visions he’s had since taking over for legendary and hall of fame coach Stan Sexton. They’re 8-7 overall and 6-5 in Ski Valley League play.
But today he’s preparing to lose his only senior starter, Cole Robinson, perhaps better known as The Captain. Robinson may not be as famous as the professional athletes whose careers led to being known as The Captain — baseball’s Derek Jeter and hockey’s Steve Yzerman —but he is to the locals.
“I have a bunch of freshmen,” noted Koepke, who’s been around the Eagles since the early 2000s as a middle school and varsity assistant coach. “I couldn’t ask for a better set up than having him as my captain.”
Robinson, a three-sport star for the Eagles, joined Bellaire’s 22-2 varsity team his freshman year as the postseason run ended with a 50-41 upset loss to Suttons Bay in the Regional. That loss ended a string of deep postseason runs covering decades. It was Koepke’s first year at the helm.
Today the Eagles are preparing to host Fife Lake Forest Area with their captain possibly on the sideline. He suffered an ankle injury in this week’s 44-32 win over Pellston. Koepke helped the senior guard off the floor after his first career injury.
He saw a glimpse of how things could be next year without The Captain, but he loved how his Eagles responded and how Robinson handled it.
The Eagles immediately went into a “win it for Cole” mode. Bellaire hopes tonight’s game will be the only game the 6-foot, 205-pounder needs to sit for a full recovery.
“Cole was on the bench cheering like a mad man after the injury,” Koepke said. “The kids were high-fiving him, and he was coaching kids up.
“We probably had better effort after that,” he continued. “We competed at a higher level, and I think we won that one for Cole.”
The injury didn’t hamper his leadership skills a bit. The Eagles beat Pellston with the same freshmen and sophomores Robinson’s had under his wings for some time.
Robinson has high hopes the young players will help win a District championship like the Eagles regularly did during their glory days. He has yet to win a District title – in any sport – during his years at Bellaire. He’s got this basketball season and his senior baseball season to experience it.
He did experience a first earlier this basketball season. Bellaire beat Gaylord St. Mary 69-62 on Feb. 8, the first win Cole and his senior teammates had experienced over the Snowbirds in any sport.
Robinson, who admits football is his favorite sport followed by baseball, likes helping his young teammates on the court. And he can’t wait to see them on the baseball field.
The Eagles have racked up more basketball wins this season than the previous two combined.
“For us, this is a big improvement,” Robinson said. “We’re a really young team.
“I think we’re going to surprise a few teams in the Districts,” he continued. “It’s going to be a tough one.”
Ellsworth, last year’s champion, will likely get the top seed in the 2022 tournament, hosted by Central Lake. Boyne Falls and Gaylord St. Mary also will vie for the title. The Eagles lost to Ellsworth 70-52 in the season opener. The freshmen were coming off just a two-game middle school season due to COVID-19 cancellations.
“Our record is starting to show we’re not just a bunch of freshmen just being freshmen,” Koepke said. “We’re starting to get pretty good.”
Bellaire starts three freshmen, a sophomore and The Captain.
“This man is selfless,” Koepke said about Robinson. “He’s the first one to come to me when I get there (to practice or games) to give me a fist bump and ask me how my day is going.
“Captain means a lot of things. He’s the last one to go off the bus. He cleans the bus. He’s the last one to leave the locker room.”
Robinson is averaging nearly six points and three assists per game. He also hauls in eight rebounds per contest. He’s coming from an outstanding football season as the Eagles’ tight end, tackle and defensive end. He had two touchdown receptions in the fall.
Jayden Hansen, a freshman, leads the team in scoring at more than 15 per game. Another freshman, Drake Koepke, averages 12 points. Hanson is among Northern Michigan’s leading rebounders. Koepke, the coach’s son, is among the area’s leaders in steals.
“We’re always looking for the third scorer,” Koepke said.
But the starting lineup is set.
