D4 Preview: Contenders Closing In On Completing Championship Chase

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

March 23, 2022

It will be the first time, first time in a long time, or first time in at least a while for whichever Division 4 boys basketball contender emerges as champion this weekend at Michigan State’s Breslin Center.

Ewen-Trout Creek is seeking its first Finals championship since 1972, and Lake Leelanau St. Mary and Genesee Christian are pursuing a first title in program history.

Even Wyoming Tri-unity Christian, one of the more frequent travelers to Breslin for Finals weekend, is seeking its first championship in more than a decade.

DIVISON 4 Semifinals – Thursday
Ewen-Trout Creek (22-3) vs. Lake Leelanau St. Mary (21-4), 5:30 p.m.
Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (19-6) vs. Genesee Christian (21-4), 7:30 p.m.
FINAL – Saturday – 
10 a.m.

Tickets for this weekend’s games are $12 for both Semifinals and Finals and are available via the Breslin Center ticket office. All Semifinals will be broadcast and viewable with subscription to MHSAA.tv, and all four Finals will air live Saturday on Bally Sports Detroit, with the Division 4 and 1 games on BSD EXTRA and the Division 3 and 2 games on BSD’s primary channel. All four will be broadcast live as well as on the BSD website and app. Audio broadcasts of all Semifinals and Finals will be available free of charge from the MHSAA Network.

Here’s a look at the four Division 4 semifinals (with rankings by MPR at the end of the regular season, and statistics through Regional Finals):

Record/rank: 22-3, No. 2
League finish: First in Copper Mountain Conference Porcupine Mountain
Coach: Brad Besonen, 14th season (227-87)
Championship history: Class D champion 1972, runner-up 1982.
Best wins: 56-40 over No. 5 Rudyard in Quarterfinal, 56-44 over No. 4 Powers North Central in Regional Final, 57-38 (Regional Semifinal), 77-62 and 79-59 over No. 14 Wakefield-Marenisco; 59-58 (OT) over Division 3 No. 1 Menominee, 39-37 over Division 3 No. 20 Painesdale Jeffers.
Players to watch: Jaden Borseth, 6-4 sr. F (18.8 ppg, 43 3-pointers, 4.0 apg); Eric Abramson, 6-5 sr. F (13.7 ppg, 44 3-pointers); Kelsey Jilek, 6-4 sr. F (10.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg).
Outlook: Ewen-Trout Creek is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since that 1982 runner-up run, and has won 13 of its last 14 games on the way. The Panthers didn’t allow more than 40 points in 12 games – with 44 the most scored against them during the postseason. Borseth made the all-state first team last season. Senior 6-3 center Brendan Polkky adds another 9.7 points per game.

Record/rank: 21-4, No. 6
League finish: Tied for second in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Dan Chapman, 16th season (195-148)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 77-66 over No. 10 Southfield Christian in Quarterfinal, 59-46 over No. 12 Ubly in Regional Semifinal, 80-63 over Adrian Lenawee Christian, 55-50 over No. 13 Clarkston Everest Collegiate, 69-60 over No. 19 Webberville, 75-65 over Lake Fenton, 70-62 over Flint Hamady.  
Players to watch: Trenton Boike, 5-10 jr. G (23.3 ppg, 44 3-pointers, 5.6 apg); Tyler Chapman, 6-1 jr G (20 ppg, 82 3-pointers, 5.7 rpg). (Statistics include Quarterfinal.)
Outlook: Genesee Christian will make its first trip to the Semifinals led by Boike, who made the all-state first team as a sophomore. The Soldiers have won 11 straight games, with all four losses to larger opponents including two to Division 3 reigning champion Beecher. They could be building for another big run next season as well, as only two starters and three of their top nine players are seniors. Sophomore forward Jonah Derderian adds another 6.9 points per game.

