Improved Dundee Enjoys Memorable Start

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 12, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

The Dundee boys basketball team has stacked up a pair of accomplishments already this winter – one to enjoy right now, and another to take pride in for years to come.

The Vikings, after finishing last season 10-11, are off to an 8-0 start this winter. The early run has included a 67-64 win on Dec. 15 over Onsted, last year’s Lenawee County Athletic Association champion.

The significance of that accomplishment is easy for players to get, especially since the majority of this year’s rotation went through the growing pains of last season. But the historic meaning of the win that came after Onsted probably will take some more time to sink in – even as it’s bound to be one of the most lasting achievements of these players’ careers.

Dundee’s 60-50 win over Carleton Airport on Dec. 20 was the 1,000th victory in program history, making the Vikings one of at least 12 in Michigan high school history to have reached that milestone and the first from Monroe County.

“I don’t think at their age they understand how big of an accomplishment that is – that you’d basically have to go undefeated 50 straight years to get to 1,000,” said second-year coach Jordan Bollin, who is in his 11th season total as a coach in the southeast part of the state. “We tried to explain it to them, and I think they do (get it more) now.”

Dundee is the Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for December in part for both headlining moments this season, pulling off its first five wins during that first month and seven of eight so far by double figures.

The Vikings are paced by six seniors, including four who start alongside junior Ben Miller, who also started last season as a sophomore and leads with team with 12.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. To make this season's jump, they put in the necessary time; Bollin said he held four-player workouts three times a week during the offseason, in addition to the players honing their skills during open gyms and over a busy summer.

Bollin also emphasized that while the program has undergone a system change – introducing a more free-flowing offense and shorter practices this winter – it’s maintained the same culture of toughness that exists throughout the community and is often most recognizable with the school’s best-known team – a wrestling program that has won three of the last four MHSAA Division 3 championships.

“I’ve coached at a couple places, and the kids at Dundee are tougher bred,” said Bollin, who graduated from Temperance Bedford, then assisted there and at Blissfield before coming to Dundee as an assistant three seasons ago. “I don’t know how to explain it. The parents do a great job of raising them. A lot of the parents played at Dundee, and it’s a well-versed culture there. It’s a very tough community … and it’s always ‘Yes coach. No coach,’ very respectful kids.

“The wrestling program sets the tone, and if our kids ever get tired or feel that our practice is tough, we ask, ‘Do you want to go wrestle?’ Tim (Roberts) is one of the best coaches probably in the nation, and they probably outwork any team in any sport in the state, and I can say that in confidence.”

It’s certainly worth noting that Dundee’s basketball program also is making this impressive run sharing winter athletes with that wrestling program in a school of just under 500 students. That might make the Vikings’ basketball depth notable as well; Bollin said in 11 seasons he’s never had a team with this many contributors, as six players have scored at least 13 points in a game. Senior guard Brayden Federer is another top scorer, pouring in 12 points per game while also serving as the leading lockdown defender.

For Dundee’s next game after winning 1,000, against Flat Rock on Dec. 22, the Vikings welcomed the school’s 1987-88 team that advanced to the Class C Semifinals and is considered the program’s best of all-time (Dundee’s 1937-38 team also made the Class C Semifinals, but no team has won a Regional title since 1988). Those past players were recognized with an on-court ceremony and visited the locker room before the game to meet the current players before these Vikings went on to a 44-30 win to close the month.

Bollin had an idea before this season that this team might be lined up for a special run too. So far it’s included a couple of meaningful accomplishments, and the Vikings hope they’re just getting started.

“We’re a starless team … and even in my second year, I’m improved as a coach. We’re prepared for anything they see, but a lot of it is on them,” Bollin said of his players. “People take it for granted, that experience, but it’s a big deal. These guys don’t get rattled much this year. Last year if a team switched defenses on them, it would set them back a couple of plays.

“(And) we’re a really close-knit unit, and they don’t let each other slack. It’s easy to coach when you have a team like that.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Dundee’s Tyler Turner looks to get past an Onsted defender during the Vikings’ three-point win last month. (Middle) Dundee players and coaches commemorate the program’s 1,000th win after defeating Carleton Airport. (Photos courtesy of the Dundee 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.)