Breslin Bound: 2023-24 Boys Semifinals Preview

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

March 13, 2024

No reigning champs seeking to repeat as an MHSAA Finals champion, but nine hopefuls seeking a first boys basketball title. Six contenders hoping to play in a championship game for the first time, and at least one guaranteed to reach this season’s final day at Breslin Center.

Every team makes its own history, of course. But there are opportunities everywhere at Michigan State this weekend for the final 16 teams playing this season to accomplish something their schools have never achieved before – or at least, in a long time.

Among this group of 16, only three semifinalists are back from last year – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Division 1, Niles Brandywine in Division 3 and Wyoming Tri-unity Christian in Division 4. And in addition to those nine teams seeking a first championship, three others are seeking their first since 1985, 1975 and 1938.

DIVISION 1 - Friday
Orchard Lake St. Mary's (25-1) vs Ann Arbor Huron (22-4) - Noon
Zeeland West (20-7) vs North Farmington (23-2) - 2 p.m.

DIVISION 2 - Friday
Flint Powers Catholic (22-5) vs Warren Lincoln (22-4) - 5:30 p.m.
Grand Rapids Christian (25-2) vs Chelsea (21-6) - 7:30 p.m.

DIVISION 3 - Thursday
Niles Brandywine (24-3) vs McBain (25-2) - Noon
Detroit Old Redford (20-7) vs Riverview Gabriel Richard (23-3) - 2 p.m.

DIVISION 4 - Thursday
St. Ignace (21-6) vs Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (22-5) - 5:30 p.m.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (25-2) vs Allen Park Inter-City Baptist (23-4) - 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, 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):

Division 1

Record/rank: 22-4, No. 15
League finish: Tied for second in Southeastern Conference Red
Coach: Mohammad Kasham, second season (45-7)
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2021, Class A runner-up 2010.
Best wins: 54-48 over No. 2 East Lansing in Quarterfinal, 53-50 over No. 35 Wayne Memorial in Regional Final, 54-53 over No. 10 Detroit Catholic Central in Regional Semifinal, 64-53 over No. 32 River Rouge, 59-57 over No. 33 Ann Arbor Pioneer in District Final, 72-71 over No. 19 Grand Rapids Northview, 65-52 over No. 14 Saline.
Players to watch: Macari Moore, jr. 6-3 G (23 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, 2.3 spg); Justin Latham, 6-6 sr. F (7.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg); Kaleb Brown, 6-3 jr. G (6.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg).
Outlook: Huron has reached at least the Quarterfinals both seasons under Kasham, who previously served as an assistant coach for 16 years. The team’s only losses were twice to Pioneer – avenged in the District Final – and once to Saline and Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice. Huron also has wins over two teams playing at Breslin this weekend – Division 2 Chelsea 72-48 and Division 3 Detroit Old Redford 72-38. Junior 6-4 guard Jaydon Keefer (6.7 ppg, 47 3-pointers entering the week) gives the River Rats an all-junior starting backcourt.

Record/rank: 23-2, No. 3
League finish: Tied for first in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Todd Negoshian, 13th season (209-73)
Championship history: Class A runner-up 2016.
Best wins: 62-51 over No. 32 River Rouge in Quarterfinal, 54-53 over No. 7 Warren De La Salle Collegiate in Regional Final, 47-28 over No. 27 Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, 61-46 over No. 11 West Bloomfield, 66-57 over No. 42 Zeeland West, 58-46 over No. 37 Detroit Martin Luther King, 67-62 (OT) and 54-51 over Division 2 No. 8 Ferndale.
Players to watch: Tyler Spratt, 6-5 G/F sr. (16 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.0 spg); Landon Williams, 6-4 sr. G (14.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.0 spg); Dylan Smith, 6-9 sr. C (14.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg).
Outlook: North Farmington won its third-straight District title and second-straight league championship on the way to this first trip to Breslin since its 2016 runner-up finish. The Raiders navigated their annually tough schedule with the only losses to West Bloomfield and Grand Rapids Northview, both over the course of nine days midseason. Guard Will MacShara gives North Farmington a fourth senior in the starting lineup, and junior guard Rob Smith (12.4 ppg) gives the Raiders a fourth starter averaging double-digit scoring.