Record/rank: 21-4, No. 9
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Coach: Matt Barnowski, second season (35-9)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 61-57 over No. 3 McBain Northern Michigan Christian in Regional Final, 61-44 (Regional Semifinal) and 71-63 over Ellsworth, 68-64 (District Final) and 66-52 over No. 17 Buckley, 84-69 (District Semifinal), 47-46 and 65-45 over Traverse City Christian, 60-46 over Flat Rock.
Players to watch: Dylan Barnowski, 6-1 jr. G (21.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.1 apg); Shawn Bramer, 6-2 jr. F (20.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg); August Schaub, 6-1 sr. F (13.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.0 apg).
Outlook: After winning its first Regional title since 1950, St. Mary is making its first trip to the Semifinals. The Eagles started the season 2-3 but have lost only once since, to Division 3 Benzie Central (20-4). St. Mary is allowing opponents to make only 38 percent of their shots, and just under 28 percent from 3-point range. Dylan Barnowski and Bramer both earned all-state honorable mentions last season, and the future looks bright as well as they are joined by only one senior starter.

Record/rank: 19-6, No. 30
League finish: First in Alliance League
Coach: Mark Keeler, 35th season (647-204)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2011), five runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 69-57 over Adrian Lenawee Christian in Quarterfinal, 57-40 over No. 1 New Buffalo in Regional Final, 55-36 over Wyoming Potter’s House Christian.
Players to watch: Brady Titus, 5-9 sr. G (29.8 ppg, 4.0 apg); Jordan VanKlompenberg, 6-1 soph. G (7.4 ppg); Owen Rosendall, 5-10 soph. G (6.0 ppg). Outlook: Tri-unity is headed back to Breslin for the fourth season over the last seven and after reaching last year’s Final and falling 47-41 to Detroit Douglass. Titus leads the way again, upping his scoring average another eight points this season after making the all-state first team last year. Senior Aidan DeKlyen also is back in the starting lineup, and Rosendall was the top sub during last year’s championship game. Junior 6-5 center Hanif James adds 5.8 points and 6.3 rebounds, and Titus, VanKlompenberg and Rosendall all had connected on at least 36 3-pointers entering the week.

PHOTO Ewen-Trout Creek's Eric Abramson (11) makes a basket during the third quarter of last week’s Regional Final win over Powers North Central. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)

E-TC's Witt Bulldozing Path from Small Town to Football's Biggest Stage

By Jason Juno
Special for MHSAA.com

June 28, 2024

Ewen-Trout Creek graduate Jake Witt is playing for a spot on the Indianapolis Colts’ 53-man roster. The memories of high school sports, and the impact they’ve had on his journey to the NFL, have stuck with him through his college days and even now as a professional.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 300-plus receiving yards he went for in a game against the eventual 8-player state champion back in 2017. 

The regular-season basketball game where 3,276 fans turned out to watch his Panthers play just a few months later.

The teamwork prep sports taught him. The family atmosphere he got to be a part of on the high school football team.

“Football was definitely the sport I felt the most family-type feeling with it,” Witt said earlier this week after fishing on Erickson Lake while back in the Upper Peninsula before training camp begins next month. “That’s what drew me back to wanting to play football in college, was my opportunity in high school to play and getting that feeling with the guys and that family-oriented feel.”

Witt played two years of high school football. He lined up exclusively at wide receiver for Ewen-Trout Creek as a junior and then was more of a blocking tight end when E-TC and Ontonagon joined forces as a co-op program when he was a senior.

He ultimately decided to play basketball first in college, at Michigan Tech. But two of his three finalists were football opportunities.

“Obviously playing basketball from second grade on, people would probably assume that I would want to play basketball in college,” Witt said. “I think that just goes to show that football in those two years had a big impact and obviously it led me to where I am when I played at Northern and where I am today.”

Witt played only one year of basketball at Tech. He transferred to Northern Michigan University to attend as a student only before being talked into playing football. 

He was initially a tight end there before moving to tackle because of injuries during a game against Ferris State. He dominated, not allowing a sack or even a quarterback pressure against what was considered the best Division II defensive line in the country. 

