Breslin Bound: Boys District Preview

March 6, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

In less than three weeks, 16 boys basketball teams will converge on Michigan State University’s Breslin Center to determine four MHSAA titles.

Today, more than 700 teams remain in the hunt.

Our final winter tournament begins tonight as boys hoops Districts tip off all over the state. Switching up the format a bit for our Breslin Bound reports – powered by MI Student Aid – we look below as usual at some of the most eye-catching results from last week, but also three Districts in each class shaping up as the most attention-grabbing heading into our first round.

Week in Review

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

1. New Haven 108, Flint Beecher 104 (3 OT) – It would be hard to find a more exciting regular-season finale than this one between Class B and C favorites; Beecher’s Malik Ellison scored 63 points in trying to reverse the eventual outcome.

2. Grand Rapids Christian 72, Wyoming Godwin Heights 58 – As it’s often said, someone had to lose, and Christian moved on to eventually finish 20-0 while dealing Godwin Heights its only loss this season. The Eagles got their scare Thursday with an overtime two-point win over Kalamazoo Central.

3. Wayne Memorial 47, Walled Lake Central 44 – Wayne closed a nail-biting Kensington Lakes Activities Association Tournament run with this championship game win, its second in three playoff games by three points.

4. Dollar Bay 54, Painesdale-Jeffers 46 – With a loss to the second-place Jets, Dollar Bay still would’ve clinched the Copper Mountain Conference Copper Country title, reportedly its first championship since 1994, but this capped a perfect league run.

5. Morley Stanwood, 59, Big Rapids 56 – The champions of the Central State Activities Association Silver and Gold faced off, with the Silver title winner emerging victorious in this unofficial league final.

Districts at a Glance

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


Grosse Pointe South

Detroit Cass Tech (16-4), Detroit East English (13-5), Detroit Martin Luther King (15-4), Detroit Western International (8-11), Grosse Pointe South (10-10), Hamtramck (13-5).

This could be a remix of the Detroit Public School League Tournament, where Cass Tech beat East English in the semifinal 73-71 and then King in the championship game 59-47. That came after Cass Tech split with Western during the league regular season – and King and East English split this winter as well.

Lansing Everett (at Don Johnson Fieldhouse)

DeWitt (11-9), East Lansing (20-0), Grand Ledge (7-13), Lansing Everett (12-8), Lansing Waverly (13-7).

East Lansing would look to be the strong favorite, and rightfully so especially coming out of the same league as Grand Ledge and Everett. But the Trojans also were undefeated heading into the postseason last winter and were upset in the Regional by Everett, which went on to make the Class A Semifinals.  

Walled Lake Western

Milford (12-8), Walled Lake Central (14-6), Walled Lake Northern (14-6), Walled Lake Western (14-6), White Lake Lakeland (7-13).

Similar to above in the PSL, this could be a redo of the KLAA North race, won by Western by a game over co-runners-up Central and Northern, which both split with Western in league play. Central ended up winning the Lakes tournament championship with a five-point win over Western, which had beaten Northern by one in the semifinals.



Birch Run (7-13), Bridgeport (18-2), Carrollton (10-10), Frankenmuth (18-2), Saginaw Swan Valley (14-6).

The Tri-Valley East championship was split by the host Bearcats and Frankenmuth, with Bridgeport winning their first meeting by 10 and the Eagles winning the second also by 10. Frankenmuth lost only once more over its final 19 regular-season games – in fact, both TVC East champs also lost to Flint Hamady. Swan Valley and Carrollton were third and fourth, respectively, in the TVC Central, and the winner of their opener should provide a challenge.


Algonac (2-18), Armada (9-11), Marine City (3-15), Marysville (14-6), New Haven (19-1), Richmond (16-4), St. Clair (14-6).

New Haven won the Macomb Area Conference Blue title and lost this season only to 2016 Class A semifinalist Macomb Dakota, by six in December. Richmond also is formidable after finishing second in the Blue Water Area Conference but with two painful losses by a combined three points at the end of February that cost the Blue Devils the league title. Marysville was co-league champion in the MAC Silver and runner-up in the MAC Silver-Bronze Tournament.


