Performance: Unity's Noah Wiswary

March 22, 2019

Noah Wiswary
Hudsonville Unity Christian senior – Basketball

The 6-foot-1 senior point guard entered the final week of the season as Unity Christian’s fourth-leading scorer at 7.8 points per game. But Wiswary led the Crusaders in scoring in their Quarterfinal, Semifinal and championship game wins as the program won its first MHSAA Finals championship, earning Wiswary the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.” 

Wiswary had 15 points and eight assists in the Quarterfinal as Unity avenged an earlier two-point loss with a 71-45 win over Grand Rapids South Christian. He added 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting against Ludington in a 69-30 Semifinal win, and then 17 points again on 6-of-9 shooting as the Crusaders edged River Rouge 58-55 on Saturday. Wiswary also scored 11 points in Unity’s Regional Final win the week before over Benton Harbor, last season’s Class B champion. His final week of work raised Wiswary’s scoring average to 8.7 ppg for the season, to go with 4.5 assists per game. The varsity’s ball boy before high school, Wiswary finished his career either first or second all-time on Unity’s career assists list – the numbers are being tabulated – and the team was a combined 63-12 during his three seasons on varsity, including 26-2 this winter.

This was the second championship of this school year for Wiswary, a starting defensive back on the football team that won the Division 5 title in the fall. He also plays center field and pitches for the baseball team, and is hoping he’ll continue his basketball career at the college level. Wiswary is undecided where, but plans to study criminal justice in pursuit of a career in law enforcement.

Coach Scott Soodsma said: “If you wanted to look at one key individual who stepped up his game during the tournament run, there is one unanimous choice and it’s him. It’s not that he was always the best player, but where he came from to where he ended was sensational. The kid obviously led us through the tournament. I really was impressed with his hustle at both ends of the floor. He’s always been a pretty good offensive player, and he really turned it up defensively a lot. He’s capable of guarding almost everything, and his leadership, his will to win – he was willing to do whatever it took, and the urgency set in being a senior. … Just the expectation was there. Without an expectation, it’s a lot more difficult to win. When you expect to win rather than hope to win, you think you’ll win. The expectation we are going to win is a huge asset, and I think that’s exactly where he was at – he really believed we were going to win, and he played like that.”

Performance Point: “I just think we took the role as underdog. Last year we lost to Benton Harbor, so we were like, ‘This is our year.’ Nobody really looked at us because obviously there’s Benton Harbor, River Rouge, South Christian, and we were going to just shock the world – and that’s what we did. … I knew we had to turn it up a notch because (there were) only three games left in our season, and my teammates, they got me the ball in the right spots. When I have shooters that other people are worried about, it just got me open way more. I’ve got four shooters on the floor. I’m going to get them the ball. But the opportunity was there. I was open – I was going to shoot it.”

Winner’s mentality: “We’ve been here (to Finals in other sports) before, and nobody really cares – I play good, T.J. (VanKoevering) plays good, nobody really cares as long as we win. If I scored 40 points and we lost, we’d all still be really mad and I’d be mad, but all we wanted to do was win. We had that winning mentality of we just wanted to win. … I thought we could beat Benton Harbor, but I didn’t actually think it was going to happen. Once we beat Benton Harbor I was like, ‘All right, we can beat anyone now.’ We did not have an easy path. In our District we had to beat a good Holland Christian team, and we had to beat them three times in a year which is not easy to do. In the Regional we’ve got play Benton Harbor, which beat us last year by 15, and in the Finals we gotta play River Rouge, which is a historic program. Beating those three teams in a playoff run, and South Christian – who was on a 19-game winning streak – beating those teams on a playoff run, that’s unheard of.”

Multi-sport crossover: “That River Rouge game was physical; it was practically a football game out there half the time. Football prepares you for physicality and footwork and quick spurts on the floor. All three sports – the more experience you have in sports, the more experience you have being on a team and being able to be a leader. And (with) communication – communication is a big part of our team this year.”

Know your role: “Everybody just did their roles and nobody tried to do more than that. We had shooters, and if they were shooters they would shoot. Rebounders, they would rebound. Passers, they would pass. We just all did our roles, and it meshed really good. My role was to lead everyone. Get the ball to the shooters, if I had to score I’ll score, and push the ball in transition." 

Take the lead: “If my guys are hot and doing their thing, I’m just going to let them be. But if they’re struggling, I’m going to be like, ‘You’re still in it. You’re still good.’ I’m going to try to get them an open look as a point guard, get them an easy look under the basket, get their confidence going. Give them a little bump on the back, just try to pick them up. … My coach ever since sophomore year, when I came in (to varsity) he told me I would be a leader. I wasn’t really a leader sophomore or junior year, but he kept pushing on me that I’ve gotta step up, I’ve gotta be more confident in my guys. Senior year I just said hey, I’ve gotta do it now.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2018-19 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard recognizes a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Past 2018-19 honorees

March 14: Cam Peel, Spring Lake swimming - Read
March 7:
Jordan Hamdan, Hudson wrestling - Read
February 28:
Kevon Davenport, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling - Read
February 21:
Reagan Olli, Gaylord skiing - Read 
February 14:
Jake Stevenson, Traverse City Bay Reps hockey - Read
February 7: Molly Davis, Midland Dow basketball - Read
January 31:
Chris DeRocher, Alpena basketball - Read
January 24:
Imari Blond, Flint Kearsley bowling - Read
January 17: William Dunn, Quincy basketball - Read
November 29:
Dequan Finn, Detroit Martin Luther King football - Read
November 22: Paige Briggs, Lake Orion volleyball - Read
November 15:
Hunter Nowak, Morrice football - Read
November 8:
Jon Dougherty, Detroit Country Day soccer - Read
November 1:
Jordan Stump, Camden-Frontier volleyball - Read
October 25:
Danielle Staskowski, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep golf - Read
October 18:
Adam Bruce, Gladstone cross country - Read
October 11: Ericka VanderLende, Rockford cross country - Read
October 4:
Kobe Clark, Schoolcraft football - Read
September 27: Jonathan Kliewer, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern soccer - Read
September 20: Kiera Lasky, Bronson volleyball - Read
September 13: Judy Rector, Hanover-Horton cross country - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Unity Christian's Noah Wiswary (1) looks for an open teammate during Saturday's Division 2 championship game against River Rouge. (Middle) Wiswary brings the ball upcourt during the Semifinal win over Ludington.

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.)