He stayed at tackle for what was left of that season and then all of his final year at Northern. Despite his limited time at the position, he had the attention of NFL scouts and entered the draft. The attention reached a fever pitch during his pro day at Central Michigan when he wowed with his athleticism. His 9.92 Relative Athletic Score, a way to measure players’ athletic testing while accounting for their size, was one of the best for an offensive tackle prospect since it began being used in 1987.

Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer.He was drafted with the 236th pick, in the seventh round, by the Colts in 2023. 

His first training camp was cut short due to a hip injury, and he was then placed on season-ending injured reserve. But he’s back healthy and ready to go. He practiced at second-string left tackle during the offseason camp this spring and now hopes to earn a spot on the 53-man roster with training camp set to begin in a month.

“I want to go into training camp, play well and then play well enough to where they can’t release me off the 53,” Witt said. “The next goal is to play in a game. And I think that will start with special teams, that will start with field goal. And then from there, obviously, everybody is one week of great practice away from playing with the offense, one injury away from playing in a game with the offense.”

Those who watched him during his high school days in the U.P. likely wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that happen.

Witt is still the only receiver to go for 300 or more receiving yards in 8-player football in state history, according to the MHSAA record book. And he did it twice, a 325-yard game against Eben Junction Superior Central as a junior and the 305-yard performance against Crystal Falls Forest Park as a senior.

The Ontonagon co-op team had mostly stuck to running the ball that season, but looked for Witt through the air against the eventual state champion Trojans.

“I think it was 345 (yards), I think they sent in the wrong number,” Witt said. “That was one game where we switched things up with our offensive attack and threw the ball a lot more, and it ended up paying off for us very well. We were down big at halftime, and we pushed back and we were in a battle with them in the second half. It was a great game. We didn’t end up winning, but it was a lot of fun.”

He enjoyed both years of high school football – even while mostly blocking on the line as a senior despite having shown previously to be a more-than-capable receiver.

Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023.“A lot of the offense wasn’t focused on me anymore, which was great,” Witt said. “It made me a much more well-rounded football player. It made me a much better athlete, it gave me a better perception on things as a football player versus just being a receiver. I think both years were great for different reasons.”

Witt said every sport he played in high school was beneficial to him going forward. Basketball, for example, taught him teamwork and coordination. 

“And just relationship building is huge; for me, it helped me move on to the professional football level,” he said.

No high school game was quite as memorable for him as that regular-season basketball game at Michigan Tech on a chilly Wednesday night in Houghton.

Ewen-Trout Creek and Dollar Bay were tied atop the U.P. small-school poll. With that type of matchup, and the chance for fans in the Copper Country to see the 6-7 Witt and his above-the-rim play that’s pretty unique in the U.P., the game was moved from Dollar Bay’s tiny gym to Michigan Tech. (He wasn’t quite 300 pounds like he is now, but he was close – and he came into that game averaging 27 points and 16 rebounds per game with no one able to match his size and strength.)

They expected a crowd; they got 3,276. The latest arriving fans had to sit on the floor on the baseline.

“You don’t see that very much in Division 4 basketball even in the playoffs,” Witt said. “Just having that atmosphere, and especially having it between two of the best U.P. teams at the time, and having the storyline that was behind the game was great – and one of the most memorable events to this day still for me.”

Witt is looking forward to the challenge of training camp and achieving his goals in Indianapolis. But he’s not rushing away a U.P. summer. 

He helped out at last week’s U.P. Football All-Star game. He was happy to provide insight for any players headed off to play college ball, and they helped the Marquette County Habitat for Humanity with the finishing touches on one of their houses.

Over the next month, he’ll still be training, going over the playbook and doing position skill work. As happy as he was to help out last week, he’s happy to be on the lake again, too, fishing like a normal Yooper.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to do, that and train,” Witt said. “Just trying to destress before I get back into it.”

PHOTOS (Top) At left, Jake Witt played for Ewen-Trout Creek during a 2018 basketball game at Michigan Tech, and at right Witt takes a photo with area youth baseball players last summer. (Middle) Witt, right, umpires a baseball game last summer. (Below) Witt warms up during the Indianapolis Colts’ rookie camp in May 2023. (Photos by Jason Juno.)