Calvin Christian Follows Hot Hand in C

March 24, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor 

EAST LANSING – Grandville Calvin Christian’s success is built on team basketball, feeding the hottest hands at opportune times.

Smoke might have been rising off Tony DeWitte’s fingers during the first half of Thursday’s Class C Semifinal against McBain at the Breslin Center.

The 6-foot-2 senior guard made 10 of 11 shots during the first half for 26 points, and Calvin Christian opened up a lead that stayed in double digits for good over the final 20 minutes to advance to Saturday’s championship game with a 65-42 win.

DeWitte finished with 31 points on 12 of 15 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds, and had both of his assists late as the game crept out of reach for the previously-undefeated Ramblers.

“I came out shooting with confidence. The ball was going in, and my teammates found me, got me open,” DeWitte said. “The rim feels two times bigger like that. The ball keeps going in, and it’s great.”

Allow Calvin Christian coach Ryan Stevens to elaborate.

“When he gets hot like that, his teammates know that,” Stevens added. “We have a lot of kids who can do that. They find each other when they are hot, and the thing about Tony is he can score so many different ways. You’ll see him score inside, outside, off the dribble, off the pass, off a screen, off a back cut. He’s just a very good scorer all-around, very hard to defend.”

Calvin Christian (21-4), unranked at the start of the postseason, will face reigning champion Flint Beecher at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. The Squires will be playing for their first championship since 1994 after reaching the Semifinals for the first time since that season.

DeWitte entered this week as his team’s leading scorer at 18.2 points per game, and Stevens said his standout shooter’s Thursday performance wasn’t rare – he and DeWitte’s teammates have been witness to that kind of scoring outburst going back to when his seniors were finishing up elementary school.

But it certainly seemed to knock McBain a bit off its game, as the No. 3 Ramblers never warmed up offensively and gave up more than 60 points for the first time since giving up that exact number in the season opener. 

“We tried some different things. They hit everything,” McBain coach Bruce Koopman said. “They executed extremely well, and that gave them excellent opportunities to get back and play defense on us. I thought there was a time when (the deficit) was 10, and we got three or four stops in a row. But we didn’t capitalize. Maybe if we’d gotten a few of those to close the gap, it would’ve been different.”

Senior guard Braden Stevens added 10 points and seven assists for Calvin Christian, which made an incredible 60 percent of its shots from the floor after opening with a blistering 70-percent success rate during the first half.

Junior guard Logan Eling had 18 points to lead McBain (26-1), while junior center Craig Sterk had nine points and eight rebounds and senior guard Cole Powell added nine points and six rebounds.

Calvin Christian (21-4) was prepared for elite competition after facing a league schedule that included two matchups with reigning Class B champion Wyoming Godwin Heights and two more against last season’s Class C runner-up, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian. The Squires lost all four of those games, but came back to beat NorthPointe in the District Final.

“We always talk about ladders, and at the beginning of the season it felt like we were midway up the ladder,” Stevens said. “A lot of teams get there when the tournament starts, but it felt like we were already up there midway through the season.

“We had a couple of losses to Godwin and NorthPointe, and we weren’t satisfied with our record. (So) we wanted to work toward the end of the season.”

Click for the full box score.

The Boys Basketball Finals are presented by Sparrow Health System.

PHOTOS: Calvin Christian’s Tony DeWitte (20) pushes the ball upcourt during Thursday’s first Class C Semifinal. (Middle) The Squires’ Braden Stevens (10) works to stay in front of McBain’s Logan Eling.

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.)