“We finally kind of found out these are our guys, our lineup,” Koepke said. “We’re growing now.
“We understand who we are, and now we have to fix some things we struggle with,” he continued. “Right now we have a great attitude, and we are peaking.”
Robinson goes back a long way in Bellaire. He was a water boy for the varsity team when his father, Brock, was the Eagles’ head football coach. Brock died suddenly in 2020, and had served as The Captain’s youth football and baseball coach and high school football coach his freshmen and sophomore seasons.
The younger Robinson also lost his 2020 baseball season due to COVID. But he has persevered. Today he’s a regular on the court coaching youth basketball and his youthful teammates.
“You can say it’s been a little tough —I obviously miss him of course,” The Captain said. “He loved sports just as much as I do.
“I think about him usually before most sporting events – especially football games I’d think about him beforehand.”
Coach Koepke, who also assisted Coach Robinson in football, is amazed by his captain’s career and his contribution to the Eagles’ success.
“He is always a positive person,” Koepke said. “There are so many things he does.”
If the Eagles don’t make the great run this season as they have in the past, the veterans they’ll have next season along with others impacted by Robinson should help them return to the glory days.
“You are going to be a better person because you met Cole,” Koepke said. “That’s basically what Cole is.
“We’re all going to miss Cole. He’s made me a better person for sure.”
Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at email@example.com 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) Bellaire’s Cole Robinson looks for an open teammate during a game against Johannesburg-Lewiston. (Middle) Robinson works to bring down a Bear Lake ball carrier. (Below) Robinson works with players in Bellaire’s youth program on their shooting form. (Top and middle photos courtesy of the Antrim Review; below photo courtesy of the Bellaire athletic department.)
Breslin Bound: 2022-23 Boys Semifinals Preview
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
March 22, 2023
For several reasons, crossing over all four divisions, this weekend’s MHSAA Boys Basketball Semifinal & Finals could be among the most memorable we’ve played in some time.
The longtime powers will be back at Breslin Center. Six teams with at least three Finals championships will be looking to add to those totals. At the same time, eight teams will be playing for their first title – and a ninth may be playing for the last of its storied history.
There will be favorites. In Division 1 alone, all four semifinalists finished the regular season among the top nine in Michigan Power Rating. But numbers have a tough time anticipating an unpredictable story, and we have plenty – in Divisions 2, 3 and 4 only half the remaining contenders finished among the top 20 in MPR in their respective rankings.
DIVISION 1 - Friday
Detroit Cass Tech vs Grand Blanc - Noon
Orchard Lake St Mary's vs Muskegon - 2 p.m.
DIVISION 2 - Friday
Saginaw vs Ferndale - 5:30 p.m.
Grand Rapids South Christian vs Romulus Summit Academy North - 7:30 p.m.
DIVISION 3 - Thursday
Flint Beecher vs Ecorse - Noon
Traverse City St Francis vs Niles Brandywine - 2 p.m.
DIVISION 4 - Thursday
Munising vs Marine City Cardinal Mooney - 5:30 p.m.
Frankfort vs Wyoming Tri-unity Christian - 7:30 p.m.
Finals - Saturday
Division 1 - 12:15 p.m.
Division 2 - 6:45 p.m.
Division 3 - 4:30 p.m.
Division 4 - 10 a.m.
Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and available via the Breslin Center ticket office; for information and links visit the Boys Basketball page.
All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription on MHSAA.tv, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit – Divisions 4, 3 and 2 on the primary channel and Division 1 on BSD Extra – as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio broadcasts of all Semifinals and Finals will be available free of charge from the MHSAA Network.
The Boys Basketball Semifinals & Finals are sponsored by Sparrow Health System.
Here’s a look at the 16 semifinalists (with rankings by MPR and statistics through Regional Finals unless noted):
DETROIT CASS TECH
Record/rank: 26-1, No. 4
League finish: First in Detroit Public School League Blue and overall
Coach: Steven Hall, seventh season (149-30)
Championship history: Class A runner-up 1974.