Record/rank: 25-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Catholic High School League Central
Coach: Todd Covert, ninth season (151-54)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2000), two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 52-43 (Quarterfinal), 58-55, 59-41 and 66-47 over No. 6 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice; 68-46 over No. 11 West Bloomfield in District Final, 73-41 over No. 9 Detroit Cass Tech, 56-37 over No. 2 East Lansing, 65-46, 68-55 and 54-40 over No. 7 Warren De La Salle Collegiate; 64-52 and 70-56 over No. 10 Detroit Catholic Central, 76-68 over No. 12 Detroit U-D Jesuit, 65-58 over Division 2 No. 2 Warren Lincoln.
Players to watch: Trey McKenney, 6-5 jr. G (22.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg); Sharod Barnes, 6-2 jr. G (12.5 ppg, 4.4 apg); Jayden Savoury, 6-6 jr. F (12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg).
Outlook: St. Mary’s got on a roll at the end of the 2022-23 regular season and reached its first Semifinal since 2006, and the Eaglets haven’t slowed down this winter. The lone defeat came 60-55 on Dec. 18 to U-D Jesuit and was avenged a month later, and only five wins have been by single digits. McKenney was The Associated Press’ Division 1 Player of the Year last season as a sophomore and is sure to be the Mr. Basketball Award favorite next winter. Senior guard Daniel Smythe (7.7 ppg) is another top contributor, with three more players averaging at least five points per game. 

Record/rank: 20-7, No. 42
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference Green
Coach: David Klyn, eighth season (102-73)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 53-52 over No. 17 Muskegon in Quarterfinal, 44-41 over No. 19 Grand Rapids Northview in Regional Semifinal, 61-42 over No. 9 Detroit Cass Tech, 58-44 over Division 2 No. 11 Hudsonville Unity Christian.
Players to watch: Lukas Bakker, 6-5 sr. F (13.2 ppg, 58 3-pointers); Myles Steffen, 6-3 sr. G (7.6 ppg, 3.5 apg); Merritt Alderink, 6-7 sr. F (13.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg).
Outlook: West this season has defeated both teams that played in last year’s Division 1 title game, reigning champion Cass Tech and runner-up Muskegon on Tuesday, with the latter victory landing the Dux in their first Semifinal after they won their first Regional title last week. The Muskegon win also avenged a pair of league losses, and all of West’s defeats came to opponents that won at least 16 games this season. The Dux start five seniors, with guard Trenten Bolhouse (6.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and 6-5 forward Orion Yant (7.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) filling out the lineup with experience and additional scoring.

Division 2

Record/rank: 21-6, No. 9
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference White
Coach: Andrea Cabana, second season (42-12)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 68-53 over No. 22 Detroit University Prep in Quarterfinal, 75-53 over No. 10 Onsted in Regional Final, 70-62 and 97-87 over No. 12 Adrian, 59-57 over Division 1 No. 14 Saline.
Players to watch: Jake Stephens, 6-4 sr. G (25.3 ppg, 59 3-pointers, 11 rpg, 4.0 apg, 3.0 spg); Joey Cabana, 6-2 sr. G (21.3 ppg, 64 3-pointers, 4.0 apg); Drew Blanton, 6-2 jr. G (10.5 ppg, 5.0 apg).
Outlook: Chelsea is enjoying a school-record run after also making the Quarterfinals last season but reaching the Semifinals this week for the first time. Andrea Cabana led the Grass Lake girls to the Division 3 title in 2021 and is believed to be the second woman to coach a boys team to the Semifinals, after Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart’s Keisha Brown in 2006. Joey Cabana and Stephens both made the all-state first team last season and supply the bulk of the scoring for a contender that’s reached 70 points 10 times this winter. Chelsea has won 16 of its last 17 games, the lone loss during that time to Division 1 River Rouge by three points.

