Breslin Bound: Boys Report Week 2

December 19, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Basketball season generally is broken down into three sections – and we’re in the midst of an exciting first as schools prepare for a break from class but not the action on the court.

The first month of the season features nonleague tilts between top teams from all over the state – see our “Week in Review” presented by MI Student Aid for some of last week’s best – and keep an eye out for more as we move into the final week of December before that second phase – the heating up of league competition.

Week in Review

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

1. Flint Beecher 59, Detroit U-D Jesuit 57 (OT) – Beecher, the reigning champion in Class C, has played arguably the toughest schedule in the state so far but came back from an early-week loss to reigning Class B champion Detroit Henry Ford by downing the reigning Class A champion Cubs during Super Saturday at Southfield.

2. East Lansing 59, Lansing Everett 53 – As noted in last week’s report, Everett handed the Trojans their first and only loss last season on the way to the Class A Semifinals; East Lansing and star Brandon Johns again are expected to be title contenders.

3. Wayland 77, Detroit Henry Ford 54 – The Wildcats, 17-3 a year ago, handed the reigning Class B champion its first loss during the Battle for I-96 showcase after Ford had downed Beecher just days before.

4. Freeland 54, Alma 48 – The undefeated Falcons trailed late before coming back to beat their Tri-Valley Conference Central rival; last season, Alma won the league with a sweep of second-place Freeland (which won 19 games) and then beat Freeland again during the Regional.

5. Detroit East English 79, Macomb Dakota 63 – Also Saturday at Southfield, East English added to an earlier win this season over Beecher by ending Dakota’s 41-game regular-season winning streak.

Watch List

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


Kalamazoo Central (4-0) – The Maroon Giants are always in the championship mix, so this start is nothing new. But it’s included four double-digit wins including 67-55 over Battle Creek Central in the opener and 62-45 over Detroit Western.

Dearborn Heights Crestwood (4-0) – After finishing 10-12 and last in the Western Wayne Athletic Conference Blue last season, Crestwood has matched reigning co-champ Belleville with a 4-0 start. A big test comes Tuesday against the other 2015-16 co-champ, Romulus.


Bridgeport (4-0) – The Bearcats have finished third, sixth and fifth in the TVC East the last three seasons, respectively, but moved into prime position early with last week’s 69-59 win over reigning co-champion Frankenmuth. They’ll meet again Feb. 10.

Detroit Mumford (4-0) – The Mustangs won six and seven games, respectively, over the last two seasons, and are approaching those totals with four more games to go this month. They’ve pulled off a pair of close calls, by five over Gibraltar Carlson and four over Detroit Southeastern.


Iron River West Iron County (3-0) – After winning four games last season and two the season before that, West Iron is close to surpassing both by the end of the first week of January. The highlight so far probably was last Monday’s 61-43 win over Crystal Falls Forest Park, a 22-game winner last winter.

Marlette (4-0) – The Red Raiders are coming off back-to-back 15-7 finishes and after starting 2-2 a year ago. They could turn into a heavy favorite to claim the Greater Thumb Conference East title outright after sharing last winter; after two weeks, Marlette is the only team in the league with a winning overall record.


Baldwin (4-0) – After squeezing past Scottville Mason County Central by three in its opener, Baldwin has won its last three games by an average of 32 points. The Panthers won their District and fell in the Regional Semifinal last season.

Lansing Christian (4-0) – Since making the Class D Semifinals in 2013, the Pilgrims have fallen as low as five wins and built back with 10 two seasons ago and 14 last winter. They play in the Greater Lansing Activities Conference with all bigger schools, so they will see only a few opponents their size the rest of the way.

Can't-Miss Contests

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

Monday – Powers North Central (3-0) at Menominee (0-1) – The Class B Maroons might be the last tall obstacle to stand in the reigning Class D champion's way as it pursues the MHSAA record for longest winning streak (see last week’s report); Menominee fell only 64-60 in the teams’ second meeting last season.

Tuesday – Detroit U-D Jesuit (2-1) at Macomb Dakota (3-1) – This is a rematch of last season’s Class A Semifinal, won by Jesuit 72-51, as the Cubs went on to win the MHSAA championship.

Tuesday – Ann Arbor Pioneer (3-2) at Ann Arbor Skyline (2-2) – Skyline lost to Pioneer three times and Ann Arbor Huron twice in finishing 13-8 last season; Skyline is coming off a 95-92 triple-overtime win over Huron and will now try to avenge against this local rival as well.

Tuesday – Traverse City St. Francis (2-2) at Frankfort (2-0) – Frankfort won the Northwest Conference title last winter, but one of its two regular-season losses came to St. Francis, 69-68, as the Gladiators went on to finish second in the Lake Michigan Conference.

Tuesday – Boyne City (2-0) at McBain (3-0) – This should help in some early sorting out of the top Class C teams in the northern Lower Peninsula; McBain made the MHSAA Semifinals last season and Boyne City made the Semifinals the season before.

PHOTO: A pair of Spring Lake defenders wall off a driving Grand Haven player during Friday’s 53-52 overtime win by the Buccaneers. (Photo by Tim Reilly.) 

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.)