Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 12

March 2, 2015

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Coaches often talk about getting hot at the right time – in other words, playing their best basketball on the eve of when it counts most.

This is that time – and the teams below are among those carrying some nice momentum into the final week of the regular season with the start of the MHSAA Tournament approaching.

Class A

Auburn Hills Avondale (15-3)  The Yellow Jackets have won nine straight since falling to Oakland Activities Association Blue co-leader West Bloomfield on Jan. 23, beating the Lakers by one Feb. 17 and then Oxford by one Friday to keep pace atop the standings.

Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (17-3)  The Big Reds closed the regular season with five straight wins to finish second in the Macomb Area Conference Red and finish five wins better than a year ago with the postseason still to play.

Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills (17-3) – The Bengals clinched the Ottawa-Kent Conference Gold title over four others with at least 10 wins this winter. Two of the losses were to teams a combined 35-4 – Lansing Everett and Goodrich.

Stevensville Lakeshore (17-2) – The Lancers own a one-win lead in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West with one game to play and after going an uncharacteristic 10-12 a season ago. Lakeshore split this winter with second-place Benton Harbor, last season’s Class B runner-up.

Class B

Big Rapids (14-5) – The Cardinals weathered a three-game losing streak in mid-January to hold on for a share of the Central State Activities Association Gold championship, and will win it outright if second-place Newaygo falls in its league finale. Big Rapids’ most recent four losses were by a combined nine points.

Frankenmuth (14-4) – The Eagles avenged an early three-point loss to rival Millington by beating the Cardinals 51-35 on Friday to pull into first place in the Tri-Valley Conference East – and they can clinch the title outright against eighth-place Otisville-LakeVille on Thursday. Four TVC East teams have won at least 14 games.

Lakeview (15-4) – Despite a loss to second-place Kent City on Feb. 20, Lakeview came back to clinch the CSAA Silver championship with a 72-57 win over Hesperia on Friday. The Wildcats also won the CSAA last season before the league split into divisions for 2014-15.

Williamston (16-4) – The Hornets closed the regular season with a 65-58 win over rival Lansing Catholic, creating a shared Capital Area Activities Conference White championship between the two after Lansing Catholic had won the first meeting Jan. 23. Williamston has won seven straight.

Class C

Carney-Nadeau (12-6) – The Wolves can’t catch Class D contender Powers North Central in the Skyline Central Conference West, but they did win five straight before falling to Crystal Falls Forest Park in overtime Friday. Forest Park also is Class D; Carney-Nadeau opted to play up in Class C this season.

Hanover-Horton (18-1) – Only one-loss Jackson Lumen Christi, in December, has been able to edge Hanover-Horton, which clinched the Cascades Conference title with a 61-54 win over third-place Michigan Center last week. The Comets also won the league in 2013-14.

Ithaca (17-2) – The Yellowjackets have been chasing Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary in the TVC West since falling to MLS on Jan 16, but regained a share of first place with a 52-49 win in their rematch Friday. Ithaca has won 11 straight and finishes with winless Merrill.

Southfield Christian (15-3) – The three-time reigning Class D champions are in Class C this season and having similar success during the regular season; the Eagles clinched the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference Blue title last week, and among the few missteps are impressive losses by one to Detroit Pershing and two to Ann Arbor Pioneer.

Class D

Allen Park Inter-City Baptist (16-3) – Staying in the MIAC Blue, Inter-City Baptist’s only league losses were to Southfield Christian – and the only other defeat came to Class A Allen Park on the first Friday of the season. The Chargers have 10 wins against opponents from other classes.

Baldwin (14-4) – The Panthers have won nine straight and can clinch a share of the West Michigan D League title with two more this week; they trail Onekama by a win, but Onekama has only one league game remaining. Baldwin also beat Class B Paw Paw (12-7) during the current streak.

Bellevue (14-5) – The Broncos have a slim chance at sharing the Southern Central Athletic Association West title, but can eclipse last season’s win total with one more this week and have earned at least 14 victories for the third straight season despite opening 6-4.

Jackson Christian (12-6) – The Royals are among those who dealt Bellevue an early loss, and they long ago clinched the SCAA Central title. Jackson Christian finishes this week against Battle Creek St. Philip and then opens with the Tigers in next week’s District.

PHOTO: Ithaca's 60-51 win over Freeland on Jan. 30 was part of a current 11-game winning streak. (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.)