Best wins: 55-49 over No. 10 Ann Arbor Huron in Quarterfinal, 71-59 (District Semifinal), 74-70 (OT) and 57-55 over Detroit Martin Luther King, 59-42 over No. 15 Grand Rapids Northview, 69-63 over Division 3 No. 3 Flint Beecher, 46-39 over Division 3 No. 8. Traverse City St. Francis.
Players to watch: Darius Acuff, 6-2 soph. G (21.6 ppg, 5.8 apg); Kenneth Robertson, 6-0 sr. F (15.3 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Travon Cooper, 6-5 sr. C/F (11.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.9 bpg).
Outlook: After falling just two points shy in a Quarterfinal last season, Cass Tech is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 1993 and only a one-point overtime loss to Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice from a perfect run this season. Hall led Detroit Rogers to three straight Class D titles from 2003-05 and returned to his alma mater Cass Tech in 2015-16 after serving as a college assistant at Duquesne and Youngstown State. Acuff earned an all-state honorable mention as a freshman and is one of the top sophomores in the state, and he’s got lots of help – after Robertson and Cooper as well, four more players average at least six points per game.
Record/rank: 25-2, No. 3
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Tory Jackson, first season (25-2)
Championship history: Division 1 champion 2021, two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 70-62 (OT) over No. 5 Muskegon, 60-49 over No. 9 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, 42-31 over No. 11 Warren De La Salle Collegiate, 74-46 over Division 2 No. 5 Cadillac, 57-43 over Division 3 No. 3 Flint Beecher.
Players to watch: Tae Boyd, 6-3 sr. F (15.4 ppg); RJ Taylor, 6-0 sr. G (14.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 6.2 apg); Bryce O’Mara, 6-7 jr. F (8.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg).
Outlook: Grand Blanc has played in the last two Division 1 championship games, finishing runner-up to De La Salle last season. Three starters plus the top two subs from last year’s Final are back – and that’s with another returning starter, Nathan Richardson, out since February with an injury. Taylor made the all-state first team last season and will continue at Northern Iowa, and Boyd earned an all-state honorable mention in 2022 and intends to play basketball and football at Ferris State. Jackson was part of two Class C championships as a player at Saginaw Buena Vista and played at Notre Dame and in the NBA G-League before getting his start in coaching at Buena Vista in 2012-13.
Record/rank: 25-2, No. 5
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Green
Coach: Keith Guy, 11th season (229-36)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 68-48 over East Kentwood in Regional Semifinal, 67-60 over No. 8 Kalamazoo Central, 50-45 over Division 2 No. 6 Warren Lincoln, 62-51 over Division 2 No. 1 Ferndale, 81-79 (OT) over Division 2 No. 19 Grand Rapids Catholic Central.
Players to watch: Jordan Briggs, 6-1 sr. G (18.7 ppg, 84 3-pointers, 5.1 rpg, 6.0 apg); Anthony Sydnor III, 6-2 sr. G (14.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.6 spg); David Day III, 5-9 sr. G (8.1 ppg, 4.3 apg).
Outlook: Muskegon has won 20 or more games nine of the last 10 seasons despite annually loading the schedule with elite opponents. Briggs, Sydnor and Day are the only three seniors and set the pace as the team’s top three scorers and 3-point shooters. Briggs made the all-state first team last season and signed with Wayne State, and Sydnor earned an all-state honorable mention and signed with Ferris State. They are surrounded by several teammates contributing big in their roles, including 6-6 junior Terrance Davis (6.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and 6-5 junior Stanley Cunningham (7.6 rpg) in the frontcourt and junior guard M’Khi Guy (5.0 apg) off the bench.
