P-W Finishes Historic March Atop D3

March 16, 2019

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

EAST LANSING – Collin Trierweiler found himself outside with his older brother again, firing up free throws, one of his favorite things to do when he was younger.

Except this time, he was standing at the free-throw line at the Breslin Center, with no one else on his side of the court, less than a second remaining on the clock, and Pewamo-Westphalia’s first MHSAA Finals championship hanging on the shots he was about to take.

A meeting of undefeated finalists came down to the slimmest of margins Saturday at the Breslin Center. Trierweiler, on the line after an intentional foul was called on Iron Mountain with seven tenths of a second to play, made it through two timeouts before sinking the first shot, and a third timeout before making the second to put the Pirates ahead 53-52 and all but ice the Division 3 championship.

Trierweiler hadn’t practiced all postseason, and sat out multiple games with an ankle injury. But he played 26 minutes in the Final, on the court when it counted most.

“As a senior, right around the time when I get hurt, right as the playoffs start, it was frustrating, Trierweiler said. “Coach said it would be best to sit out the practices and just fight through the games. Every game I just had my teammates on my back saying you’ve got this, you’re fine, just keep playing the game. And when I was feeling pain, they’d help me forget about it.

“The free throws, I just tried to calm myself down and think about myself out in the driveway with my older brother. We used to practice all the time, and it was one of my favorite things to do. I always dreamed of a moment to be put on the free-throw line, a big moment. Maybe not quite this big, it was a little scary, but I tried to just block out the background, see the trees in my yard, and put them up and shoot them in.”

P-W (28-0) previously had finished Class C runner-up in 1993 and 2014.

Trierweiler entered this week making 59 percent of his free-throw tries this season.

But his absence from normal practice activities the last few weeks may have been a blessing in disguise.

“When he’s been sitting out, he’s been shooting free throws. I had him shooting free throws again (Saturday),” P-W coach Luke Pohl said. “Was I a little leery? Not really, because he’s a pretty tough-minded kid.

“I remember his mother telling me this season, (that) when he was just a little boy, he’d be dribbling the basketball in front of his mom saying, ‘Mom, someday I’m going to be the point guard at Pewamo-Westphalia,’ and he was so proud of that.”

The Pirates had led most of the first five minutes of the first quarter, but didn’t lead again until Trierweiler’s free throws at the end.
Iron Mountain (27-1) led by as many as eight points during the second and third quarters and by six multiple times during the fourth. Pirates senior Andre Smith took a six-point lead to three with a 3-pointer with 1:44 to play. After Trierweiler missed two 3-point tries to tie the score, he went in for a layup instead with 22.7 seconds left to bring the margin down to one.

Two free throws by Mountaineers’ sophomore Foster Wonders pushed the lead back to three, but again Trierweiler scored with 11.5 seconds left to make the margin one. Iron Mountain broke the ensuing pressure but was called for a travel, and on P-W’s last attempt to get down the court for a final shot, Trierweiler drew the intentional foul.

The ending was emotional for obvious reasons. Pohl said his heart went out to Iron Mountain. But he believed if Trierweiler hadn’t been fouled, he would have scored.

The Iron Mountain contingent certainly was disappointed, but completed a memorable run that saw the Mountaineers defeat last season’s Class C champ Detroit Edison in the Semifinal on the way to Saturday.

“We put in tremendous effort. It didn’t just start this year – it’s been going on for years with these guys,” Iron Mountain coach Bucky Johnson said. “Their effort has never been in question. I’m really proud of them for that. Pewamo, great effort by them too.”

Smith finished with 21 points, including five 3-pointers, for P-W. Junior Aaron Bearss had 15 points and eight rebounds.

Wonders scored a game-high 20 points for Iron Mountain, and junior Marcus Johnson had 17 points, six rebounds and three assists.

“I thought our kids played awesome,” Bucky Johnson added. “They went toe to toe, both teams. Give them credit, give us credit, what do you say? … It’s part of the game. It stinks to be on this end of it.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) Pewamo-Westphalia’s Aaron Bearss makes a move to the basket while Iron Mountain’s Charlie Gerhard defends during Saturday’s Division 3 Final. (Middle) Collin Trierweiler shoots one of his last-second free throws.

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.)