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.)

Championship Experience from Coach's Point of View Unimaginable, Unforgettable

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

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 MHSAA.com 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.)