No Need to Dazzle - Kent City Just Wins

March 8, 2018

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Kent City doesn’t have the star power or pizzazz normally associated with an undefeated basketball team.

In fact, the most flashy thing about the Eagles is the loud pants worn each game by third-year head coach Dave Ingles – which were an especially gaudy half-pink and half-burgundy disaster that would have made Al Czervik from Caddyshack blush during Wednesday’s 48-38 District Semifinal win over Muskegon Western Michigan Christian at Ravenna.

“I lost a bet with the kids last year and had to wear pink pants for a game,” explained Ingles, who has guided Kent City to a 21-0 record and improbable No. 2 state ranking in Class C.

“Since then, it’s become a thing. If I wore khaki pants to a game, our crowd would boo me out of the gym. So now I spend half my coaching salary and half my time finding pants for each game.”

If nothing else, they bring a little shine to an otherwise throwback, working-class basketball team devoid of superstars that just finds a way to win every game with suffocating defense, outstanding shooting and unselfish team play.

The Eagles pulled another one out Wednesday against tradition-rich Western Michigan Christian, which slowed the game to a crawl and led 15-12 at halftime. It looked like a monumental upset might be in the works as Kent City was stone cold from the field, and its standout backcourt duo of senior Fraser Wilson and sophomore Eli Carlson was held scoreless in the first half.

But just like they have all season, the Eagles stayed calm and found an answer.

This time it was a 10-0 run to start the second half, keyed by three steals on the defensive end and a pair of 3-pointers by Carlson, which turned the game around. KC then sealed the win by knocking down 14 of 16 free throws in the final 2:05.

“We definitely don’t panic or yell and scream at each other,” explained Wilson, who averages 14 points per game and shoots nearly 50 percent from 3-point range. “Our shots weren’t falling, but we stayed calm. We believe in each other.”

Kent City repeated as champion of the Central State Activities Association Silver, which isn’t known as a basketball-rich conference. More impressive is the Eagles won all 10 of their nonconference games, with nine of those 10 wins coming against Class A or Class B opponents.

Ingles points to his team’s 49-44 win Feb. 3 over Class A Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills, a game played in an arena environment at the DeltaPlex before a Grand Rapids Drive game, as a key to the season. The Eagles had to rally for that victory to get to 14-0, and ever since have experienced tournament-like pressure to get to 20-0.

Since they have been dealing with the extra scrutiny and the focus on winning every game for more than a month, Carlson said the team is more prepared for March Madness.

“The pressure was getting that 20-0,” explained Carlson, who also averages 14 points and shoots better than 50 percent from the floor. “Now, we were 0-0. Everyone is 0-0, starting a new season. We don’t take it as pressure.”

The question now is how high can the Eagles fly?

Kent City will be shooting for its 13th District championship since 1950 on Friday when it takes on West Michigan Conference champion North Muskegon at 6 p.m. at Ravenna. A victory there would vault the Eagles into the MHSAA Class C Regional tournament at Beal City next week.

The Eagles have won only one Regional title since 1950, in 2004, when they made it all the way to the Class C semifinals at Michigan State University before losing to Charlevoix.

The program has steadily improved each year since Ingles took the reins prior to the 2015-2016 season. KC finished 13-8 in 2016 and 14-7 last year, getting knocked out of the tournament both years by Muskegon Heights Academy, which is now in Class D.

The team was expected to be good this season after losing just one regular contributor off last year’s conference champion, but no one expected a quantum leap to 20-0 and a lofty state ranking.

“It’s special what this team has been able to do,” said Inglis, who is assisted by Phil Stevens and Gabe Hall. “This is not a physically impressive team in any way, shape or form. Our success starts with defense and with nobody caring about their own stats. They just want to win.”

The guard duo of Wilson and Carlson, along with senior Jace Dailey, has provided the leadership all season long. Brendan Geers, a 6-foot-3 junior, is the closest thing the Eagles have to a big man and a workhorse inside. Hunter Nelson, Cody Bowers, Gavin Mead, Miguel Arechiga and sophomore call-up Max Hudson are also key contributors.

Another key factor pushing this unbeaten team along is a rabid fan base, which has been packing “The Nest” at home games all year and is following its team in “Hoosiers”-like fashion now that the MHSAA Tournament has begun. Kent City fans packed the parking lot and gymnasium at Ravenna well before Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. tip-off and are expected to do the same for Friday’s showdown against North Muskegon.

“There is definitely a buzz more than normal around town,” said Wilson after Wednesday’s District win. “It’s fun to be a part of it. We’ve got our perfect regular season already; now we’ll just see how long we can keep it going.”

Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Senior Fraser Wilson, who is shooting almost 50 percent from 3-point range this season, surveys the defense. (Middle) Sophomore Eli Carlson is only 5-5 but has come up big as a leading scorer for Kent City this season with 14 points per game. (Below) Third-year Kent City coach Dave Ingles wears the net after the Eagles completed a 20-0 regular season March 1 with a victory over visiting Kentwood Grand River Prep. (Photos courtesy of Kent City Basketball/Mary Wilson.)

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.)