Breslin Bound: District Preview

March 5, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Beginning tonight, 128 boys basketball District titles are up for grabs across our state.

Of course, some teams are favored – and we’ve told you about many of them over the last three months. But if we learn anything from year to year, it’s that we should expect plenty of the unexpected over the next three weeks.

Over the next two, we’ll alter the format of our Breslin Bound reports – powered by MI Student Aid – still looking at some of the key results from last week but also at three of the most eye-catching brackets in each class for the upcoming week of playoffs.

This week, that means we’ll take closer looks at 12 Districts total in addition to scores from last week that saw some of the state’s best match up one more time before single elimination games begin. (Click here to navigate brackets for all 128 tournaments.)

Week in Review

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

1. Detroit U-D Jesuit 68, Detroit Edison 63 – The Operation Friendship headliner went to the Detroit Catholic League A-B champ, but Class C and Public School League champ Edison could be tough to beat this month after playing much larger opponents all season.

2. Holland West Ottawa 59, Grand Rapids Catholic Central 49 – These two are expected to be among contenders this month in Class A and B, respectively; they finished the regular season a combined 35-4.

3. Clarkston 48, Hazel Park 38 – The Wolves played without injured star guard Foster Loyer and still won the Oakland Activities Association Red title outright by finishing a sweep of the second-place Vikings.

4. New Haven 81, Flint Beecher 70 – The reigning Class B champ downing the reigning Class C champ didn’t shock, but Beecher giving New Haven its second-closest game this season could be a sign the Buccaneers are rising as the tournament approaches.

5. Manton 75, Buckley 62 – These two are hoping to make return to trips to the Breslin Center in Class C and D, respectively, and got a nice tune-up with this late February rematch after Manton won the first meeting 62-60 on Jan. 20.

Districts at a Glance

These could be among our most competitive brackets. Host sites are in bold:


Ann Arbor Skyline 
Ann Arbor Huron (15-5), Ann Arbor Pioneer (11-9), Ann Arbor Skyline (19-0), Dexter (13-6), Pinckney (7-13), Romulus (12-7).

Skyline won the Southeastern Conference Red title for the second straight season but took another step into the elite with nonleague wins over Belleville, Detroit Pershing and Wayne Memorial among others. Huron is an intriguing District Final opponent; the River Rats lost to Skyline twice but cut the margin in half from the first meeting in losing 58-49 on Feb. 12. Romulus, which finished second to Belleville in the Western Wayne Athletic Conference Blue, always seems to shine at tournament time and shouldn’t be forgotten despite closing the regular season with five straight defeats including a big one to the Eagles.

Detroit Renaissance 
Berkley (10-10), Detroit Renaissance (13-7), Detroit U- D Jesuit (17-3), Hazel Park (18-2), Oak Park (18-2), Warren Fitzgerald (12-5).

Six teams from six leagues make up this District, with U-D Jesuit the champion of the Detroit Catholic League Central and Oak Park the champ of the Oakland Activities Association White. Hazel Park finished second in the OAA Red with both losses to reigning Class A champion Clarkston, while Renaissance and Fitzgerald also were contenders in their leagues and Berkley started this season 10-1 before a difficult second half set in. Jesuit has won eight straight, but Hazel Park took a win from the Cubs 74-63 on Dec. 15.   

Alpena (9-10), Gaylord (11-9), Marquette (14-5), Petoskey (18-2), Traverse City Central (12-8), Traverse City West (12-7).

This District also features multiple league champions – Marquette from the Great Northern Conference and Petoskey from the Big North Conference. Those two met in the first game of this season, with Petoskey winning 55-38, but we could find out how much has changed over three months if they meet Friday. The Northmen have statewide aspirations, and their only losses were at Grand Haven 56-39 on Dec. 29 and 43-38 to league runner-up Cadillac (13-7) on Feb. 6. West advanced to the Regional Final last season.


Pontiac Notre Dame Prep
Algonac (1-18), Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood (18-2), Macomb Lutheran North (6-14), New Haven (20-0), Pontiac (5-14), Pontiac Notre Dame Prep (11-9).

Reigning Class B champion New Haven would be a District favorite regardless of bracket, riding a 46-game winning streak and with only one opponent coming closer than 11 points this winter. But Cranbrook is an intriguing possible opponent in the District Final. The Cranes are coming off one of their two defeats, to Macomb Area Conference Bronze champion Madison Heights Madison, but won both the Catholic League Intersectional #1 and the C-D tournament title to highlight their best season this decade.

Remus Chippewa Hills 
Alma (15-5), Big Rapids (15-5), Clare (17-3), Remus Chippewa Hills (6-14), Shepherd (6-14), Stanton Central Montcalm (7-13).

