Coldwater's McGuire Focused on Final Goal

February 21, 2019

By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half

Four year ago, Gage McGuire sat down with his mother, Carrie, and made a list of high school basketball goals. That piece of paper is still hanging on his bedroom wall, and nearly all the items have been checked.

“Looking back on it, I can’t thank her enough,” said the 6-foot-6 Coldwater senior forward. “Once you set a goal, you know you can chase it.”

Except for hitting a bit of turbulence earlier this month that resulted in a three-game skid, the Cardinals (14-5) have been flying high. The cast includes starters Dylan Targgart, a 6-2 junior center who has won an individual Division 2 Finals championship in the shot put as well as a team state title. Damon Beckhusen, a junior guard who helps set the tone for everything the Cardinals do on the court, was an all-Interstate 8 Athletic Conference football selection. And underclassmen Ethan Crabtree (freshman guard) and Spencer Rodesiler (sophomore guard) have played more like veterans.

But it’s undeniably McGuire’s team, and his list of accomplishments is quite impressive. The small forward set an all-time scoring record for the Cardinals back in December when he hit 1,180 points — a tally that will be significantly higher once the season ends. McGuire was an Associated Press Class A all-state honorable mention last year, and his sophomore season, as well as the Interstate 8 Most Valuable Player last winter.

Averaging around 20 points, 12 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks and steals per game, the future Emporia State University player has one last thing to check off that list.

“One of my goals was to become the all-time leading scorer,” McGuire said. “When I got it, it was pretty exciting. But I’d much rather have a state championship than an individual record.”

Noticeable improvement on defense and rebounding the ball this year has made McGuire one of the more complete players in the state.

“He has gotten a lot better,” first-year Coldwater coach Aaron Bucklin said. “He has really bought into the kind of system we want to play. That’s something he has added to his game, and his rebounding numbers are up a ton from the previous year.

“He is able to do so much. If we are being pressed, he can be the guy to bring the ball up the court as well. We just kind of try to exploit any mismatch. Defensively, he does a pretty good job on the ball and can guard all five positions as well. He causes problems for guards with his length and centers with his athletic ability.”

McGuire’s actions off the court, including a work ethic in the classroom and a willingness to speak up in the locker room have equally influenced the program.

“I think it’s just his sense of leadership and his ability to add that part to the game and the mental toughness he can bring to this game,” Bucklin said. “I think in years past he has kind of gone with the flow and done very good things on the basketball court. But his senior year he has really stepped up and become a leader. He gets everybody else involved, whether it’s offseason workout stuff or getting into the gym extra times. He’s that guy. He wants to be in the gym 24/7. That’s been big for us.”

Emporia State, a Division II school in Kansas that competes in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, believes McGuire can do the same there. But McGuire is focused on closing out his prep career strong.

After losing three straight, McGuire and fellow captains called a players-only meeting to get things sorted out as the regular season winds down and the Cardinals prepare for their Division 1 District Semifinal game Feb. 27 against either Battle Creek Lakeview or Battle Creek Central.

“We called everybody out — just kind of a man-to-man conversation to see what we’re doing wrong,” McGuire explained. “The past couple games we had averaged like 20 turnovers per game. You’re not going to win the game with 20 turnovers. We have a special team, and we needed to figure it out to make the deep run in the playoffs that we know we’re capable of.

“Everybody took it like a man, and I think it worked out really well. I asked everyone if they truly believed we could win state. Everyone said yes.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Coldwater’s Gage McGuire (standing, fourth from left) and his teammates celebrate his becoming the school’s all-time leading scorer this winter. (Middle) McGuire goes for a block against Jackson Lumen Christi. (Photos courtesy of the Coldwater boys basketball program.) 

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.)