ORCHARD LAKE ST. MARY’S
Record/rank: 16-10, No. 9
League finish: Tied for fourth in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Todd Covert, eighth season (127-52)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2000), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 55-44 (Quarterfinal) and 63-45 over No. 11 Warren De La Salle Collegiate, 56-44 over No. 2 North Farmington in Regional Final, 72-69 (Regional Semifinal) and 67-64 over No. 6 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 57-50 over No. 1 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice in District Final, 56-41 over East Kentwood, 68-64 (3OT) over Division 2 No. 6 Warren Lincoln, 67-51 over Division 2 No. 19 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 54-39 over Division 2 No. 1 Ferndale.
Players to watch: Trey McKenney, 6-5 soph. G/F (25.5 ppg, 11.1 rpg); Sharod Barnes, 6-2 soph. G (10 ppg); Daniel Smythe, 6-3 jr. G (10 ppg).
Outlook: St. Mary’s rumbled through one of the state’s toughest schedules during the regular season, and it’s certainly paid off during a postseason run that’s been perhaps the most impressive regardless of division. The Eaglets had reached the Quarterfinals the last two years and will make their first Semifinal appearance since 2006. McKenney made the all-state second team last season and is already considered among the state’s best as well as just a sophomore. Juniors Andrew Smith and Mason Wisniewski round out the starting lineup, both averaging just over six points per game and the 6-6 Wisniewski also grabbing 7.4 rebounds per contest.
Record/rank: 19-8, No. 1
League finish: Second in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Juan Rickman, fifth season (87-32)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1966).
Best wins: 69-50 over No. 16 Warren Michigan Collegiate in Regional Final, 64-47 and 60-52 over Division 1 No. 20 Oak Park, 82-65 over Division 1 No. 12 Port Huron Northern, 72-60 over Division 1 No. 7 River Rouge, 67-61 over Division 1 No. 13 Grosse Pointe South, 63-52 over Division 3 No. 3 Flint Beecher.
Players to watch: Christopher Williams, 6-5 sr. G/F (13.5 ppg, 10.1 rpg); Cameron Reed, 6-0 sr. G (10.1 ppg, 7.5 apg); Noah Blocker, 6-1 sr. G (12.8 ppg).
Outlook: Ferndale is another contender that navigated a difficult regular-season schedule but is up to 14 wins over its last 15 games as it makes a third-straight trip to the Semifinals. All five starters are seniors, and Williams, Reed and Blocker all started in last year’s Semifinal as well, plus seniors Caleb Renfroe and Jacoby Jackson were the most-played subs in that game. Senior Jayden Hardiman adds another 9.2 points and 8.9 rebounds per game and provides a 6-7 presence in the middle. Junior Trenton Ruth (8.1 ppg) is among the top options off the bench this season.
GRAND RAPIDS SOUTH CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 24-3, No. 12
League finish: Tied for first in O-K Gold
Coach: Taylor Johnson, first season (24-3)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2005), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 82-54 over No. 19 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 61-38 (Quarterfinal) and 58-50 over Hudsonville Unity Christian, 64-48 over East Kentwood, 58-36 over Division 3 No. 14 Detroit Edison.
Players to watch: Jake Vermaas, 6-1 jr. G (12.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.5 apg); Jacob DeHaan, 6-2 sr. G (13 ppg, 5.5 rpg); Sam Medendorp, 6-6 sr. F/C (8.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.8 bpg).
Outlook: South Christian has upped its winning streak to 15 straight since losing its first meeting with GRCC on Jan. 24, and all 15 of those wins have come by double digits. Johnson came to South Christian this season after six as an assistant coach at Grand Valley State and has the Sailors in their first Semifinal since 2005. They did lose leading scorer Carson Vis (17.7 ppg) with a season-ending injury in the Regional Final, but DeHaan responded with a team-leading 27 points in the Quarterfinal win. DeHaan earned an all-state honorable mention last season.
ROMULUS SUMMIT ACADEMY
Record/rank: 25-2, No. 22
League finish: First in Charter School Conference West
Coach: Mark White, fifth season (91-22)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 68-62 over Chelsea in Quarterfinal, 57-27 over Flat Rock in District Final, 74-43 over Brownstown Woodhaven, 73-60 over Division 3 No. 14 Detroit Edison.
