Breslin Bound: 2021-22 Boys District Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 7, 2022

It's March, its MHSAA Tournament time, and generally that's enough to explain the excitement and urgency as we begin the annual championship portion of a four-month journey that will end again in East Lansing. 

MI Student AidDistrict tournaments tip off all over the state tonight. Check out “Tracking the Tournament” on for every matchup from all of them, and see below for some of last week’s most eye-catching scores and three Districts in each division that could make the biggest impacts this week on the overall postseason pictures.

“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid.

Week in Review

The countdown of last week’s five most intriguing results: 

1. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 50, Detroit Martin Luther King 49 St. Mary’s (16-4) edged King (18-2) in the annual Operation Friendship game between the champions of the Detroit Catholic League and Public School League Tournaments.

2. Grand Blanc 68, Flint Beecher 57 The reigning Division 1 champion Bobcats (15-5) finished the regular season defeating last year’s Division 3 champion Beecher (17-2).

3. Kalamazoo Central 51, Muskegon 46 The Maroon Giants (12-7) have had some massive wins and tough losses this season, but this certainly files under the former as the Big Reds (18-2) are Division 1 title contenders.

4. Hartland 42, Canton 39 The Eagles (16-4) had finished second to Canton (15-5) in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association West, but with this victory claimed the league tournament title.

5. Carson City-Crystal 32, Blanchard Montabella 29 The Eagles (17-3) earned a share of the Mid-State Activities Conference title by adding a second three-point win over the Mustangs this season (17-3).

Districts at a Glance

These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:


Detroit Western
1. Detroit Martin Luther King (18-2), 2. Detroit Cass Tech (17-3), River Rouge (17-3), Detroit Western (15-4), Melvindale (10-9).

This power-packed bracket includes the champions from the Detroit Public School League Blue (King) and Gold (Western), the runner-up from the Blue (Cass Tech) and the runner-up from the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference Black (Rouge). King, No. 3 overall in Division 1 MPR, defeated Cass by five in league play and Western in the PSL Tournament championship game, in addition to impressive wins over Flint Beecher (17-2), Grand Blanc (15-5), Ann Arbor Huron (17-3), Kalamazoo Central (12-7) and others. Its one-point loss to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s last week was its first since the season opener. Cass Tech’s losses were by a combined 12 points and it has a win over Flint Carman-Ainsworth (14-6); the Technicians could open with Western in a semifinal after falling to the Cowboys 57-53 on Feb. 17. Western opens with River Rouge, which lost its final two games but against Hamtramck (17-3) and Grand Blanc.

1. Muskegon (18-2), 2. Grand Haven (17-3), Muskegon Reeths-Puffer (13-7), Coopersville (13-7), Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills (13-7), Grand Rapids Union (8-11), Muskegon Mona Shores (9-11).

The Big Reds are coming off an undefeated run through the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green, which includes Reeths-Puffer and Mona Shores, but also are coming off a loss to Kalamazoo Central in the regular-season finale. Muskegon’s only other defeat was to Ferndale, and an 84-79 win over 2021 Division 1 champion Grand Blanc on Feb. 19 is what people should recall first when thinking of the team’s prospects this month. Grand Haven saw its O-K Red title chance slip away with a pair of losses in its final two league games, but similarly a win over league champ Rockford (18-2) showed what the Buccaneers are capable of presenting. Coopersville had a win this season over Grand Rapids West Catholic (15-5), and Kenowa Hills defeated Coopersville in overtime at the start of February.

West Bloomfield
1. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s (16-4), 2. Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice (14-6), Bloomfield Hills (16-4), Birmingham Groves (12-7), Birmingham Seaholm (8-11), West Bloomfield (4-15).

The Detroit Catholic League Central’s five teams all finished among the top six in overall Division 1 MPR, and this is the only District with multiple. St. Mary’s, No. 2 overall, lost to Brother Rice 45-43 on Jan. 14 and 62-50 on Feb. 1, and didn’t see the Warriors on the way to winning the Catholic League Bishop Tournament. The win over King last week was just one of many impressive ones for the Eaglets, who have five victories over teams that finished 15-5 or better including Grand Blanc and Ferndale as well. Brother Rice, No. 5 overall, also has wins over Grand Blanc and Carman-Ainsworth and won’t have to face Bloomfield Hills, which opens on St. Mary’s side of the bracket. The Black Hawks shared the Oakland Activities Association White championship and closed on a five-game winning streak.


Grand Rapids West Catholic
1. Hudsonville Unity Christian (20-0), 2. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (19-1), Grand Rapids West Catholic (15-5), Ada Forest Hills Eastern (15-5), Allendale (6-14), Wyoming Lee (5-15).

This District features the two most recent Division 2 champs, last year’s winner Grand Rapids Catholic Central and 2019 champ Unity Christian (with 2020 canceled because of COVID-19). Unity Christian won the O-K Blue, handing West Catholic two of its defeats along the way, while GRCC won the O-K Gold and defeated Forest Hills Eastern twice during league play. Third rounds of both are part of this bracket if West Catholic and FHE win their openers. GRCC defeated Unity Christian 71-52 in last season’s District Final on the way to its undefeated finish.

1. Marshall (18-2), 2. Olivet (19-1), Battle Creek Pennfield (14-6), Battle Creek Harper Creek (14-6), Eaton Rapids (10-10), Charlotte (8-12).

