Stump, Senior-Led Lineup Have Grand Haven Dreaming Big Again

By Tom Kendra
Special for

February 9, 2022

Grand Haven senior forward Nic Stump was, well, stumped by the question.

“I know we play Rockford again coming up, but honestly, I don’t know exactly when it is – but I know it’s coming up soon,” said Stump, referring to Grand Haven’s highly-anticipated rematch with Rockford, which handed Haven its only loss of the season back on Jan. 18.

That answer was music to the ears of seventh-year Grand Haven coach Greg Immink, who knows his team still needs to get past Caledonia in order to make the Rockford rematch (which is Feb. 15 at Rockford, by the way) an opportunity to move to the top of the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red standings.

Grand Haven, which improved to 13-1 overall and 8-1 in the conference with Tuesday’s 63-42 home win over Holland West Ottawa, has the town buzzing – and the student section and pep band are having a blast just like in the glory days of Buccaneers basketball.

Haven’s rematch with Rockford is just one of the upcoming games those rabid fans are excited about – along with a chance to repeat as a Division 1 District champ next month.

The Bucs are certainly an experienced team, with four senior starters, led by the 6-foot-5 Stump, who scored a game-high 24 points in Friday’s 59-46 win over Hudsonville.

“We have been playing together for so long, and we still don’t know who is going to be the leading scorer every game,” explained Stump, an honorable mention Associated Press all-state selection last winter. “We just try to keep moving the ball and if someone gets hot, we’ll find him and go to him.”

Stump was that man Friday, posting up and scoring down low, finishing up on the break and displaying a rapidly-improving, mid-range jump shot.

While Stump doesn’t lead the Bucs in any one stat, he entered this week ranked second in five of the six major statistical categories – scoring (13.0), rebounding (5.4), shooting percentage (48.8 percent), steals (1.3) and blocked shots (1.1).

“In the last three or four games, Nic has raised his game to a higher level,” said Immink, who is assisted by Ron Peters and Lance Johnson. “I’m excited about that because when he’s playing well, it opens everything up for the rest of the team.”

Bashir Neely, an athletic 6-2 senior, uses his speed to break down defenses and is the leading scorer at 16.5 points per game. He is joined in the backcourt by 6-5 junior Harrison Sorrelle, the only non-senior starter, who averages 11.1 points and 2.6 assists. Sorrelle, like Stump, was an honorable mention all-state choice last year as a sophomore.

Grand Haven basketballJoining Stump on the front line are 6-6 senior center Tucker Kooi, who averages 7.2 points and leads the team in rebounding (5.7) and blocked shots (1.7), and 6-4 senior forward Owen Worthington (7.3 points), who is an outstanding 3-point shooter and defender.

Stump said the fact that most of the team has been playing together since their elementary Bucs Youth Basketball days is a huge advantage – especially in close games. One player he has been playing with even longer than that is his younger brother Nate Stump, a 6-3 junior and one of the first players off the bench every game.

“I love having this chance to play with him,” said Nic Stump. “We are typical brothers and we fight and get on each other’s nerves and all of that, but it’s mostly just brotherly love. We help each other out all the time with shooting form and rebounding and things like that.”

Nate Stump averages 2.5 points in limited minutes but has given the team a huge boost with his rebounding, currently third on the team at 4.6 per game.

Grand Haven’s basketball tradition dates to the 1920s and legendary coach Gus Cohrs, who guided the Buccaneers to a staggering six MHSAA state championships over a nine-year period from 1927 to 1935.

That basketball passion was reignited by Al Schaffer, who guided Haven to 231 wins during his 18 years in the 1970s and 1980s. Craig Taylor then steered the Bucs to back-to-back Quarterfinal appearances in 1991 and 1992, but it would be another 18 years before they would make a run that deep again, in 2010 under Steve Hewitt.

Hewitt died tragically during the summer of 2014, and after Bob Eidson took the reins for one year, Immink has guided the Bucs the past seven.

For the first four years of Immink’s tenure, Haven’s postseasons ended at the hands of powerhouse Muskegon in the District Finals. In 2020, the two teams were again scheduled to play in a District Final, but the COVID pandemic wiped out the season the day before that game. Then last winter, Haven broke through and downed the Big Reds, 66-51, snapping Muskegon’s run of 16 straight District titles.

The two teams are on a collision course once again as Muskegon was undefeated before suffering its first loss Saturday against Ferndale.

Muskegon is known for its speed, athletic ability and lockdown defense, while Haven counters with its shooting, experience and length. Neely is the Bucs’ only starter under 6-4.

“Our guys believe in our system, and we’re excited for a lot of big games coming up,” said Immink. “The challenge for us is to play consistently at a high level and for them to go beyond what they think they can do.”

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) Grand Haven’t Nik Stump attempts a free throw during Tuesday’s win over Holland West Ottawa. (Middle) Stump and his teammates get a breather during a break in the 63-42 victory. (Photos by JWaltVisuals.)

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.)