Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 10

February 17, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Plenty can change – and change again – over the course of a four-month high school basketball season.

Below are this week’s highlighted teams in each class that have jumped out of late – including a number that started slowly this winter but are playing their best with the postseason less than a month away.


Birmingham Brother Rice (11-4) – The Warriors’ basketball program certainly is overshadowed by the football and perhaps hockey teams. But Rice went 3-1 over the second half of the Detroit Catholic League Central season and avenged an earlier 16-point loss to champion Detroit U-D Jesuit by handing the Cubs their only league loss this season, 58-53 last week.

Davison (12-3) – The Cardinals likely can’t catch leader Flint Northwestern in the Saginaw Valley Association South title chase, but can celebrate coming back strong off two straight sub-.500 seasons. Their only losses in 2014-15 are two to Northwestern and the third to Flint Southwestern Academy.  

DeWitt (9-6) – An 0-4 start knocked down expectations a little for the reigning Capital Area Activities Conference Red champion. But the Panthers came back with a five-game winning streak and on Friday beat Haslett for the second time this winter to push into a first-place tie with the Vikings. All but one loss were by six or fewer points.  

Grand Rapids Northview (13-3) – Last season’s runner-up in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Bronze is a win over reigning champion Forest Hills Northern on Friday from clinching a share of the league title. Northview is undefeated in league play and winner of nine of its last 10 games.


Benzonia Benzie Central (12-2) – The Huskies trail both Frankfort and Maple City Glen Lake by half a loss in the Northwest Conference standings, but play both during the final two weeks of the season. Until then, Benzie Central will try to build on a five-game winning streak and nine victories in their last 10 games.

Big Rapids (10-5) – The Cardinals trail Grant in the Central State Activities Association Gold and will need help if they’re to climb into first, but beat Grant 43-36 on Feb. 6 and added another league win Friday to stay within one of the lead.

Leslie (12-2) – The Blackhawks joined the Greater Lansing Activities Conference in the fall after a few seasons as an independent, and they’re in contention for the championship after beating first-place Lake Odessa Lakewood 43-41 on Friday. Lakewood, on Jan. 9, handed Leslie its last loss before this nine-win run.

Milan (14-2) – The reigning Class B champion is back in fine form, with its only losses this season to Class A teams that won league titles – U-D Jesuit and Romulus. The Big Reds are undefeated in the Huron League but face second-place Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central twice over their final four regular-season games.


AuGres-Sims (8-7) – Its overall record is just over .500, but AuGres-Sims is holding on to a slim lead in the Little Dipper division of the North Star Conference. The Wolverines have won three straight league games and have three to play, including a pair against opponents that are a combined 4-20.

Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest (12-2) – The Crusaders hold a slim lead in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue thanks to a 66-52 win over Sterling Heights Parkway Christian on Thursday – after they lost to Parkway on Jan. 30. Lutheran Northwest finished 1-20 and last in the Blue a year ago.

Ironwood (15-2) – The Red Devils have followed last season’s run to the Regional Finals with another impressive performance; their only losses are to Wisconsin teams, and they edged Bessemer (see below) by a bucket on Friday to complete a season sweep.

Ishpeming (10-5) – The Hematites didn’t play their first game until Jan. 2 and are accustomed to late starts after three straight trips to the Football Finals at Ford Field. A loss to rival Negaunee on Friday broke a six-game winning streak that included a win over first-place Iron Mountain on Feb. 6.


Bessemer (12-5) – The Speedboys opened 2-3 and have absorbed a second loss this season from Ironwood. But they also have claimed a share of the Porcupine Mountain Conference title and can make it an outright championship March 5 against Ewen-Trout Creek – which beat Bessemer on Dec. 19.

Brethren (10-5) – The Bobcats are tied for fourth in the West Michigan D League, but their losses to first-place Onekama and second-place Baldwin over the last three weeks were both by only two points. Brethren gets Baldwin one more time, in its regular-season finale March 3.

Climax-Scotts (12-4) – Despite a seven-point loss to Battle Creek St. Philip near the end of January, Climax-Scotts remains in first place in the Southern Central Athletic Association West. The Panthers have won five of their last six and will equal last season’s win total with their next victory.

Hillman (16-1) – The Tigers will at least share the North Star League Big Dipper title and sit undefeated in the league standings, their only loss on opening night to still-undefeated Cedarville. Hillman hasn’t had a win by fewer than 10 points.

PHOTO: Grand Rapids Northview needs one more win to claim the O-K Bronze title, thanks in part of to a 75-50 win over Greenville on Friday. (Click for more from 

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.)