Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 1

December 15, 2014

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

A handful of the 16 teams we've glanced at during this week's first Breslin Bound report of the 2014-15 boys season got off the slow starts a year ago. 

They aren't making that mistake again. 

Each week, we’ll look at four teams from each class that stuck out over the previous seven days or the season to that point as we point toward the start of the MHSAA District tournaments March 9.

For schedules of each day’s games statewide and results as we receive them, plus links to each team’s full schedule, results and league standings, click here – and please help us by filling in missing scores or emailing them to [email protected].

Class A

Ann Arbor Skyline (2-0) – The Eagles came back from a 1-3 start last season to make the Class A Quarterfinals, and that’s carried into this winter as they opened by beating Salem 62-56 and then reigning Class D runner-up Adrian Lenawee Christian 57-49.

Canton (2-0) – The Chiefs were solid last season with 15 wins, but a win over Detroit Country Day (54-49 on Friday) generally is a sign a team is capable of bigger things.

Detroit Western International (2-0) – The Cowboys never recovered from a 1-6 start last season in finishing 4-14, but got a jump on this winter opening with a 64-36 win over Chicago Marshall at the Derrick Coleman Classic and following with a 69-57 victory over Saginaw Arthur Hill at the Horatio Williams Classic.

North Farmington (2-0) – The Raiders also got off to a big start in 2013-14 with seven straight wins, and are on the way again after two big wins last week – by 41 over Detroit Collegiate Prep and then 28 over reigning Class D champion Southfield Christian.

Class B

Battle Creek Pennfield (2-0) – The Panthers also were among those who started slowly at 1-3 a year ago; last week’s successful run included a 14-point win over rival Olivet.

Escanaba (2-0) – They Eskymos have improved from five to eight to 17 wins over the last three seasons, respectively, and a 52-50 opening-night win over last season Class C semifinalist Negaunee could be a sign of another jump to come this winter.

Freeland (2-0) – The Falcons’ .500 season a year ago started with a 31-point loss to Carrollton on opening night; a year later, Freeland opened with a 63-47 win over the Cavaliers and a 48-pointer over Pinconning.  

Southfield Bradford (3-0) – The Bulldogs won 19 games last season, and opened their return to Class B this winter with three wins including 57-44 over annual power Detroit Douglass, a Class B semifinalist in 2013-14.

Class C

Blissfield (2-1) – The Royals’ positive start not only provided a serious dent toward surpassing last season’s seven wins, but included a 61-48 victory over Ottawa Lake Whiteford, which beat Blissfield by 22 on opening night of 2013-14.

East Jackson (2-0) – The Trojans went from 17 wins in 2012-13 to two a year ago, but have at least equaled that latter total thanks to a one-point victory over Brooklyn Columbia Central and a seven-pointer against Whitmore Lake.

Houghton Lake (1-0) – The Bobcats didn’t win last season until January and only four times total, so they’re surely happy to get off on a winning foot with two more Jack Pine Conference opponents on the schedule before the new year.

Vassar (2-0) – The Vulcans opened last season with a pair of losses but finished a solid 13-8; they avenged one of those defeats by beating a strong Marlette team 55-53 on Wednesday.

Class D

Marcellus Howardsville Christian (2-1) – The Eagles have had a nice run over the last few seasons and appear off on another, coming back after an opening night loss to Centreville to win the St. Joseph Michigan Lutheran Tip-Off with a 55-10 win over Watervliet Grace Christian and a 71-40 victory over the tournament host.

Mendon (2-0) – The Tigers celebrated their return to Class D last week with a 58-53 win over 2013-14 quarterfinalist Battle Creek St. Philip and then a Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference East-opening win over White Pigeon.

Rudyard (2-0) – The Bulldogs doubled their wins from 2012-13 to 2013-14; they may not be able to do that this winter coming off 13 victories, but got off to a quick start with 59 and 28-point wins last week.

Wyoming Potter’s House Christian (1-1) – Sure, Potter’s House did lose its second game last week, in overtime to annual Class D power Tri-unity Christian (which Potter’s House beat in a District Semifinal last season). But more impressively, the Pumas opened with a 47-46 win over reigning Class C runner-up Pewamo-Westphalia.

PHOTO: River Rouge edged Detroit Cass Tech at the Horatio Williams Classic in one of the top matchups of the first weekend of boys basketball season. (Photo courtesy of the Detroit Public School League.) 

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.)