Boyd Finds Nothing but Net as Old Redford Earns Championship Day Debut

By Keith Dunlap
Special for

March 14, 2024

EAST LANSING — The day before his team’s Division 3 Semifinal against Riverview Gabriel Richard, Detroit Old Redford head coach Ray Reeves said he installed a new play for his team to run.

Lo and behold, Old Redford found itself running that play Thursday at its most important moment of the season.

The Ravens were trailing by a point with two seconds remaining in regulation and set to inbound the ball from underneath their basket. 

The play was called “one,” mainly because it was one of five new plays Reeves said were installed.

“I was watching Auburn play and I saw (head coach) Bruce Pearl run it,” Reeves said. “I took it from him.”

That play ended up earning Old Redford a chance to finish this season “one” in the state, as senior Justin Austin inbounded the ball into the near corner on the left side of the floor to junior Arkell Boyd, who drained a heavily-contested 3-pointer just before the buzzer to give the Ravens a 43-41 win over Gabriel Richard. 

Old Redford will meet Niles Brandywine at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in a matchup of teams making their first appearance in an MHSAA Final in this sport.

The Ravens’ Ja'Quan Stennis gets a hand up high as Gabriel Richard’s Nick Sobush (1) works to get off a shot. “When that particular play came at the end of the game, I knew what to do,” said Boyd, who was mobbed by teammates on the floor after the shot went in.

The win continued a magical journey for Old Redford, which earned a one-point win over 2023 champion Flint Beecher in the Quarterfinal and a two-point victory over Detroit Loyola in a Regional Final.

Expanding on his team’s run this season, Reeves said the pivotal moment came during a trip to Indiana earlier in the year that produced some roster attrition.

“We went to Indiana with 14 players and came back with nine,” Reeves said.

The roster cut came after what Reeves said were issues with overbearing parents, which he said produced a team meeting that lasted from 10 p.m. until roughly 7 a.m. the next morning in Indiana.

“We knew it had to change,” Reeves said. “You think as an adult it would sometimes get better because you are dealing with adults. But I realized it was getting worse and it was killing my team. We came together that night, and we haven’t looked back.”

Trailing 37-32 with 4:42 remaining, Gabriel Richard mounted a charge, going on a 7-0 run to take a 39-37 lead with 2:01 left following a 3-point play by junior Nick Sobush. 

Old Redford tied the game at 39-39 with 33.8 seconds remaining on a steal and layup by junior Kason Mayes, but Gabriel Richard regained the lead at 41-39 with 14.3 seconds left with a layup by junior Luke Westerdale. 

Following a timeout, Old Redford put the ball in the hands of Mayes, who was fouled on a layup attempt with 3.3 seconds to go. 

Mayes made the first free throw and missed the second to make it 41-40 Gabriel Richard. But Old Redford got the ball back when the rebound went off a Gabriel Richard player, which set up Boyd’s heroics. 

Mayes scored 16 points, and Boyd added 15 for Old Redford (21-7).

Junior Charles Kage had 15 points and nine rebounds, and Sobush added 13 points for Gabriel Richard (23-4). 

“It’s tough to swallow,” Gabriel Richard head coach Kris Daiek said. “I thought our kids played hard. But hey, it happens. It’s March Madness.”

The good news for Gabriel Richard is that all six players who saw minutes Thursday are expected back to help the program expand on what was its first Semifinal appearance since 1989. 

“This is an educational moment for my kids,” Daiek said. “It stinks now. I give credit to Old Redford. It was a great battle all the way down the stretch. This will build character and make us a little bit tougher.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Teammates pile onto Detroit Old Redford’s Arkell Boyd after his game-winning basket Thursday at Breslin Center. (Middle) The Ravens’ Ja'Quan Stennis gets a hand up high as Gabriel Richard’s Nick Sobush (1) works to get off a shot. (Photos by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

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 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.)