Breslin Bound: Regional Preview

March 12, 2018

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Aside from Detroit Western’s early-week upset of Class A contender East English, the first few days of this season’s District boys basketball tournaments went by mostly as expected.

And then Friday happened.

Brackets were shaken up all over the state during the District championship round – we highlight below five games in particular that popped out most – and a number of Regionals have a much different look than many might have anticipated a week ago.

See below as well for a preview of three Regionals from each Class – powered by MI Student Aid. Host sites are bolded, and matchups shown are for Regional Semifinals. (Click for brackets for every Regional in all four classes.)

Week in Review

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

1. Grand Rapids South Christian 51, Wyoming Godwin Heights 46 – The Sailors won a Class B District Final against a Godwin Heights team that finished 21-2 and had won six straight District titles while making the Breslin Center twice during that time.

2. North Muskegon 37, Kent City 33 – Both were league champions, but Kent City also hadn’t lost a game and finished 21-1 after falling in this Class B District Final.

3. Flint Beecher 62, Flint Hamady 43 – These rivals shared the Genesee Area Conference Red title and Hamady had won the most recent regular-season meeting over the three-time reigning Class C champ.

4. Suttons Bay 45, Frankfort 42 – The Norsemen moved to 11-12 by eliminating a Frankfort team that shared the Northwest Conference championship and was expected to compete for a trip to East Lansing.

5. Flint Carman-Ainsworth 68, Grand Blanc 66 (OT) – The Cavaliers, winners of the Saginaw Valley League, slipped past the Kensington Lakes Activities Association overall champion.

Regionals at a Glance

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


Battle Creek Lakeview
Kalamazoo Central (19-2) vs. East Lansing (20-3), Coldwater (19-3) vs. Okemos (19-4)

Always in the mix, Kalamazoo Central quietly has won 15 straight and is eight points from being undefeated this season. The Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East champion gets East Lansing, which has had an unexpected last few weeks with a coaching change but still features Mr. Basketball finalist Brandon Johns. White the Kalamazoo Central/East Lansing game features two teams that have gotten much of the attention, the night’s second game features two league champions – and Okemos swept the Trojans during the regular season to win the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue. Coldwater has won eight straight and claimed the Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title.

Grand Rapids Christian (14-9) vs. Muskegon (19-3), Holland West Ottawa (21-2) vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (16-7)

Muskegon has run off 14 straight wins to reach a familiar sport for the annual contender, and avenged its earliest loss of this season by downing Grand Haven 50-41 in the District Final. The Big Reds next get reigning Class A runner-up Grand Rapids Christian, which went 3-7 during the second half of the regular season but faced a number of top teams and is capable of continuing this run. West Ottawa handed the Eagles one of their early losses and followed with an Ottawa-Kent Conference Red title – a Regional title this week would be a program first. Forest Hills Northern beat one of the teams that beat West Ottawa – East Kentwood – and will be up for the upset task tonight.

Ann Arbor Skyline (22-0) vs. Howell (14-8), Novi (14-8) vs. White Lake Lakeland (17-5)

Undefeated Skyline continued its perfect run through a competitive District and will play for its second Regional title in five seasons – but with some dangerous potential stoppers coming up. Howell emerged from a 2-6 stretch during the end of the regular season to claim a District title. Novi has been a new team since guard Trendon Hankerson returned from injury, putting together a nine-game winning streak that also include the Kensington Lakes Activities Association tournament title. Lakeland is another team to watch; the Eagles have won nine straight, and not counting two losses to Lakes Valley Conference champ Waterford Mott haven’t fallen to another since Jan. 16.


Dowagiac (16-5) vs. Wayland (10-12), Benton Harbor (22-1) vs. Hudsonville Unity Christian (19-4)

Benton Harbor, a semifinalist last season, has been among the handful of favorites expected to challenge reigning champ New Haven. The Tigers’ only loss was Feb. 3 to Class A Hazel Park, 77-70. But Unity Christian is a league champ, from the O-K Green, and has won 19 of its last 21 games. On the other side of the bracket, Wayland obviously is a surprise – but upset Wolverine Conference North champ Otsego (19-2) on the way to winning last week’s District. Dowagiac was the only other team to defeat Otsego this season, and the Wolverine Conference South co-champ surely will be eager for the challenge of avenging a 77-43 loss to Benton Harbor from opening night.

Gaylord (Semifinals at Clare/Petoskey)
Alma (18-5) vs. Standish-Sterling (13-9) at Clare, Ludington (17-6) vs. Boyne City (17-6) at Petoskey 

Tonight’s Semifinal at Clare features familiar foes: Alma shared the Tri-Valley Conference Central title and beat Standish-Sterling by 11 in their first meeting before losing the second by a point. Standish-Sterling finished sixth in the league but has won nine of its last 12. At Petoskey, reigning Class B runner-up Ludington has won eight of its last nine games and claimed the Lakes 8 Conference title. Boyne City provides an intriguing next opponent for a few reasons. The Ramblers, runners-up in the Lake Michigan Conference, are in Class B this season after many successful runs in Class C and are back downstate after downing three Upper Peninsula opponents in last week’s District.

