Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 12

February 29, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half

We’re only a week away from the start of the MHSAA Tournament, and it’s tough to not look a few days ahead to the matchups on the way – but we must to recognize a few more of the successes so far.

Most weeks during the season, we check in with four teams from each class that have been especially impressive. Here’s a look at 16 more that could ignite a run when Districts begin next week.

Class A

Clarkston (15-2) – After splitting with North Farmington, the Wolvers must defeat sixth-place Tory Athens on Tuesday to clinch a shared Oakland Activities Association Red championship. It would be at least the fifth straight league title for Clarkston, which made the Class A Quarterfinals last season and looks poised again with its only other loss to undefeated Macomb Dakota in December.

Grand Rapids Christian (17-1) – The Eagles clinched an outright Ottawa-Kent Conference White championship with a 52-40 win over second-place Lowell on Friday and have won 13 straight since falling to Hudsonville over holiday break. A matchup with reigning Class B champion Wyoming Godwin Heights on Tuesday is intriguing.

Grosse Pointe South (16-3) – The Blue Devils already are two wins better than last season and have clinched the Macomb Area Conference Blue championship with a game to play. They open District play next week against Detroit Martin Luther King, looking to avenge a 54-45 loss to the Crusaders on Jan. 18.  

Muskegon (16-3) – The Big Reds have won nine straight and clinched the O-K Black title with two games to play in the league, adding a 72-71 win over second-place Zeeland East on Friday to finish a perfect run in the conference. They haven’t lost since falling to Detroit East English and Wayland (which are a combined 32-5) in back-to-back games in mid-January.

Class B

Allendale (16-2) – The Falcons have won 16 straight and finished an outright O-K Blue title run Friday with a 52-50 win over second-place Coopersville. Allendale was second in the league but only 12-8 overall a season ago.

Benton Harbor (14-4) – Despite an overtime loss Friday to Portage Northern, Benton Harbor has clinched the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference West championship after finishing second last season on the way to the Regional Finals. A matchup with SMAC East champion Kalamazoo Central (15-3) could be telling of a run to come.

River Rouge (15-3) – The Panthers are closing in on another nice finish following up last year’s league and District titles, with a defeat to Detroit Allen in mid-January the only one in the Michigan Metro Athletic Conference this winter. River Rouge fell to Romulus and Flint Beecher over a 10-day period earlier this month, but came back to beat Saginaw Arthur Hill by a basket and can close the regular season with six straight wins.

Williamston (16-3) – The Hornets have taken on and beaten most of the best in the Lansing area, with losses only to Lansing Catholic (17-1) in overtime, East Lansing (18-0) and DeWitt (15-3). They came back to beat co-leader Lansing Catholic by three in the rematch and beat Portland on Friday to secure a shared Capital Area Activities Conference White championship.  

Class C

Adrian Madison (17-2) – The Trojans finished a perfect 14-0 in the Tri-County Conference to win the league title by three wins after finishing a win behind Morenci in 2014-15. The next big test comes Tuesday with Class B Hillsdale (16-2).

Ithaca (17-2) – After sharing the Tri-Valley Conference West title last season, Ithaca has won it outright with a game to play against seventh-place St. Charles. The Yellowjackets’ only losses were to Class B Alma and Frankenmuth, which are a combined 32-4.

Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (17-1) – The Huron League title belongs to the Falcons again after three straight second-place finishes; they finished a perfect league run with a 64-59 win over Milan on Friday and have won 15 straight since falling in overtime to Adrian Lenawee Christian on Jan. 8.

St. Ignace (17-2) – It’s always easy to forget about the Saints because the school’s girls program is so strong. But St. Ignace’s boys are led by Gage Kreski, who set the Upper Peninsula scoring record with more than 2,000 career points Saturday, and they finished a perfect run through the Straits Area Conference.

Class D

Boyne Falls (17-2) – The Loggers finished off a pair of league opponents last week to earn a share of the Northern Lakes Conference championship with Alanson, which it lost to Jan. 5 but then beat Jan. 29. The title was at least the fifth straight for Boyne Falls.

Marshall Academy (18-2) – The Griffons closed the regular season with 10 straight wins and their only losses to Bellevue and Vestaburg. Those two losses and a five-point win over Camden-Frontier were the only games this season that didn’t result in double-digit wins for the Mid-South Conference champ.

Morenci (13-6) – Last season’s Class D runner-up went through a bit of a tough stretch during the first half of February, losing three of five games. But the Bulldogs have since won three straight and finished second to Adrian Madison in the TCC.

Waterford Our Lady (15-3) – Despite a loss to Class C Royal Oak Shrine in the Detroit Catholic League C-D Tournament Final, the Lakers did sweep Shine to win their division title and look good to make another run after reaching the Class D Semifinals last season.

PHOTO: Ithaca’s Jake Smith works to get around an Alma defender in their game earlier this season. (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.)