Breslin Bound: Boys District Preview

March 9, 2020

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

If cold and snow send us into the gym every winter with basketball on our minds, the recent warmup (at least downstate) lets us know we’ll be moving to Breslin Center shortly.

Those who join us at the end of this month will take their first MHSAA Tournament steps this week.

District tournaments tip off all over the state, and again, for the first time, with the top two seeded teams separated on opposite sides of the bracket. 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 especially pop off the page.

“Breslin Bound” is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at Send corrections or missing scores to [email protected]. Rankings below are by Michigan Power Rating (MPR).

Week in Review 

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

1. Ann Arbor Huron 64, Ypsilanti Lincoln 54 – This matchup could very well have been a preview of Huron (19-1) meeting Lincoln (17-3) again in this week’s District Final, as explained below. (Lincoln did bounce back to beat Grand Rapids Catholic Central on Thursday.)

2. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 70, Detroit Cass Tech 65 – The Eaglets (19-1) came out on top in the Operation Friendship matchup of league champions and Division 1 championship hopefuls, with Cass Tech (18-2) also in play for a trip to Breslin.

3. Negaunee 52, Iron Mountain 51 – A last-second basket gave Negaunee (18-2) shares of two conference championships with Iron Mountain, and avenged an 18-point loss to the Mountaineers (19-1) from Jan. 28.

4. Stevensville Lakeshore 53, Portage Central 27 – Lakeshore (16-4) avenged a six-point Jan. 31 loss to Central (16-4) in a big way, and in doing so clinched the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West title outright.

5. Benton Harbor 82, Wyoming 72 – Both finished 18-2 with this final tune-up before the playoffs begin, with Benton Harbor headed into the Division 2 bracket and Wyoming into Division 1.

Districts at a Glance

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


Dearborn Fordson
1. River Rouge (19-1), 2. Detroit Cass Tech (18-2), Detroit Western (7-9), Melvindale (6-14), Dearborn Fordson (6-14).

It would take a pretty serious upset for No. 4 River Rouge and No. 9 Cass Tech to not meet in the championship game, and that matchup should be one of the best of the entire Division 1 bracket this month. Rouge was last season’s Division 2 runner-up, falling by three points while in pursuit of its first MHSAA Finals title in this sport since 1999. The Panthers then ended up in Division 1 this season, opened with a 10-point win over Lincoln, and have only an overtime loss to Division 2 contender Grand Rapids Catholic Central on an otherwise perfect ledger. Cass Tech won the Detroit Public School League West and Tournament titles, and its only losses were by one to No. 7 Flint Carman-Ainsworth and in overtime last week to No. 1 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s.

Detroit Martin Luther King
1. Eastpointe (17-3), 2. Hamtramck (16-3), Grosse Pointe South (16-4), Detroit Martin Luther King (13-6), Grosse Pointe North (3-16).

There isn’t an easy path through this District, as Eastpointe opens with North and then would face King, while South and Hamtramck match up in the other semifinal. All four of the anticipated semifinalists are ranked between Nos. 21-30 by MPR. Of Hamtramck’s three losses, two were to River Rouge (see above), while Grosse Pointe South and Eastpointe were league champions within the Macomb Area Conference and King won the PSL East (and also took an early loss to Rouge).  

Saline/Eastern Michigan University
1. Ann Arbor Huron (19-1), 2. Ypsilanti Lincoln (17-3), Belleville (16-4), Ann Arbor Pioneer (12-8), Saline (13-7), Ypsilanti Community (9-11).

The first five teams listed above rank among the top 50 in Division 1 MPR, with Huron No. 3 and reigning Division 1 champion Lincoln No. 5. Huron won the Southeastern Conference Red that included Pioneer and Saline, and defeated Lincoln last week 64-54. The Railsplitters, of course, feature super sophomore Emoni Bates, and he’s gone over 60 points this season and can put them on his shoulders at any time. Belleville is almost the forgotten team and shouldn’t be – the Tigers won the Kensington Lakes Activities Association East title and rank No. 27 in Division 1 MPR. The openers at this District are scheduled to be played at Saline, with semifinals and the championship game at EMU.


1. Bridgeport (19-1), 2. Frankenmuth (17-3), Clio (15-5), Caro (7-13), Birch Run (3-17), Mt. Morris (6-14).

Home and mostly unstoppable this season, and ranked No. 3 in all of Division 2, Bridgeport is the presumed favorite. But Clio could provide the Bearcats a mighty challenge in tonight’s opener, and No. 11 Frankenmuth on the other side of the bracket and handed Bridgeport its only loss 43-38 on Feb. 7. Bridgeport still won the Tri-Valley Conference East by a game over the Eagles, and also beat them in last season’s District Final before suffering their only loss of the season the next game against Alma to start the Regional.

Hudsonville Unity Christian
1. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (17-3), 2. Hudsonville Unity Christian (16-4), Allendale (14-6), Grand Rapids West Catholic (10-10), Grand Rapids Wellspring Prep (9-11), Wyoming Lee (4-16).

Three of the top 14 in all of Division 2 MPR top this District – No. 1 GRCC, No. 7 Unity Christian and No. 14 Allendale. Unity Christian is the reigning champion in Division 2 and opens against Allendale, which it defeated by 16 in December. Unity went on to win the Ottawa-Kent Conference Green, while GRCC was first, Allendale second and West Catholic fourth in the O-K Blue. GRCC swept those two, losing this season only to Lincoln, No. 2 Benton Harbor and No. 5 Grand Rapids Christian.

St. Clair
1. Macomb Lutheran North (15-3), 2. Richmond (16-4), St. Clair (14-6), Marine City (15-4), New Haven (12-8), Algonac (20-0).

