Preview: On Course Again for Historic Victories

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

April 7, 2021

A number of teams at Thursday’s Boys Basketball Semifinals finished last season with wins as COVID-19 abruptly ended their postseason runs during District play.

But all 16 teams this weekend have another opportunity to close with a win – and this one accompanied by an MHSAA Finals championship.

Nine are seeking their first titles, including all four teams contending in Division 1. Others are seeking their first championship since 1939, 1945, 1966 or 1975.

Below is a schedule of all Semifinals and Finals – Semifinals are Thursday at Breslin Center in East Lansing and Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, and all four championship games will be Friday at Breslin.

DIVISION 1 - Breslin Center
Ann Arbor Huron (19-0) vs. Warren De La Salle Collegiate (14-3), 3 p.m.
Forest Hills Northern (17-1) vs. Grand Blanc (13-2),
5:30 p.m.

DIVISION 2 - Van Andel Arena
Ferndale (14-4) vs. Grand Rapids Catholic Central (18-0), 3 p.m.
Bridgeport (17-2) vs. Battle Creek Pennfield (20-2), 5:30 p.m.

DIVISION 3 - Breslin Center
Hanover-Horton (20-1) vs. Flint Beecher (14-1), 10 a.m.
Schoolcraft (19-1) vs. Iron Mountain (18-0), 12:30 p.m.

DIVISION 4 - Van Andel Arena
Rudyard (18-2) vs Wyoming Tri-unity Christian (13-2), 10 a.m.
Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart (20-1) vs Detroit Douglass (15-5), 12:30 p.m.

Finals – Friday
Division 1 - 12:30 p.m.
Division 2 - 5:30 p.m.

Division 3 - 3 p.m.
Division 4 - 10 a.m.

Spectator limits remain in effect, but all Semifinals will be streamed live on and viewable with subscription, with free audio broadcasts via the MHSAA Radio Network. All four Finals will be broadcast by Bally Sports Detroit (formerly FOX Sports Detroit), the first three on the primary channel and the Division 2 Final on delay at 1:30 a.m. All four also will be available live on the FOX Sports Detroit Website and the FOX Sports Go! app. 

Below is a glance at all 12 teams contending this weekend. Click for the full program. (Statistics below are through Regional Finals. Rankings are based on the Michigan Power Ratings generated to seed teams at the District level.)

Division 1

Record/rank: 19-0, No. 9
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference Red
Coach: Waleed Samaha, 17th season (282-94)
Championship history: Class A runner-up 2010.
Best wins: 44-34 over No. 28 River Rouge in Quarterfinal, 77-45 and 70-36 over No. 29 Ypsilanti Lincoln, 56-33 over No. 24 Dexter in Regional Semifinal.
Players to watch: Julian Lewis, 6-6 sr. G (12.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg); Devin Womack, 6-2 sr. G (12.6 ppg, 35 3-pointers, 3.6 apg); Kingsley Perkins, 6-7 sr. F (9.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.1 bpg).
Outlook: Huron has booked its first trip to the Semifinals since that runner-up season of 2010, and its second trip in program history – although last year’s team had high hopes entering its District Final with a 21-1 record. Lewis earned an all-state honorable mention as a junior and is part of a balanced, experienced and sizable attack – he’s one of nine seniors and one of five players standing 6-5 or taller. Senior 6-5 guard Tyson Edmondson also is part of all three groups averaging nine points per game with 35 3-pointers entering this week.  

Record/rank: 17-1, No. 11
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Coach: Joe Soules, 10th season (153-68)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 66-56 over No. 10 East Lansing in Quarterfinal, 53-49 over No. 16 Zeeland East in Regional Final, 62-54 (District Final), 62-42 and 82-71 over No. 30 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 67-46 over Division 2 No. 14 Grand Rapids Christian.
Players to watch: Trinidad Chambliss, 6-1 sr. G; Ethan Erickson, 6-1 sr. G. (Individual statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Forest Hills Northern has won 15 straight games to reach the Semifinals for the second time and first since 2008. The only loss was early to Williamston, by just two points, and a tough tournament path has included dealing Zeeland East its only defeat. Erickson and Chambliss both earned all-state honorable mentions last season.