A pair of league champions meet in an opener tonight – Alma shared the Tri-Valley Conference Central, and Big Rapids shared the Central State Activities Association Gold title. The Cardinals fell in their opener a year ago, to eventual Class B runner-up Ludington, but are only two years removed from a Semifinal run. Awaiting on the other side of this bracket Friday could be Clare, which finished second in the Jack Pine Conference but is riding an eight-game winning streak and won a District title last year.

Wyoming Kelloggsville 
Grand Rapids South Christian (13-7), Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy (13-7), Kentwood Grand River Prep (9-9), Wyoming Godwin Heights (19-1), Wyoming Kelloggsville (17-3), Wyoming Lee (4-16).

Godwin Heights would be considered a New Haven-level slam dunk in just about any District as well, with its only loss Dec. 29 to Class A Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (18-2). But there are some dangerous games here. On the other side of the bracket, Kelloggsville was the runner-up to Godwin Heights in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Silver, but cut the margin from 29 to 12 when the teams met a second time Feb. 6. Kelloggsville must be careful tonight with the Sailors, who played mostly Class A teams in their league. Also notable, Aviation Academy finished third in the Alliance League and has improved three wins this season.


Burton Atherton (13-6), Burton Bendle (11-9), Burton Bentley (15-5), Flint Beecher (12-8), Flint Hamady (13-5), Montrose (10-10).

Beecher has won three straight Class C championships and five of the last six, and the Buccaneers’ record this season again requires context because five of those losses came to Class A contenders and two came to Class B powers including New Haven. The other loss, however, came to Hamady 77-71 on Feb. 2, and the rivals shared the Genesee Area Conference Red title. Likewise, Atherton and Bendle shared the GAC White title, and Bentley shared the GAC Blue championship – its first league title in 41 years. Hamady would have to beat Bendle and Bentley to reach Friday’s District Final, while Beecher takes on Montrose tonight and then would see Atherton.

Holton (6-14), Kent City (20-0), Muskegon Western Michigan Christian (12-8), North Muskegon (17-3), Ravenna (11-9).

A pair of league champions could face each other for this District title as well – Kent City won the CSAA Silver, and on the other side of the bracket is West Michigan Conference champ North Muskegon. But both should be cautious of Lake Michigan Conference runner-up Western Michigan Christian. The Warriors finished second in that league to reigning Class B runner-up Ludington and face Kent City on Wednesday. They also own a 46-40 win over North Muskegon from Dec. 22.

Maple City Glen Lake 
Grand Traverse Academy (12-7), Manton (17-3), Maple City Glen Lake (18-2), Traverse City St. Francis (15-5).

Manton shared the Highland Conference title, Glen Lake shared the championship in the Northwest Conference and St. Francis won the Lake Michigan Conference outright. Grand Traverse also was in a title mix before finishing runner-up in the Cherryland Conference. There is some familiarity despite the different leagues, of course. Glen Lake beat St. Francis 49-40 on Jan. 20, and Manton – which went on to make the Class C Semifinals – beat Glen Lake in the Regional last year after Glen Lake beat St. Francis for the District title.


Athens (16-4), Battle Creek Calhoun Christian (12-8), Battle Creek St. Philip (10-9), Bellevue (19-1), Marshall Academy (16-2).

Bellevue and Athens finished first and second in the Southern Central Athletic Association West, respectively, and are on opposite sides of the bracket. Bellevue has won five straight District titles and posted two big wins on Athens during the regular season. The Indians will be part of an intriguing District Semifinal on Wednesday regardless of which team wins tonight’s opener. St. Philip finished third in the SCAA West and beat Athens 52-51 on Feb. 16, while Marshall Academy won the Mid-South Conference title.

Bear Lake (17-3), Brethren (8-12), Buckley (15-5), Fife Lake Forest Area (10-10), Mesick (3-17)

Buckley features three 1,000-point career scorers who experienced last season’s Class D runner-up finish, and the Bears have won 12 of their last 14 to keep a share of the Northwest Conference title against some of the best Class C/D competition in the state this winter. But they could meet a Bear Lake team in the District Semifinal that won its first league title since 2008 and also includes a 1,000-point scorer in Kaiden Hejl.

Bark River-Harris (12-7), Carney-Nadeau (13-7), Felch North Dickinson (2-18), Powers North Central (16-4), Stephenson (6-14).

This season saw three-time reigning Class D champ North Central’s record 84-game winning streak end. It also saw the rebuilt Jets win the Skyline Central Conference small-school division title, and they head into this week on a seven-game winning streak that has included victories over large-school champion Munising (17-3) and runner-up Bark River-Harris. North Central and Bark River-Harris could meet again Wednesday; Carney-Nadeau finished third to the Jets in league play and could await on the other side.

PHOTO: Baldwin and Beal City players work to gain possession during the Aggies’ 55-54 win Jan. 16. (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.)