Players to watch: James Wright, 6-4 sr.; Dontez Scott Jr., 6-0 jr. G; Amir Perryman, 5-10 soph. G. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: White, who led Detroit Renaissance to Class B championships in 2004 and 2006, has Summit in its first Semifinal after guiding the Dragons to their first Quarterfinal in 2021. Their only losses this season were to teams that finished a combined 46-5 – Warren Michigan Collegiate and Detroit Loyola. Wright made the all-state second team last season, and Scott earned an honorable mention.
Record/rank: 21-6, No. 32
League finish: Sixth in SVL
Coach: Julian Taylor, 12th season (203-75)
Championship history: Six MHSAA titles (most recent 2012).
Best wins: 61-57 over No. 5 Cadillac in Quarterfinal, 78-58 over Flint Hamady in Regional Final, 47-33 over Shepherd in Regional Semifinal, 74-38 over Carrollton in District Final.
Players to watch: Javarie Holliday, 6-2 sr. G (15.8 ppg); DaRon Sherman, 6-2 sr. G (10 ppg, 8.0 apg, 3.9 spg); Taelor Lowery, 6-0 sr. G (11 ppg).
Outlook: This will be Saginaw’s first trip to the Semifinals since 2013, and potentially carries even more historical significance with the school set to merge with Arthur Hill for the start of the 2024-25 school year. Playing in the predominantly Division 1 SVL, Saginaw’s losses all were to D1 opponents. Four of five starters are seniors, and 6-3 senior forward D’Quan Lowe Patman adds 6.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and three steals per game. Holliday earned an all-state honorable mention last season.
Record/rank: 20-4, No. 34
League finish: Tied for second in Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Black
Coach: Gerrod Abram, fourth season (59-25)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1978, Class B Lower Peninsula runner-up 1942.
Best wins: 57-46 over No. 5 Laingsburg in Quarterfinal, 69-58 over Plymouth Christian Academy in Regional Final, 63-46 over No. 19 Riverview Gabriel Richard in Regional Semifinal, 85-69 over Brownstown Woodhaven.
Players to watch: Malik Olafioye, 6-3 sr. PG; Kenneth Morrast Jr., 6-1 sr. PG; Dennell Kemp Jr., 6-0 jr. G. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: After reaching the Semifinals last season for the first time since 1980, Ecorse is making a second-straight trip. Olafioye, Morrast and Kemp all started in last season’s Semifinal, and Olafioye made the all-state first team while Morrast earned an honorable mention. The losses this season came to Division 1 Oak Park, Detroit Renaissance and Detroit Catholic Central – all in December – and Division 2 Detroit University Prep on Feb. 17 after having defeated the Panthers three weeks earlier.
Record/rank: 22-4, No. 3
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Marquis Gray, second season (44-7)
Championship history: Nine MHSAA titles (most recent 2021), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 55-49 over No. 1 Detroit Loyola in Quarterfinal, 65-41 over No. 7 Saginaw Nouvel in Regional Final, 57-33 over No. 9 Cass City in Regional Semifinal, 70-55 over Goodrich, 48-43 and 80-71 over Flint Hamady.
Players to watch: Kevin Tiggs Jr., 6-2 sr. F (14 ppg, 5.4 rpg); Keyonta Menifield, 5-10 jr. G (8.5 ppg); Robert Lee Jr., 6-2 sr. F/G (24.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4.2 apg).
Outlook: Beecher is making its third-straight Semifinals appearance and bringing back two starters and the top two subs from the lineup that played at Breslin a year ago. Lee made the all-state first team last season and can erupt at any time making more than 50 percent of his shots from the floor total and 3-point range as well. Tiggs is making more than 60 percent of his shots from the floor and also has put up big numbers. Beecher once again loaded up its regular-season schedule; the Bucs’ losses were to Division 1 Grand Blanc and Cass Tech – both playing this weekend – and Division 2 Ferndale (also still playing) and Benton Harbor.