Record/rank: 13-2, No. 5
League finish: Second in Saginaw Valley League
Coach: Mike Thomas, fourth season (66-17)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1952.
Best wins: 58-53 over No. 1 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in Quarterfinal, 77-61 over No. 28 River Rouge, 85-58 over No. 19 Marquette in Regional Final, 91-52 (District Final) and 82-44 over No. 14 Davison.
Players to watch: Ty Rodgers, 6-6 jr. F (17.6 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 3.6 apg); RJ Taylor, 5-11 soph. G (16.8 ppg, 29 3-pointers, 7.2 apg); Timonte Boyd, 6-3 soph. G (9.7 ppg).
Outlook: Grand Blanc is back at the Semifinals for the first time since 1953 and after last season’s team was forced to end at 18-3. Rodgers earned an all-state honorable mention last season and has been considered among the top players in his class throughout high school. He’s got lots of help, with Taylor another big scorer and 6-2 senior guard Jacob Carlson (8.1 ppg) and 6-0 sophomore guard Amont’e Allen-Johnson (8.0 ppg) also adding to the balanced attack. The Quarterfinal win over St. Mary’s avenged a 65-52 loss from Feb. 16. Thomas  formerly led Kalamazoo Central to Class A titles in 2010 and 2011.

Record/rank: 13-3, No. 13
League finish: Third in Detroit Catholic League Central
Coach: Gjon Djokaj, first season (16-3)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 1982.
Best wins: 64-59 over No. 2 Detroit U-D Jesuit in Regional Final, 53-51 over No. 6 Detroit Martin Luther King in Regional Semifinal, 59-42 over No. 7 Bloomfield Hills Brother Rice, 56-18 over No. 24 Dexter.
Players to watch: Linden Holder, 6-1 sr. G (17.7 ppg, 28 3-pointers, 3.6 apg); Triston Nichols, 6-4 soph. G (9.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg); Caleb Reese, 5-10 jr. G (12.5 ppg, 3.5 apg).
Outlook: De La Salle is back at the Semifinals for the second time in four seasons, thanks in part to avenging a two-point overtime loss to Jesuit from March 11. Five players average at least eight points per game – 6-0 sophomore Nino Smith (8.6 ppg) and 6-7 sophomore Michael Sulaka (8.2) bolster the scoring and also are part of a starting lineup that will graduate only one player. Djokaj formerly led Walled Lake Northern and Livonia Franklin’s programs and has a 73-35 record overall.

Division 2

Record/rank: 20-2, No. 16
League finish: First in Interstate 8 Athletic Conference
Coach: Nate Burns, fourth season (60-30)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 54-49 over No. 12 Romulus Summit Academy in Quarterfinal, 56-53 over No. 2 Williamston in Regional Final, 57-45 and 44-41 over Division 1 No. 41 Coldwater.
Players to watch: Ryne Petersen, 6-1 sr. G (15.6 ppg, 32 3-pointers, 5.9 rpg, 6.3 apg, 3.1 spg); Luke Davis, 6-1 jr. G (11.2 ppg, 25 3-pointers, 3.6 apg); Gavin Burns, 5-11 sr. G (12 ppg, 51 3-pointers).
Outlook: Pennfield has been one of the stories of the tournament, first winning a Regional title for the first time since 1972 and now making the Semifinals for the first time ever. The team’s only league loss this winter came against Marshall, and the Panthers avenged in the District Final. Petersen earned an all-state honorable mention last season.

Record/rank: 17-2, No. 36
League finish: Second in Tri-Valley Conference 8
Coach: Kevin Marshall Sr., fourth season (85-6)
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 52-41 over Escanaba in the Quarterfinal, 54-53 (Regional Final) and 55-54 over Carrollton, 53-33 over Frankenmuth in District Final.
Players to watch: Jaylen Hodges, 6-4 sr. G (16.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.4 apg, 3.1 spg, 1.5 bpg); AJ Pipkins, 5-8 sr. G (9.6 ppg, 57 3-pointers, 3.3 apg, 3.6 spg); Omarion Wilkins 6-4 sr. F (9.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Outlook: After opening the season 1-2, Bridgeport avenged both of those losses and has won 16 straight games on the way to its first Semifinal since 2009 and third in program history. Hodges made the all-state second team last season and is one of eight seniors total and four who start. Senior 5-7 guard Ramaureon Arthur is another offensive key averaging 8.2 points and 4.3 assists per game.

Record/rank: 14-4, No. 5
League finish: First in Oakland Activities Association Red
Coach: Juan Rickman, third season (43-19)
Championship history: Class A champion 1963 and 1966.
Best wins: 73-68 (2OT) over No. 4 Croswell-Lexington in Quarterfinal, 56-49 and 51-43 over Division 1 No. 17 Clarkston, 60-55 over Division 1 No. 15 North Farmington, 94-74 over Division 4 No. 17 Detroit Douglass.
Players to watch: Jason Drake, 6-2 jr. G (16.5 ppg, 25 3-pointers); Christopher Williams, 6-3 soph. G (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg); Treyvon Lewis, 6-5 jr. G (19.3 ppg, 37 3-pointers, 7.0 rpg).
Outlook: Ferndale won its first league and second District titles under Rickman, who formerly led Detroit East English Village/Detroit Crockett, and have reached the Semifinals for the first time since 1985. The Eagles lost only once in their league, in their rematch with North Farmington, and three of their four defeats this season were by five points or fewer. Lewis earned an all-state honorable mention last season and is part of a starting lineup made up of all juniors and sophomores.