Record/rank: 22-5, No. 23
League finish: Tied for fifth in the Saginaw Valley League.
Coach: Zach Collins, third season (43-30)
Championship history: Class B champion 2009, Class B runner-up 2008.
Best wins: 81-77 over No. 4 Kingsford in Quarterfinal, 59-51 (Regional Final) and 72-67 over No. 25 Saginaw Arthur Hill, 62-58 (OT) over Division 1 No. 49 Grand Blanc, 81-78 (OT) over Division 1 No. 34 Hamtramck, 61-48 over Division 3 No. 3 Schoolcraft.
Players to watch: Jesse Cull, 6-5 jr. F (12.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Javontae Ross, 5-11 jr. G (16.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 5.4 apg, 3.1 spg); Connor Kelly, 6-3 sr. F (12.1 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 3.0 apg).
Outlook: Powers is returning to the Finals for the first time since its championship season after winning its first Regional title since 2013, and Collins has led a quick ascension as the team was 5-17 in his first season before jumping to 16-8 a year ago. The Chargers won 10 of their first 11 games this winter and navigated the mostly-Division 1 SVL before rumbling through a playoff run that’s seen all five opponents with winning records. Junior 6-6 center Demsey Cull adds 8.7 ppg and is the team’s second-leading 3-point shooter.

Record/rank: 25-2, No. 3
League finish: First in O-K White
Coach: Eric Taylor, sixth season (108-24)
Championship history: Lower Peninsula Class B champion 1938, two runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 57-52 (Quarterfinal) and 69-50 over No. 22 Grand Rapids Catholic Central, 61-51 over No. 1 Benton Harbor in Regional Final, 52-49 (District Final) and 58-48 over No. 18 Grand Rapids South Christian, 46-42 and 54-43 over Division 1 No. 19 Grand Rapids Northview, 60-51 over Division 1 No. 17 Muskegon.
Players to watch: Nate Johnson, 6-6 sr. G (12.2 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Jaylan Ouwinga, 6-8 sr. F (11.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg); Malachi Hooser, 5-11 sr. G (8.9 ppg).
Outlook: The Eagles have been in the conversation of Division 2 favorites all season with their only losses 49-47 to Warren Lincoln and 49-43 to Division 1 Byron Center. They’ve won 11 straight games heading into their first trip to Breslin since finishing Class A runner-up in 2017. Guard Quintin Willis (6.0 ppg) and forward Carter Goodyke (6.3 ppg) fill out an all-senior starting lineup for a team that’s been especially impressive defensively, holding all opponents under 60 points with 18 games giving up fewer than 50.

Record/rank: 22-4, No. 2
League finish: First in Macomb Area Conference White
Coach: Wydell Henry, sixth season (87-29)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 61-42 over No. 28 Goodrich in Quarterfinal, 55-44 over No. 8 Ferndale in District Final, 49-47 over No. 3 Grand Rapids Christian, 62-54 over Division 1 No. 2 East Lansing, 56-51 over Division 1 No. 11 West Bloomfield, 49-46 over Division 1 No. 16 Grosse Pointe South.
Players to watch: Markus Blackwell, 6-2 jr. G (17 ppg, 4.0 apg, 3.0 spg); Da’Marion Bozeman, 6-5 jr. G (12.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg); Timarion Minor, 6-5 sr. F (11.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 3.5 apg).
Outlook: Warren Lincoln also is making its first trip to Breslin Center after upping its wins the last four seasons from eight to 17 to 19 to this winter’s 22 and counting. The Abes prepped for this run against another of the strongest schedules in the state, with a victory as well over Detroit Old Redford and the losses to Division 1 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Grosse Pointe South, Port Huron Northern and East Kentwood. Six players are scoring at least 7.4 points per game, and junior Moses Blackwell – Markus’ twin – had 68 3-pointers entering the week to lead three with at least 45 this season.

Flint Powers Catholic's Baylor Cicalo (5) gets up a shot during a regular-season game against Davison.

Division 3

Record/rank: 20-7, No. 18 
League finish: Fourth in Charter School Conference Gold 
Coach: Ray Reeves, third season (46-18) 
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 45-44 over Flint Beecher in Quarterfinal, 52-51 over Division 2 No. 6 Romulus Summit Academy North, 61-59 over Division 2 No. 24 Detroit University Prep, 56-55 over Clarkston. 
Players to watch: Arkell Boyd, 6-3 jr. G; Kason Mayes, 6-2 jr. G. (Statistics not submitted.) 
Outlook: Old Redford clinched its first trip to the Semifinals by ending reigning champion Beecher’s repeat aspirations Tuesday. The Ravens have built steadily the last three seasons from 10 to 16 to 22 wins this winter and have won 12 straight games avenging losses to University Prep and Summit along the way. Three more defeats came to teams playing this weekend – Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Ann Arbor Huron and Warren Lincoln. 

