Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 1

December 4, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Boys basketball is back and a bit earlier than usual this winter.

But the trails to Breslin Center already are being blazed as we head into first full week of December and second week of this season.

We’ll again begin every week with a “Breslin Bound” look at the most significant results from the week that was, a look at a pair of teams in every division that are making noise and then a quick glance at games to watch in the week to come. (Changes to keep in mind this season – in addition to the boys season starting and ending a week before the girls, the tournament is now organized by Divisions, 1-4, instead of the traditional Class A-B-C-D.)

Breslin Bound is powered by MI Student Aid and based on results and schedules posted for each school at To offer corrections or fill in scores we’re missing, email me at [email protected].

Week in Review

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

1. Benton Harbor 67, Dowagiac 66 – The reigning Class B champion held on in a rematch of last season’s Regional Final, which saw Dowagiac’s season end at 17-6.

2. Detroit Martin Luther King 54, River Rouge 51 – Hopes are high for both of these programs, as River Rouge made the Class B Semifinals a year ago and King was a Regional finalist in Class A; they now play in Divisions 2 and 1, respectively. 

3. Grand Rapids Christian 60, Wyoming Godwin Heights 59 – These two likely will be ranked among the best in Division 2 when Associated Press polls begin, and the Eagles own the upper hand after avenging last season’s four-point loss.

4. Sterling Heights Stevenson 59, Clarkston 53 – The Wolves graduated a ton and saw one of the state’s winningest coaches retire after back-to-back MHSAA titles, but beating the reigning Class A champion to start the season still had to be huge for the Titans.

5. Ypsilanti Lincoln 80, Ann Arbor Huron 69 – Last season, Lincoln lost by 20 to Huron, which finished 16-6. But the Railsplitters enjoyed the upper hand this time in the high school debut of freshman sensation Emoni Bates.

Watch List

With an eye toward March, here are two teams in each division making sparks: 


• Marquette (2-0) – The Redmen started the season with a statement, downing Brighton 63-58 in overtime on the first day of the Petoskey Tip-Off Classic and then coming back the next day to beat the host 53-31. Marquette was 15-6 a year ago after opening with a 17-point loss to the Northmen, who went on to finish 19-3.

• Portage Northern (2-0) – The Huskies finished 6-16 last season, with a pair of regular-season losses to Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West champion St. Joseph. Perhaps an upset of the Bears in the District opener was a sign of things to come; Northern downed Coloma (18-3 last season) in its opener 71-66 and then St. Joseph 61-48.


• Clare (2-0) – The reigning Jack Pine Conference runner-up looks to chase Sanford Meridian again after opening with a 58-56 win over Beal City and then taking a league win 53-48 over Roscommon. Clare reached its District Final last season, when it finished 19-4.

• Essexville Garber (2-0) – After closing last season with five defeats in their final seven games to finish 11-11, the Dukes are roaring into this winter. They started by avenging last winter’s loss to Saginaw Nouvel with a 61-53 win and then outlasted neighbor Bay City John Glenn 44-42.


• Ironwood (2-0) – The Red Devils, coming off a 12-9 finish last winter, edged Bessemer 54-52 in the opener and won more comfortably against Bayfield (Wis.), 71-58, to close the week. Both games had notable highlights – the first was won on a halfcourt shot, while the second saw Griffen Revoyr score 45 points (as reported by The Upbeat). 

• Sanford Meridian – The reigning Jack Pine Conference champion opened with a 58-49 win over Division 1 Saginaw Heritage, and then started league play with an 81-21 victory over Gladwin. The Mustangs were 21-4 a year ago and reached the Class C Quarterfinals.


• Brimley (2-0) – The Bays are rallying right away after last season’s 20-4 finish and run to the Class D Regional Finals. They started last week by avenging that Regional championship game loss with a 71-49 win over Cedarville, and continued with an 81-49 victory over DeTour. That first win could make Brimley the team to beat in the Eastern U.P. Athletic Conference after finishing second to Cedarville a year ago.

• Engadine (2-0) – The Eagles have improved from two to 12 to 15 wins over the last three seasons, and they’re off to the right start as they try to build on last winter’s 15-6 finish. Engadine scored big in a couple of opening week wins, beating Rock Mid-Peninsula 89-50 and Newberry 91-73. The Eagles also play in the EUPAC.

Can't-Miss Contests

Be on the lookout for results of these games coming up: 

Friday – Dansville (1-0) at Pewamo-Westphalia (0-0) – The Central Michigan Athletic Conference is loaded with small-school contenders, and Dansville is a popular pick to go far in Division 3 – and beat the Pirates by a point in a Class Regional Semifinal when these two last met.

Friday – Iron Mountain (2-0) at Calumet (2-0) – These two both were league champions last season and are off to fast starts again; when they last met nine months ago the Mountaineers emerged with a 56-44 win and Class C Regional title.

Friday – St. Joseph (1-1) at Stevensville Lakeshore (2-0) – These two finished first and second, respectively, in the SMAC West last season with the Bears winning their games by five and 13.

Friday – River Rouge (1-1) at West Bloomfield (1-0) – The Lakers stumbled to finish last winter but could be back in the mix and show it by avenging last season’s two-point overtime loss to the Panthers.

Saturday – Holland West Ottawa (1-0) at Grand Rapids Catholic Central (0-0) – Last season’s Class A runner-up faces the runner-up from Class B in the 7 p.m. game of GRCC’s Winter Breakout.

Second Half’s weekly “Breslin Bound” reports are powered by MI Student Aid, a part of the Student Financial Services Bureau 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, including various student financial assistance programs to help make college more affordable for Michigan students. MI Student Aid administers the state’s 529 savings programs (MET/MESP) and eight additional aid programs within its Student Scholarships and Grants division. Click for more information and connect with MI Student Aid on Facebook and Twitter @mistudentaid.

PHOTO: Lansing Everett and Shamar Howard (0) kicked off this season with a big road win last week at Grand Blanc. (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.)