Record/rank: 18-0, No. 8
League finish: First in O-K Gold
Coach: T.J. Meerman, eighth season (116-63)
Championship history: Class B runner-up 2018.
Best wins: 83-72 over No. 1 Benton Harbor in Quarterfinal, 68-50 (Regional Semifinal), 58-56 and 49-46 over No. 23 Grand Rapids South Christian, 71-52 over No. 10 Hudsonville Unity Christian in District Final, 59-44 over No. 14 Grand Rapids Christian.
Players to watch: Jack Karasinski, 6-6 jr. G (19.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 3.0 apg); Kaden Brown, 6-0 soph. G (19 ppg, 4.5 apg); Durral Brooks, 6-1 fr. G (10 ppg, 5.0 apg, 7.0 rpg, 3.5 spg).
Outlook: GRCC has advanced to its first Semifinal since 2018 and is seeking its first championship after falling by a point in overtime in that year’s Class B Final. Karasinski made the all-state second team last winter and is part of a lineup with a variety of contributors – junior 6-2 guard Jordan Brooks (9.5) and senior 6-9 forward Gabe Quillan (8.5) also score nearly in double digits per game. GRCC had only three single-digit games this season – two against South Christian.

Division 3

Record/rank: 14-1, No. 1
League finish: First in Genesee Area Conference Red
Coach: Mike Williams, 17th season (336-93)
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recent 2017), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 89-58 over No. 3 Reese in Regional Final, 84-54 over Division 2 No. 20 Goodrich, 73-68 (2OT) over Division 2 No. 5 Ferndale, 65-63 over Division 1 No. 4 Flint Carman-Ainsworth.
Players to watch: Keyon Menifield Jr., 6-1 sr. G; Carmelo Harris, 5-11 jr. G; James Cummings II, 6-2 jr. F. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Beecher is making its first Semifinals appearance since its last championship season of 2017, although the Bucs were 20-2 last season when it was halted. Menifield earned an all-state honorable mention last season and leads a team that lost only to Division 1 top-ranked Orchard Lake St. Mary’s in the second game of the regular season. Carman-Ainsworth and Ferndale were the only other opponents to get within single digits.

Record/rank: 20-1, No. 20
League finish: First in Cascades Conference
Coach: Chad Mortimer, 23rd season (453-97).
Championship history: Hanover was Lower Peninsula Class D runner-up in 1941; Horton was LP Class D runner-up in 1936 and 1937.
Best wins: 41-29 over No. 9 Ypsilanti Arbor Prep in Quarterfinal, 50-45 over No. 8 Leslie in Regional Final, 69-38 (Regional Semifinal), 66-52 and 45-44 over No. 28 Michigan Center, 70-45 over No. 23 Homer in District Final.
Players to watch: Carson Sanders, jr. G (18.5 ppg, 33 3-pointers); Brogan Brockie, sr. G (13 ppg); Conner Mortimer, sr. G (13.2 ppg, 3.8 apg). (Heights not submitted.)
Outlook: The Comets saw last year’s run end as they stood 20-1 when COVID struck. But this time they’ve reached the Semifinals for the first time since 2015 and fourth time in program history. Hanover-Horton graduated three players who earned all-state honorable mentions last season, but the next set of standouts has filled right in. Four of the team’s eight seniors join Sanders in the starting lineup. 

Record/rank: 18-0, No. 14
League finishes: First in Western Peninsula Athletic Conference and Mid-Peninsula Conference.
Coach: Harvey Johnson, 21st season (315-155)
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 1939), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 53-50 over No. 2 McBain in Quarterfinal, 63-52 over No. 6 Oscoda in Regional Final, 71-50 over No. 7 Painesdale-Jeffers in Regional Semifinal, 79-48 over No. 15 Menominee in District Final, 58-52 over Division 2 No. 3 Escanaba.
Players to watch: Foster Wonders, 6-5 sr. G; Ricky Brown, 6-0 sr. G; Jurgen Kleiman, 6-4 sr. F. (Statistics not provided.)
Outlook: Iron Mountain was the Division 3 runner-up in 2019 and 21-1 last season when it was forced to end. But Wonders has led the charge back into the Semifinals with incredible scoring numbers in going over 2,000 points for his career. The Mountaineers have downed previously-unbeaten teams their last two games, and Jeffers had only one defeat when they met. Only McBain and Escanaba got within single digits.