This intriguing grouping includes a pair of MAC co-champs in Marine City (Bronze) and St. Clair (Gold), and the Blue Water Area Conference and Detroit Catholic League AA runners-up in Richmond and Lutheran North, respectively. There have been just a pair of regular-season meetings among the bunch: Marine City edged St. Clair 43-42 on Dec. 19, while Richmond defeated Marine City 58-47 two days before that. All of the first four teams above are ranked among the top 36 in Division 2, with Lutheran North at No. 12 and Richmond No. 19.


1. Niles Brandywine (17-3), 2. Bridgman (15-5), Cassopolis (15-5), Watervliet (7-13), Benton Harbor Countryside Academy (7-11).

Brandywine enters No. 3 overall in Division 3 after winning the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red just ahead of co-runner-up Bridgman. Brandywine won their regular-season matchups by 10 and eight points, but they wouldn’t meet again this week until Friday’s championship game. The Bees tonight must get through Cassopolis, which shared the championship in the Southwest 10 Conference. That’s also a rematch, as Bridgman won a Dec. 28 meeting 70-60. Bridgman also opened this season with a 74-38 win over potential Wednesday opponent Countryside.

Erie Mason
1. Erie Mason (17-3), 2. Blissfield (18-2), Petersburg Summerfield (19-1), Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (12-8), Ottawa Lake Whiteford (2-18).

It’s possible no District this week has teams sharing more ties. Erie Mason rode one of the top scorers in the state, now-senior Joe Liedel, to last season’s Division 3 Semifinals. The Eagles won the Lenawee County Athletic Association title this season, claiming a second meeting against runner-up Blissfield 62-58 after falling to the Royals 61-59 in their first meeting. Erie Mason is 12-1 over its last 13 games, but that lone defeat came 47-33 to Petersburg Summerfield, which won the Tri-County Conference handily but suffered its lone loss Jan. 16 to Blissfield. Monroe St. Mary, meanwhile, has to be considered a scary darkhorse, just two season’s removed from making the Division 3 Semifinals and co-runner-up this winter in the Huron League with Division 1 Riverview behind Division 2 Flat Rock. SMCC was eliminated in its District opener last season – in overtime by Blissfield.  If Mason defeats Whiteford tonight, it will see SMCC on Wednesday, while Summerfield and Blissfield meet Wednesday on the other side of the bracket.

1. Maple City Glen Lake (18-2), 2. Traverse City St. Francis (17-3), Elk Rapids (12-8), Mancelona (15-5).

All four of these contenders are ranked among the top 39 in Division 3 MPR, with No. 6 Glen Lake leading the way but No. 39 Mancelona looking pretty dangerous as a 15-win host. Those two meet on one side Wednesday, while No. 12 St. Francis and No. 36 Elk Rapids tangle for the third time on the other side of the bracket. St. Francis won both regular-season meetings on the way to the Lake Michigan Conference title, while Glen Lake won the Northwest Conference and Mancelona ran third of three superior contenders in the Ski Valley Conference. St. Francis defeated Glen Lake in last year’s District Final 59-44.


1. Frankfort (15-5), 2. Brethren (16-4), Onekama (11-9), Manistee Catholic Central (12-8), Mesick (6-14), Bear Lake (2-18).

Frankfort finished the regular season No. 19 overall and Brethren at No. 20, and the Panthers finished Division 4 runners-up a year ago. The bracket is set up for those two to meet Friday. But given this season’s first three months, a number of possibilities for this week seem reasonable. Frankfort finished second in the Northwest Conference to Glen Lake, but split with third-place Onekama winning the first meeting by five but losing the second by three. Brethren shared the West Michigan D League title, but opened this season with a 10-point loss to Manistee Catholic Central before winning the rematch by three six weeks later. Mesick split with MCC and nearly upset Brethren, losing by just a point in their Jan. 31 game. MCC and Mesick join Frankfort on one side of the bracket, with Brethren, Bear Lake and Onekama on the other.

1. Camden-Frontier (17-3), 2. Hillsdale Academy (18-2), Litchfield (11-9), Hillsdale Will Carleton Academy (12-6), Tekonsha (4-15), Coldwater Pansophia (0-15).

If all goes as set up, top-seeded Camden-Frontier will get a third chance against Hillsdale Academy after the latter edged C-F by a game to win the Southern Central Athletic Association East championship. They split their regular-season meetings, the Redskins winning the first 67-46 with Hillsdale Academy winning the second 59-37. Litchfield lost to both but did win the SCAA Central. Will Carleton split with Litchfield, losing the first meeting by two and winning the second by 25. Both of those potential upsetters are on Camden-Frontier’s side of the bracket.

Painesdale Jeffers
1. Dollar Bay (18-2), 2. Chassell (16-4), Painesdale Jeffers (14-6), Lake Linden-Hubbell (9-11), Baraga (2-18).

Dollar Bay has reached the Semifinals and Breslin Center two straight seasons, and started this season off with 17 straight wins. But the Blue Bolts fell to both Chassell and Jeffers over the last 10 days, leading those three teams to share the Copper Mountain Conference’s Copper Country championship. That late surge also helped all three rank among the top 33 in Division 4 MPR, Dollar Bay still tops in the group at No. 11. The Blue Bolts play their first game this week against the host Wednesday after Jeffers won their Friday meeting 49-47. Chassell, which split its two regular-season games with Jeffers, has Copper Country fourth-place finisher Lake Linde-Hubbell tonight with sixth-place Baraga awaiting the winner Wednesday.

Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Office of Postsecondary Financial Planning located within the Michigan Department of Treasury. 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 529 college savings programs (MET/MESP), as well as 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.

PHOTO: Grand Blanc defeated Flint Beecher 62-55 in a matchup last week of contenders in Divisions 1 and 3, respectively. (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.)