Adrian (9-11), Brooklyn Columbia Central (10-10), Chelsea (13-7), Hillsdale (20-0), Onsted (15-5), Tecumseh (2-18).

Hillsdale won the Lenawee County Athletic Association with a sweep of Onsted, the first victory in double overtime and the second by only two points. The Wildcats were District champs a year ago. Chelsea finished only fourth in the Southeastern Conference White, but four of six teams in that league won at least 11 games during the regular season, and the Bulldogs are 9-4 since Jan. 7.



Bangor (0-20), Bloomingdale (14-6), Gobles (14-6), Hartford (9-11), Kalamazoo Christian (13-7), Kalamazoo Hackett (19-1).

Rivals Hackett and Christian would meet in a District Semifinal after Hackett swept the series with three and six-point (in overtime) wins on the way to a shared Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley title. Hackett reached the Quarterfinals a year ago. The host Cardinals won the SAC Central after going only 2-18 last season. And Gobles enters as the fourth-place finisher out of the strong SAC Lakeshore.

Flint Hamady

Burton Atherton (13-7), Burton Bendle (14-6), Burton Bentley (9-11), Flint Beecher (15-5), Flint Hamady (14-6), Montrose (11-9), New Lothrop (13-7).

Considering Flint Beecher has won back-to-back Class C championships and four of the last five, it’s easy to lean toward the Buccaneers heavy this week. But this District is stacked with successful teams – as noted above, Hamady handed Class B hopefuls Bridgeport and Frankenmuth losses and fell to Beecher by only four in their second meeting Feb. 3. All of Beecher’s defeats this season came against Class A or B opponents.


Concord (15-5), East Jackson (7-13), Hanover-Horton (17-3), Jackson Lumen Christi (3-17), Michigan Center (20-0), Napoleon (15-5), Vandercook Lake (12-8).

Hanover-Horton has won 15 straight District titles, the longest streak in Michigan, but will have plenty of challenges beginning tonight against Vandercook Lake. Michigan Center is perfect for the regular season reportedly for the first time – and beat Hanover-Horton by 19 and 13 this winter. Even then, Michigan Center would have to get through whichever wins between Napoleon and Concord just to reach the championship game.



Baraga (0-20), Chassell (11-9), Dollar Bay (16-4), Lake Linden-Hubbell (6-14), Ontonagon (12-8), Painesdale-Jeffers (16-4)

With two-time reigning Class D champ Powers North Central roaming a similarly-stacked District at Stephenson, this might be the most competitive in the Upper Peninsula this week. Dollar Bay and Painesdale-Jeffers would meet in a Semifinal – as noted above, Dollar Bay won the Copper Country title this season with victories of seven and eight over the Jets. The Bays did lose to Ontonagon at the start of January (and win the rematch in February), and play them first in an opener tonight.


Bear Lake (14-6), Brethren (11-9), Buckley (20-0), Fife Lake Forest Area (11-9), Mesick (1-18), Onekama (9-11).

Buckley, of course, would be considered the favorite and won a District title a year ago. But Bear Lake, Brethren and Forest Area all have winning records and are on the other side of the bracket, and will try to take advantage of any possible letdown. Bear Lake finished second in the West Michigan D League.

Byron Center Zion Christian

Byron Center Zion Christian (12-8), Holland Calvary (14-6), Wyoming Potter’s House Christian (13-6), Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (12-8)

The Alliance League title was shared by Calvary and Potter’s House, with Zion Christian a close third only a game back – but Tri-unity Christian plays in the league only for girls basketball, not boys. The Defenders own an 11-point win over Potter’s House from the start of the season and a 10-pointer over Calvary two weeks ago, and took most of its losses from schools in the other three classes. They made the Class D Semifinals in 2016.

PHOTO: A Flint Beecher player deflects a Corunna shot during their matchup earlier this season. (Click to see more from Varsity Monthly.)

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.)