League title winners also line up on opposite sides of this bracket, with Interstate 8 Athletic Conference co-champ Marshall and the Great Lakes Activities Conference’s Olivet. The Eagles’ only loss this season was by two to league rival Leslie (11-9), and Olivet will open Wednesday against the winner of an I8AC matchup between Harper Creek and Pennfield – last season’s Division 2 runner-up. Harper Creek won its regular-season matchups with Pennfield by 18 and 12. Pennfield did deal Marshall a loss, by four, Jan. 11.

Wyoming Kelloggsville
1. Grand Rapids Christian (16-4), 2. Grand Rapids South Christian (15-5), Wyoming Godwin Heights (9-8), Wyoming Kelloggsville (12-8), Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy (14-6), Kentwood Grand River Prep (6-8).

The Eagles enter the top seed as runners-up from the O-K White but with all three of their losses to Division 1 opponents and as the only team to defeat Grand Rapids Northview (19-1). South Christian tied for second in the O-K Gold, but all of its losses were to teams that finished 15-5 or better – including a season-opening defeat to Grand Rapids Christian, 66-58. Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville and WMAA all were upper-division teams in their respective leagues as well, with Kelloggsville and Godwin Heights meeting in an opener after splitting their regular-season series.


1. Niles Brandywine (13-5), 2. Watervliet (16-3), Bridgman (12-8), Cassopolis (16-4), Buchanan (12-8).

This District features five teams that all finished among the top 42 in overall Division 3 MPR, with Brandywine at No. 10 and Watervliet at No. 14. Brandywine lines up as the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red champ on one side of the bracket, facing league opponent Buchanan for the third time. Watervliet was the co-champ of the Southwestern Athletic Conference Lakeshore and sits on the other side. Cassopolis was second in the Southwest 10 Conference and opens with a rematch against Bridgman, which tied for second in the BCS Red and defeated the Rangers by 16 on Dec. 28. The winner of that game sees Watervliet on Wednesday.

Maple City Glen Lake
1. Traverse City St. Francis (18-2), 2. Benzie Central (17-3), Elk Rapids (14-6), Maple City Glen Lake (15-5), Mancelona (14-6).

All five teams finished among the top 52 in overall Division 3 MPR, led by St. Francis (No. 4), Elk Rapids (13) and Benzie (19). St. Francis was first in the Lake Michigan Conference, with Elk Rapids second. Benzie won the Northwest Conference a game ahead of Glen Lake, while Mancelona was runner-up in the Ski Valley Conference. Benzie avenged its Jan. 25 eight-point loss to Glen Lake with a 13-point win Feb. 25 but lost both of its games last week against larger Big North Conference opponents. St. Francis’ only losses this season were to Division 1 teams.

Michigan Center
1. Vandercook Lake (18-2), 2. Napoleon (18-2), Michigan Center (14-6), Grass Lake (6-13), Jackson Lumen Christian (3-17), East Jackson (5-15).

This lines up as concluding with a third game between Cascades Conference champ Vandercook Lake and runner-up Napoleon – and Vandercook Lake won the regular-season meetings by seven and six points. But surely the Jayhawks are keeping an eye on Michigan Center, which finished third in the Cascades and won the second meeting with Vandercook 68-66 on Feb. 4. They would meet again in a District Semifinal if Michigan Center defeats Lumen Christi in their opener. Grass Lake is an interesting upset prospect after losing to Vandercook Lake by only four and five points and to Michigan Center in overtime in their second meeting.


1. Powers North Central (16-4), 2. Hannahville Nah Tah Wahsh (18-2), Norway (14-6), Stephenson (13-6), Crystal Falls Forest Park (9-11), Carney-Nadeau (4-14), Felch North Dickinson (3-17).

The Jets went undefeated in winning the Skyline Central Conference small-school division, although they did lose a pair of games last week. North Central defeated Norway twice by double digits and would see the Knights again Wednesday if Norway gets by Forest Park for a third time. On the other side, the Soaring Eagles also are coming off a pair of losses last week, including by 26 to Stephenson – their opponent in tonight’s opener. Stephenson has won six straight.

1. Ubly (15-4), 2. Kinde North Huron (15-5), Deckerville (14-6), Carsonville-Port Sanilac (5-13), Caseville (1-12).

Ubly (12), North Huron (24) and Deckerville (27) were top-30 teams in the final overall Division 4 MPR. Ubly won the Greater Thumb Conference East, while North Huron was first in the North Central Thumb League Stars and Deckerville second. Deckerville did win their first matchup by five before North Huron won the rematch by six Feb. 18 as part of a 10-game winning streak. They could meet again in a Wednesday District Semifinal.

Three Oaks River Valley
1. New Buffalo (19-1), 2. Eau Claire (14-5), Three Oaks River Valley (15-5), Benton Harbor Countryside Academy (11-7), St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (7-11), St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran (6-13).

New Buffalo finished No. 1 in overall Division 4 MPR, with Eau Claire No. 15 and River Valley No. 20. All six of these teams are from the BCS White, with New Buffalo the champion, Eau Claire a co-runner-up, River Valley fourth and Countryside fifth. New Buffalo’s only loss this season came to Niles Brandywine, and it defeated Eau Claire by nine and 15 points and possible Wednesday opponent River Valley by 12 and 16. Eau Claire defeated Countryside by 12 and 25, and they could meet a third time as well Wednesday.  

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PHOTO Orchard Lake St. Mary's downed Grand Blanc 65-62 on Jan. 8. Both are considered Division 1 championship contenders as District play begins. (Photo by Terry Lyons.)

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.)