Record/rank: 25-2, No. 6 
League finish: First in Highland Conference 
Coach: Bruce Koopman, 30th season (549-158) 
Championship history: Class C champion 2002, Class C runner-up 2011. 
Best wins: 51-49 over No. 2 Menominee in Quarterfinal, 62-51 over No. 17 Sanford Meridian in Regional Final, 50-33 over No. 12 Benzie Central in District Final, 72-48 and 60-43 over No. 25 Beal City, 71-50 over Division 2 No. 15 Reed City.  
Players to watch: Evan Haverkamp, 6-9 sr. C (16.8 ppg, 11.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg); Benjamin Rodenbaugh, 6-3 jr. G (7.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.2 apg); Nathan Koetje, 5-7 sr. G (6.9 ppg, 2.4 apg). 
Outlook: McBain won its first Regional title since 2021 and will play in its first Semifinal since 2016 with its only losses this season to Division 1 Cadillac and Hamtramck. The Ramblers have had loads of success under longtime coach Koopman – who also has a 263-102 record as girls varsity coach over four stints – and the last four seasons have also seen two league and four District titles to go with the two Regional championships. Freshman 6-4 forward Clayton Heuker comes off the bench but is the team’s second-leading scorer at 8.1 ppg with 4.9 rebounds per game.  

Record/rank: 24-3, No. 1 
League finish: Tied for first in Lakeland Conference 
Coach: Nate Knapp, 19th season (235-174) 
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final. 
Best wins: 58-34 over No. 21 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian in Quarterfinal, 41-32 over No. 3 Schoolcraft in Regional Final, 56-47 over No. 48 White Pigeon in District Final, 52-50 over No. 7 Jackson Lumen Christi, 74-34 over No. 36 Bronson, 64-53 over No. 13 Watervliet, 63-57 over Division 2 No. 1 Benton Harbor, 59-48 over Division 2 No. 19 Berrien Springs, 56-43 over Division 2 No. 27 Niles.  
Players to watch: Jaremiah Palmer, 6-1 sr. F (13.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.4 apg); Nylen Goins, 6-0 soph. G (11 ppg); Byron Linley, 6-1 sr. G (13.4 ppg).  
Outlook: Brandywine is back at the Semifinals for the second-straight season and with four starters back from a year ago, with senior guard Jamier Palmer (9.4 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.5 spg) joining the three listed above. The Bobcats’ only losses were to Portage Central, Benton Harbor and Riverview Gabriel Richard – all league champions – and Brandywine split its Benton Harbor series to share their league title. Linley and Goins have both made more than 40 3-pointers to give the team some perimeter power.  

Record/rank: 23-3, No. 5
League finish: Tied for first in CHSL AA
Coach: Kris Daiek, 13th season (204-73)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 58-44 (Quarterfinal) and 54-48 over No. 7 Jackson Lumen Christi, 57-55 over No. 1 Niles Brandywine, 58-55 over Division 2 No. 6 Romulus Summit Academy North, 73-55 over Division 4 No. 5 Taylor Trillium Academy.
Players to watch: Nick Sobush, 5-10 jr. G (17.5 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.9 spg); Luke Westerdale, 6-0 jr. G (16 ppg, 5.1 apg, 3.5 rpg); Charles Kage, 6-8 jr. F (10.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg).
Outlook: Richard is coming off its first Regional title since making the Semifinals as well in 1989, and by defeating Lumen Christi for a second time after sharing the CHSL AA title with the Titans this winter. The Pioneers have been on the verge after winning their District a year ago and going 19-1 in 2021-22. Junior forward Drew Everingham adds another eight points and 4.3 rebounds per game, and senior forward EJ Bennett at 3.1 assists is one of five players averaging at least two per game in that category.

Division 4

Record/rank: 23-4, No. 21
League finish: Second in Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue
Coach: Mark Kraatz, 35th season (560-288)
Championship history: Class D champion 1985.
Best wins: 68-48 over No. 15 Britton Deerfield in Regional Semifinal, 60-49 over No. 5 Taylor Trillium Academy in District Final, 55-44 and 66-54 over No. 29 Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 37-35 over No. 35 Detroit Douglass in Regional Final, 52-38 over Division 3 No. 29 Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest.
Players to watch: Carlos Jackson, 6-3 soph. F (8.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 3.0 apg); Ethan Esse, 5-10 soph. G (20.2 ppg, 74 3-pointers, 3.4 apg); Andrew Frank, 6-3 sr. F (10.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Outlook: Inter-City Baptist has posted winning seasons 31 of Kraatz’s 35 and won 24 Districts during that time, and reached this week after its first Regional title since 2012. He played on the 1985 Class D championship team and also coached the school’s girls varsity for a pair of seasons. The Chargers avenged two of their losses this winter and navigated a postseason run that’s included an overtime win and another by two points. Esse is the long-distance ace, but five more teammates had at least 10 3-pointers entering the week.

