Breslin Bound: 2023-24 Boys Report Week 8

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 22, 2024

Tuesday’s matchup of Cadillac (11-0) hosting Whitehall (12-0) would crack our five “Can’t-Miss Contests” for the upcoming week most weeks every season – and it's lined up to be a great one. 

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But perhaps indicating the decisive stretch we've reached this season, it falls just outside our preview list below – which is loaded with potential league title deciders, be they the first meetings between expected favorites or rematches from early-season faceoffs that now mean much more.

“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at

Week in Review

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

1. Iron Mountain 48, Kingsford 47 Coming out of this matchup of arguably the top two teams in the Upper Peninsula, Iron Mountain (11-0) stands alone as the last undefeated team on its side of the Bridge after handing the neighboring Flivvers (11-2) just their second defeat.

2. Port Huron Northern 59, Warren Lincoln 57 The Huskies (10-2) drew even with Lincoln atop the Macomb Area Conference White by avenging an 80-46 loss to the Abes (9-2) from Dec. 15.

3. Zeeland West 61, Detroit Cass Tech 42 West (8-3) delivered the only defeat this season to the reigning Division 1 champion Technicians (9-1) during the Gottagetit Hoops Classic at East Kentwood.

4. Warren Lincoln 49, Grand Rapids Christian 47 Lincoln bounced back from its loss to PHN quickly, defeating Romeo on Thursday and then handing Grand Rapids Christian (8-1) its only loss, also at East Kentwood.

5. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 76, Detroit U-D Jesuit 68 The Eaglets (10-1) avenged their lone loss this winter, 60-55 to Jesuit on Dec. 18, to take a two-game lead in the Detroit Catholic League Central.

Flint Southwestern and Kearsley face off Jan. 5.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks:


Detroit Martin Luther King (11-3) After opening this season with losses to a pair of strong opponents in Lansing Waverly and North Farmington, King has reasserted itself among the elite with 11 wins over its last 12 games (and the only defeat during that time to undefeated East Lansing). The Crusaders join Cass Tech at the top of the Detroit Public School League Blue heading into Tuesday’s matchup, and are coming off handing Grand Rapids Northview a 54-53 loss in East Kentwood on Saturday – adding to wins over Kalamazoo Central, Saginaw and Detroit Southeastern and Renaissance among others.

Rockford (9-3) The Rams also got off to a slow start, relatively speaking, opening 2-3 but with those losses to Muskegon by a point, Byron Center and Grand Rapids South Christian. Rockford has won its last seven games, defeating Zeeland West (see above) to win the Zeeland Holiday Tournament and last week moving into first place alone in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red by handing the only losses this season to Hudsonville (55-52 OT) and East Kentwood (61-56). Rockford tied for third in the league behind those two last season.


Benton Harbor (13-0) After stumbling a bit to end last season on a 3-6 streak, Benton Harbor has cruised to another magnificent start with Saturday’s 58-48 victory over Wyoming Lee in East Kentwood tying its closest win this winter. A 72-59 victory over Niles Brandywine on Jan. 11 has the Tigers atop the Lakeland Conference again as they look to repeat, with a 92-46 win over Detroit Douglass from Dec. 28 also among their most impressive. Big-time matchups await against South Haven, Kalamazoo Central, Watervliet, Brandywine again Feb. 16 and Niles in the regular-season finale after the Vikings ended Benton Harbor’s 2022-23 run.

Tecumseh (10-1) A nine-game winning streak last February and March was stopped by an overtime Regional Final loss to Chelsea, but Tecumseh picked right back up this winter with this start and its only defeat 55-51 to Riverview over the break. Tecumseh has avenged losses from last season to Adrian Madison and Temperance Bedford, can avenge another in Tuesday’s matchup with Pinckney, and sees Chelsea for the first time Jan. 30 after Chelsea dealt Tecumseh three defeats total during last season’s 20-7 campaign.


Alcona (9-4) The Tigers are showing a nice ability to rebound – first from a 1-3 start with their current 8-1 run, and more recently after falling 38-37 to Ogemaw Heights on Jan. 8 but coming back a week later to defeat Oscoda 47-36 to stand alone in first place in the North Star League Big Dipper. That was the closest of Alcona’s nine wins, and the second game in the Oscoda series is on the Tigers’ homecourt Feb. 6. Alcona was 10-12 but second in the league a year ago.

Iron Mountain (11-0) As noted above, Iron Mountain is the lone undefeated team left in the Upper Peninsula, and Kingsford was the first team to come within single digits of the Mountaineers since their 51-43 victory over Gladstone in the season opener. This is familiar territory for Iron Mountain, of course, and three more of these victories came over opponents that have won at least nine games. Iron Mountain does go to Kingsford Feb. 13, and circle as well a home game Feb. 5 against Menominee, which ended the Mountaineers’ seasons the last two winters.


Lake Linden-Hubbell (8-2) The Lakes have enjoyed a nice climb from seven to 13 to 17 wins over the last three seasons, respectively, and they could be ready to take another step. The losses came to Houghton and Painesdale Jeffers, which both have 11 wins this season, and Lake Linden-Hubbell welcomes Jeffers for a rematch Feb. 6. A 74-42 season-opening win over Chassell also was a highlight, and the Lakes travel to Chassell on Feb. 9 and for possibly another telling matchup a week later at Stephenson.

Saginaw Nouvel (9-3) The Panthers, coming off a Division 3 Regional Final run, tested themselves right away this winter and went 0-3 the first week against Essexville Garber, Pewamo-Westphalia and still-undefeated Cass City (falling 54-53). They haven’t lost again. Nouvel sits atop the Tri-Valley Conference White with just Ithaca to play to complete a first-half run through the league, defeated nine-win opponents Imlay City and Standish-Sterling, and will test itself again Feb. 20 at Chesaning, which is off to an 11-0 start.

Can’t-Miss Contests

Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up: 

Tuesday – Detroit Cass Tech (9-1) at Detroit Martin Luther King (11-3) – Both are undefeated in the PSL Blue, and Cass Tech won all three matchups last season: 57-55, 74-70 (OT) in the PSL championship game and 71-59 in a District Semifinal.

Tuesday – Pewamo-Westphalia (9-1) at Laingsburg (10-0) – The Wolfpack are first and the Pirates second in the Central Michigan Athletic Conference thanks to Laingsburg’s 59-55 overtime win Dec. 6.

Thursday – East Lansing (11-0) at Okemos (10-1) – These rivals split last season’s two matchups just three days apart, and they enter this one as the only two teams undefeated in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue play.

Friday – Riverview Gabriel Richard (11-1) at Jackson Lumen Christi (10-0) – This eventually could decide the Detroit Catholic League AA title as these two are undefeated in league play and the next contender has two conference losses.

Friday – Beal City (11-2) at McBain (9-1) – The Aggies also are trying to even the season score in this series, as McBain leads the Highland Conference thanks to its 60-43 win over Beal on Dec. 13.'s weekly “Breslin Bound” previews and reviews are powered by MI Student Aid, a division within the Department of Lifelong Education, Advancement, and Potential (MiLEAP). MI Student Aid encourages students to pursue postsecondary education by providing access to student financial resources and information. MI Student Aid administers the state’s scholarship and grant programs that help make college Accessible, Affordable and Attainable for you. Connect with MI Student Aid at and find more information on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTOS (Top) Jayce Branson (3) gets to the rim during East Lansing's 52-29 win over DeWitt last week. (Middle) Flint Southwestern and Kearsley face off Jan. 5. (Top photo by Max McCallister; middle 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.)