Grand Rapids West Catholic
Grand Rapids Catholic Central (20-2) vs. Spring Lake (19-4), Grand Rapids South Christian (16-7) vs. Fremont (17-6)

GRCC is another of the forecasted few expected to give New Haven a run, and the Cougars have done everything to back that up winning the O-K Blue and losing only to West Ottawa and another former Class B contender in Wyoming Godwin Heights. Two league wins came over Spring Lake, which beat GRCC in last season’s Regional championship game. The other side of the bracket features a pair of teams eager to take advantage if GRCC/Spring Lake III turns exhausting. Fremont shared the Central State Activities Association Gold championship, and South Christian has won 12 of its last 14 – beating Grand Rapids Christian along the way and then upsetting Godwin Heights in last week’s District Final.


Houghton Lake
McBain (19-3) vs. Maple City Glen Lake (20-2), Whittemore-Prescott (17-5) vs. Elk Rapids (13-9)

McBain opened this season 13-0 and retained a share of the Highland Conference championship. But the Ramblers most recent loss was Feb. 27, 50-37 to Glen Lake, which should make for an intense opener tonight. The Lakers shared the Northwest Conference championship, their only losses this season to reigning Class D runner-up Buckley. On the other side, Elk Rapids has won six of its last eight games and moved on after falling to Glen Lake in District games the last two seasons. Whittemore-Prescott has an opportunity to stun some unfamiliar foes after finishing second in the North Star League Big Dipper to undefeated Class D contender Hillman. The Cardinals have won 11 of their last 13.

Madison Heights Bishop Foley
Detroit Edison (12-10) vs. Detroit Pershing (12-10), Detroit Loyola (12-11) vs. Madison Heights Madison (18-4)

Records here are deceiving for three teams and even more impressive for the fourth, given the shared circumstances. All four of these teams play in leagues with nearly all larger schools. Edison and Pershing both play in the Detroit Public School League East Division 1 with two Class A and a Class B team – and Edison went on to win the overall PSL tournament championship. Madison won a Macomb Area Conference Bronze as the only league member not in Class B. Loyola is the only non-Class B in the Detroit Catholic League AA, and all of its defeats came to Class A or B opponents. Edison reached the Class C Semifinal last season despite finishing 14-12; this time the Pioneers will have to fend off a Pershing team that won their two meetings during the regular season by nine and seven.

Napoleon (15-7) vs. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central (22-0), Hanover-Horton (20-2) vs. Ann Arbor Greenhills (15-4)

A pair of league champions anchor this Regional – St. Mary from the Huron League and Hanover-Horton from the Cascades Conference. The Falcons beat Tri-County Conference champion Ottawa Lake Whiteford in their District Final and are 46-1 over the last two seasons – losing last year only in the Quarterfinal. Up steps Napoleon, fourth in the Cascades this winter, after bouncing back from three losses to end the regular season with three victories last week. Hanover-Horton is riding a 16-game winning streak as it plays for its third Regional title in four seasons. But the Comets must be cautious. Greenhills repeated as a District champion last week, downing three 15-win teams to claim the title.


Battle Creek Harper Creek
Wyoming Potter’s House Christian (18-5) vs. Marcellus Howardsville Christian (18-5), St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic (17-6) vs. Bellevue (21-1)

Four league champions will take the court at this site. Potter’s House won the Alliance League handing regular-season and District Final losses to annual Class D contender Wyoming Tri-unity Christian. Howardsville Christian and Lake Michigan Catholic were two of three teams to share the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference White title. They split their regular-season meetings, LMC winning the first by 12 and Howardsville claiming the rematch by seven. But Bellevue is likely the favorite this week. The Broncos won the Southern Central Athletic Association West, and 19 of their wins were by 10 or more points. Their only loss was to SCAA East champ Hillsdale Academy (21-2). 

Flint International Academy (21-2) vs. Kingston (20-3), Fulton (12-11) vs. Bay City All Saints (12-11)

This Regional provides an interesting opportunity for probably the winningest third-place team in the state. Kingston finished third in the North Central Thumb League Stars division as International Academy won the league title and beat Kingston big twice. FIA has won 16 straight. Fulton lost five of its last six to end the regular season but bounced back with three wins last week and eliminated rival Fowler (16-6) in the District Final. All Saints actually rebounded from an 0-5 start against nonleague opponents, including FIA and Kingston, to finish second in the NCTL Stripes. 

Carney-Nadeau (15-7) vs. Ewen-Trout Creek (22-1), Rapid River (19-3) vs. Dollar Bay (23-0)

Rapid River and Carney-Nadeau might be considered favorites in other Regionals, but are stuck as just really strong underdogs hoping to shake up a possible rematch between Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay. Those two met in one of the Upper Peninsula games of the year Feb. 7, a 51-42 win for Dollar Bay at Michigan Tech. But Carney-Nadeau eliminated three-time reigning Class D champ Powers North Central 53-40 in its District Final after falling to the Jets twice during the regular season. Next up is an E-TC team that has won seven of its eight games since the Dollar Bay loss by double digits. Rapid River knocked out a league champion in Munising during its District run, and aside from a pair of losses to Class C Norway is otherwise unbeaten since Jan. 18. Dollar Bay has been more or less unstoppable. The Blue Bolts downed Ontonagon 69-46 in the District Final after squeaking out one and five-point wins over the Gladiators during the regular season. No other opponent has gotten closer than nine.

PHOTO: A Carsonville-Port Sanilac player gets his hand on a shot, but Kingston went on to win last week’s Class D District opener. (Click for more from Varsity Monthly.)

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.)