Record/rank: 25-2, No. 28
League finish: Second in Lakeland Conference
Coach: Nathan Knapp, 18th season (212-170)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 71-62 over Pewamo-Westphalia in Quarterfinal, 58-42 over Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep in Regional Semifinal, 42-36 over No. 6 Watervliet in District Final, 61-35 over Cassopolis.
Players to watch: Jamier Palmer, 6-0 jr. G (10.1 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg); Jaremiah Palmer, 6-0 jr. G (12.9 ppg); Byron Linley, 6-1 jr. G (9.7 ppg).
Outlook: Brandywine is making its first trip to the Semifinals after also winning its first Regional title, and Knapp has led an incredible transformation of the program. After not posting a winning record until his seventh season, Brandywine has reached 18 wins five of the last eight seasons with six league and three District titles during that time as well. The only losses this season were to Division 2 Benton Harbor, and 19 wins have come by double-digit margins. There’s only one senior in the eight-player regular rotation, and freshman guard Nylen Goins also averages 9.7 ppg and had a team-high 43 3-pointers entering the week.
TRAVERSE CITY ST. FRANCIS
Record/rank: 23-4, No. 8
League finish: Tied for first in Lake Michigan Conference
Coach: Sean Finnegan, sixth season (106-26)
Championship history: Class C runner-up 2012.
Best wins: 46-37 (Regional Final) and 61-49 over No. 18 McBain, 58-22 and 60-42 over No. 16 Elk Rapids, 58-34 over Division 2 No. 11 Boyne City, 63-54 over Canton.
Players to watch: Wyatt Nausadis, 6-4 sr. G (20.1 ppg, 40 3-pointers, 3.0 apg); Joey Donahue, 6-3 sr. F (7.8 ppg, 3.1 apg); John Hagelstein, 6-0 soph. G (10.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg). (Statistics through end of regular season.)
Outlook: St. Francis has been building toward this first Semifinal since 2012, improving from 12 wins two seasons ago to 19 last winter and now this run. They bounced back from a six-point loss to Boyne City on Jan. 24 for a 24-point win Feb. 21 to share the league title, and playoff wins over Maple City Glen Lake (19 wins) and St. Ignace (22) also were among the most noteworthy. Nausadis made the all-state second team last season, and 6-5 senior Drew Breimayer (7.7 ppg) is among more contributors who can pick up scoring load.
Record/rank: 18-8, No. 57
League finish: Fourth in Northwest Conference
Coach: Dan Loney, fifth season (86-41)
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2019.
Best wins: 59-57 over Hillman in Quarterfinal, 50-44 over No. 7 Lake Leelanau St. Mary in Regional Final, 52-47 over No. 12 Gaylord St. Mary in Regional Semifinal, 60-51 over Maple City Glen Lake.
Players to watch: Emmerson Farmer, 5-10 sr. G (10.7 ppg, 37 3-pointers); Nick Stevenson, 6-2 sr. F (9.0 ppg, 9.9 rpg); Carter Kerby, 5-10 soph. G (11 ppg, 3.0 apg).
Outlook: Frankfort found its stride at the right time with nine wins over its last 10 games and the Glen Lake and Lake Leelanau St. Mary victories avenging earlier losses. It didn’t come easily, as all five of the Panthers’ playoff opponents finished the regular season with winning records. Frankfort had made the Quarterfinals as recently as 2021, but fell back to 11-12 last season before bouncing back big this winter. A balanced lineup gets contributions from several players; senior Xander Sauer is another, averaging 10.2 points per game.
MARINE CITY CARDINAL MOONEY
Record/rank: 16-11, No. 49
League finish: Tied for fifth in Detroit Catholic League Intersectional #1
Coach: Mike McAndrews, 25th season (303-207)
Championship history: Class D runner-up 2010.