Record/rank: 19-1, No. 17
League finish: First in Southwestern Athletic Conference Valley
Coach: Randy Small, 16th season (306-64)
Championship history: Class C champion 2011, runner-up 2009.
Best wins: 59-47 (Quarterfinal) and 60-55 over No. 10 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, 56-38 over No. 4 Niles Brandywine in District Final, 55-49 over No. 5 Pewamo-Westphalia.
Players to watch: Bryce VanderWiere, 6-7 sr. C (15.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg); Shane Rykse, 6-1 fr. G (11.6 ppg, 43 3-pointers); Tyler DeGroote, 6-6 jr. F (13.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg).
Outlook: Schoolcraft is returning to the Semifinals for the first time since 2012 and was 21-0 when last season came to a close. The only loss this winter was to Division 2 top-ranked Benton Harbor. VanderWiere earned an all-state honorable mention last season and is part of a sizable frontcourt that also starts 6-6 junior forward Ty Riske and brings 6-6 senior center Harmon DeVries off the bench.

Division 4

Record/rank: 15-5, No. 17
League finish: Second in Detroit Public School League East
Coach: Pierre Brooks Sr., seventh season (103-50)
Championship history: Has never appeared in an MHSAA Final.
Best wins: 68-56 over No. 1 Southfield Christian in Quarterfinal, 55-51 (2OT) over No. 29 Plymouth Christian Academy in District Final, 60-53 over Division 2 No. 1 Benton Harbor.
Players to watch: Pierre Brooks II, 6-6 sr. G (33.1 ppg, 50 3-pointers, 9.3 rpg); Javantae Randle, 6-10 sr. F (18 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 2.9 bpg); Damonn Tiggs, 6-0 sr. G (8.5 ppg, 31 3-pointers, 3.8 apg).
Outlook: Brooks II made the Division 2 all-state team last season and has signed with Michigan State, and Randle gives Douglass a second Division I college prospect in the frontcourt. The Hurricanes were 17-5 last season when it ended and will be playing in their second Semifinal and first since 2014. Brooks Sr. has guided the program to three District titles over the last six seasons and formerly coached Detroit Martin Luther King.

Record/rank: 20-1, No. 9
League finish: First in Mid-State Activities Conference
Coach: Justin Sherlock, first season (20-1)
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1975), one runner-up finish.
Best wins: 59-53 over No. 13 Frankfort in Quarterfinal, 61-49 over No. 15 Hale in Regional Semifinal, 70-56 over Division 3 No. 29 St. Charles.
Players to watch: Zach Wentworth, sr. G (16.7 ppg, 37 3-pointers, 6.7 rpg, 3.4 apg); Luke Predum, sr. G (21.2 ppg, 47 3-pointers, 3.5 apg); Aidan Halliday, fr. F (7.8 ppg). (Heights not submitted.)
Outlook: Sacred Heart is a three-point loss to Division 3 St. Charles from being undefeated and is headed back to the Semifinals for first time since finishing Class D runner-up in 2006. Predum and Wentworth both earned all-state honorable mentions last season and provide 63 percent of the team’s scoring, although five players total average at least five points per game. 

Record/rank: 18-2, No. 7
League finishes: First in Straits Area Conference and Eastern Upper Peninsula Conference
Coach: Jim Suggitt, third season (44-19)
Championship history: Upper Peninsula Class D runner-up 1945.
Best wins: 78-55 over No. 34 Mackinaw City in Regional Semifinal, 74-32 and 49-31 over Division 2 No. 48 Cheboygan.
Players to watch: EJ Suggitt, jr. G (20.3 ppg, 53 3-pointers); Cam Peterson, fr. G (7.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.7 apg); Tate Besteman, jr. C (15.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg).
Outlook: Rudyard has improved from 11 to 15 to now 18 wins over the last three seasons and is making the trip to the Semifinals for the first time since 1963. The only losses this season came to No. 8 Munising, which finished 15-2, and Division 3 Roscommon. The Bulldogs have won their first five tournament games by an average of 33 points.

Record/rank: 13-2, No. 5
League finish: First in Alliance League
Coach: Mark Keeler, 34th season (627-197)
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2011), four runner-up finishes.
Best wins: 56-44 over No. 20 Webberville in Quarterfinal, 60-32 over No. 28 Marcellus Howardsville Christian in Regional Final, 57-50 over Division 3 No. 10 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian.
Players to watch: Brady Titus, 5-9 jr. G (22 ppg, 30 3-pointers, 4.2 apg); Austin Treece, 6-7 sr. C (11.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg); Jaden Ophoff, 6-3 sr. G/F (6.5 ppg).
Outlook: Tri-unity will be making its second Semifinals appearance in three seasons and third in six years, and finished Class D runner-up most recently in 2013. Titus made the all-state second team last year and drives a team that starts three seniors but has only four total. The team’s only losses were to Division 2 Wyoming Godwin Heights and Muskegon Orchard View, which had one regular-season loss between them.  

PHOTO: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, here against Grand Haven, is among nine teams playing this weekend hoping to win a championship for the first time. (Photo by Tim Reilly.)

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.)