Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 11

February 22, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half

This week’s list of Michigan boys basketball teams to watch next month includes quite a few that have taken next steps toward elite this season, plus a few looking to hold on to top spots.  

Most weeks during the season, we check in with four teams from each class that have been especially impressive. After a bit of a hiatus, we’re back for the rest of the winter starting with this look at 16 more.

Class A

Detroit East English (15-3) – The Bulldogs won a nail-biter over Detroit Collegiate Prep to advance to the Detroit Public School League tournament final, then won their first PSL tournament championship with an 86-62 victory over Renaissance.

North Farmington (15-2) – The Raiders have been surging since last losing Jan. 14 to Clarkston; they’ve won eight straight, including beating Clarkston 58-53 on Feb. 12, and are tied with Clarkston for first in the Oakland Activities Association Red standings with two league games to play.

Petoskey (15-1) – The Northmen are a perfect 10-0 in Big North Conference play and have lost only to Cheboygan, by a point Jan. 5. Petoskey must beat Gaylord tonight and then finish a season sweep against second-place Traverse City Central on Friday in order to clinch the league title outright.

Ypsilanti Community (15-1) – The Grizzlies are Class A contenders and have their destiny in their control; they can clinch the Southeastern Conference White title outright by winning out.

Class B

Birch Run (15-2) – Save for a two-game losing streak over six days in early January, Birch Run has been on point and sits second in the Tri-Valley Conference East. The Panthers take on league leader Frankenmuth on Wednesday with a chance to take a share of first place.  

South Haven (14-2) – The Rams have clinched the outright Wolverine Conference North championship after tying for second in the South a year ago. A one-point loss last week to Edwardsburg was the team’s first since opening night.  

Wayland (15-1) – The Wildcats earned a share of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold title with an 81-41 win over Hastings on Friday and have won 12 straight since their only loss, 63-56 to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central on Dec. 29. Wayland finished second in the league last season.

Wyoming Godwin Heights (15-2) – The Wolverines earned a share of the O-K Silver title by beating Hopkins 77-42 on Friday, coming off a surprise three-point loss to Portage Northern three nights before. The reigning Class B champion hadn’t fallen since opening night, but Northern is solid in Class A at 11-5.

Class C

Kalamazoo Hackett (16-0) – The Fighting Irish have won the Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley title and need only one more win to equal last season’s team that finished 17-7.  They haven’t had an opponent come within single digits since Schoolcraft – their next opponent – did so Feb. 1.

Muskegon Heights Academy (13-2) – The Tigers’ only losses were to Class A teams – Rockford last week and Battle Creek Central in December. They’ve equaled the 13 games won all of last season and with four more to play before the tournament begins.

Niles Brandywine (13-5) – The Bobcats came back from a three-game losing streak Feb. 5-12 to win twice on back-to-back nights last week and hold a half-win lead on Bridgman in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference Red with a league game to play.

Southfield Christian (16-1) – The Eagles have won 14 straight since falling to West Bloomfield by a point in overtime Dec. 12, and they can finish a perfect run in the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue by beating fourth-place Ann Arbor Greenhills this week. They own wins over Belleville by a point and Southfield by three.

Class D

Bellaire (15-1) – The Eagles have won 12 straight since falling to East Jordan on Dec. 18 and can clinch a share of the Ski Valley Conference championship against fourth-place Indian River Inland Lakes tonight after handing second-place Johannesburg-Lewiston a loss on Friday.  

Frankfort (15-1) – The Panthers finished their first back-to-back league titles since 1961-62 by beating Buckley on Friday to clinch the Northwest Conference championship; they lost only to Traverse City St. Francis, by a point Dec. 17.

Onekama (15-2) – The Portagers clinched the West Michigan D League title outright with a win over Custer Mason County Eastern on Friday after tying annual league power Baldwin for the title last season; Onekama has a two-game lead on Baldwin this time.

Wyoming Potter’s House Christian (14-3) – The Pumas’ 80-50 win over two-loss Kalamazoo Heritage Christian last week earned them the Alliance League South title; their losses this winter were by a combined six points, and they beat Pewamo-Westphalia 55-53 on Friday to extend their winning streak to 11.

PHOTO: Rivals Saginaw and Saginaw Arthur Hill are among many teams prepping for tournament runs with Districts set to begin in two weeks. (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.)