Best wins: 59-56 over No. 9 Taylor Trillium Academy in Quarterfinal, 57-44 over No. 6 Genesee Christian in Regional Final, 75-65 over Plymouth Christian Academy, 52-46 over Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep.
Players to watch: Brian Everhart, 6-0 jr. G (12.3 ppg); Dominic Cattivera, 6-5 sr. C (10.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg); Trent Rice, 6-0 sr. G (12.9 ppg).
Outlook: This run might seem a little unexpected as well, especially given the teams Cardinal Mooney has defeated the last two rounds. But the Cardinals have won nine of their last 12 after working through a league that included only one other Division 4 team along with two from Division 2 and two from Division 3. All but one loss came to an opponent from D1, D2 or D3, including a pair to Loyola and another to Division 1 De La Salle. Rice earned an all-state honorable mention last season and is one of our senior starters. Quentin Hillaker is another, averaging 9.1 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.
Record/rank: 25-1, No. 2
League finish: First in Skyline Central Conference – Large
Coach: Terry Kienitz, seventh season (128-22)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 52-43 over No. 1 Painesdale Jeffers in Quarterfinal, 60-28 over No. 11 Mackinaw City in Regional Final, 61-50 (Regional Semifinal) and 67-64 over No. 17 Rudyard, 70-65 over No. 18 Norway, 62-59 and 54-49 over No. 3 Powers North Central.
Players to watch: Kane Nebel, 6-2 sr. G (15.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 6.8 apg, 4.5 spg); Trevor Nolan, 5-8 soph. G (15 ppg, 54 3-pointers); Jack Dusseault, 6-3 soph. C (10.9 ppg, 7.4 rpg). (Statistics through end of regular season.)
Outlook: Munising emerged from a powerful group of Upper Peninsula teams in Division 4, and that on its own says a ton about its chances this weekend. This also will be the program’s first Semifinal since 1954. The Mustangs have won 14 straight games since losing a four-pointer to Brimley on Jan. 17, and this run came after last year’s ended with the team 19-3 and the 2020-21 team finished 15-2. Carson Kienitz is a third sophomore starter and provides more size at 6-3 and scoring at 11.4 ppg along with 5.4 rpg.
WYOMING TRI-UNITY CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 21-6, No. 15
League finish: Tied for second in Alliance League
Coach: Mark Keeler, 36th season (669-210)
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2022), five runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 54-41 over No. 5 Kalamazoo Phoenix in Quarterfinal, 62-44 over Lansing Christian in Regional Final, 79-36 over No. 13 Baldwin in Regional Semifinal, 57-52 over Pewamo-Westphalia, 51-46 over Schoolcraft.
Players to watch: Jordan VanKlompenberg, 6-1 jr. G (10.8 ppg, 59 3-pointers, 3.5 apg); Roy Fogg, 6-3 sr. G/F (13 ppg); Owen Rosendall, 6-0 jr. G (7.1 ppg, 36 3-pointers).
Outlook: Tri-unity is the reigning champion and also was the Division 4 runner-up in 2021. VanKlompenberg and Rosendall started last season, and Rosendall also was a top sub as a freshman. The Defenders have won 10 of their last 11 games this winter and all five playoff matchups by at least 13 points, and all six losses came to opponents from Divisions 1-3. Sophomore Keaton Blanker adds 7.8 ppg, and junior Akais Giplaye (6.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) also has moved into the starting lineup after seeing 12 minutes off the bench in last year’s championship game.
PHOTOS (Top) Flint Beecher’s Damarcus Burke Jr. (13) drives with Grand Blanc’s Trevon Johnson defending during their regular-season finale matchup. (Middle) Munising's Kane Nebel (0) works to get past Jeffers' Ashton Kunishige (13) and Levi Frahm (3) during a Tuesday Quarterfinal. (Top photo by Terry Lyons; middle photo by Cara Kamps.)