Breslin Bound: Boys Regional Preview

March 14, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The MHSAA Boys Basketball Tournament finished up its first week Friday with many of the expected contenders moving on – but quite a few surprises as well. 

See below for four teams from each class that jumped out from Districts, with Regionals tipping off tonight. Click for brackets for all 32 and stay with Score Center tonight for scores and updated matchups.

Class A

Belleville (19-4) – The Tigers have won eight games straight and improved seven wins from a year ago, and had an eventful District week. In the Semifinal, Belleville beat Romulus, the team with which it shared the Western Wayne Athletic Conference Blue title, and then downed Westland John Glenn in overtime in the Final.

Detroit Western International (17-3) – The reigning Class A champion has had a solid season, finishing second in the Detroit Public School League West Division 1. But the biggest highlights came last week with a 77-76 overtime win over PSL Tournament champion Detroit East English, followed by a 15-point District Final win over 14-win Martin Luther King. 
Lowell (18-5) – Since winning three games in 2010-11, the Red Arrows have improved their win total every season of the last five and are four victories better than a season ago. Lowell added a couple top teams from the east side of the state to the schedule this winter and lost locally only to Grand Rapids Christian twice and Wyoming Godwin Heights. 
Roseville (17-5) – The Panthers improved to five wins better than a season ago, adding a District title to a runner-up finish in the Macomb Area Conference White. They've won 10 of their last 12 games. 

Class B

Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard (12-11) – The Fighting Irish entered the tournament two games below .500 but emerged on the plus side thanks in part to a 43-41 upset of Chelsea in the District Final. Chelsea finished 16-6.

Detroit Osborn (13-10) – The Knights again proved the tough competition in the Public School League is a good primer for the postseason, winning their second straight District title despite finishing fifth in the PSL East Division 1 standings and going 2-7 in January. 
Flint Northwestern (12-11) – The Wildcats finished only fifth in the Saginaw Valley League South but have won five straight and avenged last season’s District loss, downing Frankenmuth 57-52 in this year’s Final. Frankenmuth finished 20-3.
Stockbridge (17-5) – The Panthers split with Leslie during the regular season but still finished a game behind the Blackhawks and second in the final Greater Lansing Activities Conference standings. But Stockbridge beat Leslie (20-3) in the District Final. 

Class C

Beaverton (19-1) – Bad weather kept Beaverton from getting in its full 20 regular-season games, but the Beavers did manage to extend their Jack Pine Conference winning streak to 34 with a second straight league title. They beat two league foes to win the District as well. 

Constantine (14-9) – The Falcons dropped their final two regular-season games and finished only fourth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley. But they beat third-place Schoolcraft on the way to a second-straight District title and after losing to the Eagles only four days before.
Grandville Calvin Christian (17-4) – The Squires took a couple of late losses prepping for the postseason with a final run that included reigning Class C runner-up NorthPointe Christian, reigning Class B champion Godwin Heights, plus 17-win Allendale and 15-win Covenant Christian. But those challenges paid off as Calvin Christian downed Covenant Christian 64-50 to start last week and then NorthPointe 52-45 in the District Final. 
Ishpeming Westwood (10-12) – The final two weeks of the regular season included four losses over its final five games, but Westwood was a different team once the District began. The Patriots started with a win over Manistique – which they had lost to Feb. 17 – and finished with a 51-47 win over rival Ishpeming after falling to the 16-win Hematites twice in league play. 

Class D

AuGres-Sims (11-9) – The Wolverines were another team that entered the postseason on a bit of a stumble, having lost four of six after locking down second place in the North Star League Little Dipper division. But they beat champion Fairview by 12 to open last week and then Mio 62-59 in the Final.
Fulton (16-6) – A five-point loss to Class C Lakeview in the regular-season finale is the only blemish for the Pirates over their last eight games. They clinched the District title with a 55-42 win over league rival and 13-win Fowler. 
Novi Franklin Road Christian (16-6) – Annual contender Southfield Christian is the team most pay attention to from the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference, either division. But Blue runner-up Franklin Road Christian has won eight of nine to continue a seven-win improvement from a season ago. 
Rock Mid-Peninsula (13-9) – The Wolverines won only three games each of the last two seasons, but added a District title to this winter of improvement to go with the Skyline Central Conference East championship. 

PHOTO: Ithaca repeated as a District champion last week, downing Sanford Meridian in a Class C Final. (Click to see more at

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.)