Record/rank: 25-2, No. 2
League finish: First in Mid-State Activities Conference
Coach: Justin Sherlock, fourth season (73-19)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1975), Class D runner-up 2006.
Best wins: 63-51 over No. 8 Maple City Glen Lake in Quarterfinal, 66-51 over No. 4 Saginaw Nouvel in Regional Semifinal, 46-43 and 59-39 over No. 20 Fulton, 64-51 over Division 3 No. 25 Beal City.
Players to watch: Noah Zeien, soph. G; Grady Pieratt, jr. G. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Sacred Heart also reached the Semifinals in Sherlock’s first season as coach, 2021, and has won its five postseason games this winter by nearly 21 points on average. The only losses came to Division 1 Cadillac and Dec. 5 to possible Saturday opponent Wyoming Tri-unity Christian, 71-41. Center Aidan Halliday is the team’s lone senior starter.

Record/rank: 21-6, No. 6
League finish: Second in Straits Area Conference
Coach: Doug Ingalls, 25th season (375-181)
Championship history: Two MHSAA runner-up finishes (most recent 1983).
Best wins: 68-51 over No. 12 Crystal Falls Forest Park in Quarterfinal, 58-42 over No. 10 Munising in Regional Final, 79-74 over No. 19 Onaway in Regional Semifinal, 65-60 over No. 28 Rudyard, 54-45 and 69-51 over No. 30 Pickford, 76-66 over Division 3 No. 26 Harbor Springs.
Players to watch: Jonny Ingalls, 6-0 sr. G (30 ppg, 59 3-pointers, 9.2 rpg, 5.3 apg, 4.0 spg, 2.5 bpg); Nick Halberg, 6-3 sr. F (10.3 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.5 bpg); Ethan McLean, 6-3 sr. G/F (11.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg).
Outlook: Ingalls originally took over the program in 1992-93 fresh off setting Northern Michigan University’s career assists record, and he returned for a third tenure in 2020-21 and has brought the Saints back to the Semifinals for the first time since the Class D runner-up season of 1983. This will be his final season as boys basketball coach; he’s also partnered with wife Dorene to lead the St. Ignace girls to 516 wins and five Finals titles. Jonny is their son and a stat sheet machine, and he has plenty of help including also senior forward Kordell KillsCrow (8.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.4 spg).

Record/rank: 22-5, No. 7
League finish: Second in Alliance League
Coach: Mark Keeler, 37th season (692-216)
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2022), six runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 65-29 over No. 34 St. Joseph Our Lady of the Lake Catholic in Quarterfinal, 46-39 over No. 23 Fowler in Regional Semifinal, 71-41 over No. 2 Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart, 52-41 over Wyoming Godwin Heights.
Players to watch: Jordan VanKlompenberg, 6-2 sr. G (12.8 ppg, 55 3-pointers, 5.0 rpg, 3.6 apg); Keaton Blanker, 5-10 jr. G (7.8 ppg, 4.6 apg); Wesley Kaman, 6-1 sr. G/F (10.5 ppg).
Outlook: Tri-unity Christian fell just a basket shy of a sixth championship a year ago, falling to Munising 39-37 in the Final, but is back at the Semifinals for the fifth-straight season (not counting COVID-canceled 2020). All of the team’s losses were to opponents from Divisions 1, 2 or 3, and the Defenders have won 12 of their last 13 games. Keeler is up to fourth on the list of winningest boys basketball coaches in state history. Seven players average at least five points per game, with 6-6 junior center Joey Mellon (7.0) providing a nice boost off the bench.

PHOTOS (Top) Warren Lincoln's Markus Blackwell (2) blocks a shot during the Abes' 61-42 Quarterfinal win over Goodrich on Tuesday. (Middle) Flint Powers Catholic's Baylor Cicalo (5) gets up a shot during a regular-season game against Davison. (Photos 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.)