Pioneers Find Winning Way Again, Edge Forest Hills Eastern

By Jason Schmitt
Special for

June 12, 2021

HOWELL — If East Grand Rapids senior Ted Campbell was the difference-maker for the Pioneers during the MHSAA Division 2 Final on Saturday, junior Jack Higgins had to be the answer.

Campbell scored three early goals to help East Grand Rapids build a 4-1 lead, and Higgins scored two key goals to help his team fend off comeback attempts by Ada Forest Hills Eastern during the Pioneers’ 12-10 victory.

“I think I was just in the right spot at the right time,” Higgins said. “The coaches had us going through our offense, and the ball came to me and the opportunity presented itself. I just finished.”

The first of his two goals came in the opening minutes of the second half. Forest Hills Eastern had trimmed the lead to 4-3 thanks to scores by seniors John Morgan and Kevin Sprague. Higgins scored unassisted to build the lead back to two.

Late in the third quarter, with the Hawks again applying pressure after cutting the lead to 8-6 on a goal by senior Nicholas Mesler, it was Higgins who once again stepped up and scored to make it a three-goal game.

“The coaches drill it into our minds that there are going to be ups and downs throughout the game and we just need to keep our composure, play our game and we’ll come out on top,” Higgins said after the game.

Ada Forest Hills Eastern lacrosseThe Pioneers weathered a couple more Hawks rallies in the fourth quarter. This time it was Campbell who answered the call. He scored the first two goals of the final period — giving him six for the game. Forest Hills Eastern would not get within two goals after that point.

“I just try to get everyone fired up to play every day and make things as fun as possible,” said Campbell, who finished the day with six goals. “If helping the team win means scoring goals, that’s what I’m going to do.”

The state championship was the Pioneers’ third since the 2017 season, but the first for Campbell, who was on the junior varsity team the last time his school won a title in 2018.

“It feels amazing. It was an underwhelming season in 2019 — to say the least,” he said. “We thought we had a chance last year, then the season got canceled. We had no chance, so to even just be out here on this field — let alone win it — feels so great. This is the best way to bounce back.”

Morgan finished with a team-high three goals for Eastern (15-6), which also finished runner-up in 2019. Mesler and Sprague finished with two goals apiece for the Hawks, while Samuel Bowen, Kaden Dietrich and Preston Hoexum scored one. Senior George Hoexum made six saves in goal.

Mason Margherio had three goals and two assists for East Grand Rapids, which finished the season (20-2). Kase Vandermolen also scored for the Pioneers. Junior goalie Adam Hall made 10 saves to get the win for EGR, which also beat Eastern 7-6 in their early-season matchup.

“They’re a different team. We’re a different team,” EGR interim head coach Adam Brant said. “We’ve made changes since we watched that film from a month and a half ago. I’m pretty pleased with our overall effort. I think that’s what it came down to, hustle.

“This team is just so resilient. They’re just an incredible group of guys. This is a testament to the players. I’m just so happy for them. I can’t think of a group of guys who deserve it more.”

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS: (Top) East Grand Rapids players celebrate during Saturday’s Division 2 championship game. (Middle) A pair of players work to gain possession.

Future Has Arrived as Port Huron United Continues Impressive Climb

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 8, 2024

Brad McDougal knew when he returned to the Port Huron United lacrosse program in 2019 that in order to grow it to what he thought it could be, he’d have to build for the future.

Bay & ThumbHis plan was simple and time-tested: Start a youth program that would get players within the school system playing together more frequently and against better competition, preparing them to one day be varsity players.

It didn’t take long to see that it could work, and perhaps better and faster than he had hoped.

“We’ve known for a while (this was the year),” McDougal said. “Basically, when I started with that youth team, my ambition was if I can get four or five kids that have been coached, then build around them for the varsity program, that would be great. It turned out to be 15 of them.”

Behind 15 seniors, the majority of whom were part of McDougal’s original youth team, Port Huron United is competing at a level it never has before. United is ranked No. 9 in the Division 1 MPR following a 10-3 start, and won the Macomb Area Conference Red title for the first time in program history.

It’s a history that McDougal is plenty familiar with, having been a high school junior when the program began in 2006. McDougals have been part of the program ever since, whether it was him as a coach fresh out of high school and now, his brother Ben as a player, or his father Brian as a coach at various levels throughout all of it.

“Being around it as long as I have, that has sunk in,” he said. “The amount of teams that are reaching out to us now that never would have before – teams reaching out for film, ‘How were you able to defend this?’ Teams reaching out for scheduling that I think would have just ignored the email a couple years back. It’s definitely not lost on me.”

It’s also not lost on the players, who have heard McDougal talk about the program’s beginnings and have also seen first-hand a quick ascent.

As freshmen, this current group of seniors were a major part of a varsity team that played in the MAC Blue – the MAC’s divisions are based on performance, with Red being the highest – dominating it and earning promotion to the MAC White the following season. Another unbeaten league season put United into the MAC Red in 2023, and while there were some growing pains in going 2-3 against higher-level competition, there were signs of better things to come.

Matt Graham (12) maintains possession against the Cougars. “The second my class joined, we just dominated our leagues,” senior goalie Danny Moore said. “We went from Blue to White to Red in three years. Last year in the Red, we went 2-3, but it wasn’t without close games. I think (the rise) definitely stunned us a little bit. Not a week goes by that I don’t think about the giant leap we took. It’s like a world record long jump.”

Moore said the team started this season “like a cannonball out of the cannon with too much gun powder” as this group of seniors knew it was their last opportunity to play with one another.

United was dominant in its MAC Red season, going 5-0 and out-scoring opponents 61-12, not allowing more than three goals in any single game.

On the season, it has outscored opponents 136-50, led by senior goal-scoring threats Silas Klink, Jacob O’Hare, Nate DeLand, Matt Graham and Tim Monaghan. Moore is stopping more than 80 percent of the shots he’s faced, behind the defense of seniors Jack Bennett and Max Williams, and junior Parker Quinn, among others.

That’s despite a beefed-up nonconference schedule, which McDougal put together to better prepare his team for the upcoming postseason.

“We have a way harder schedule this year,” Klink said. “We haven’t ever made it to the Regional Final in all the program’s history, so that’s a big goal. I think scheduling all these teams, Coach McDougal knew what he was doing to get us battle-tested.”

Boys Lacrosse Regionals open May 16, and Lake Orion – which defeated Port Huron 11-4 in the season opener – is the host of United’s bracket.

Winning a Regional is the next goal for Port Huron, and McDougal repeatedly tells his team he wants a Michigan trophy. They’re ready to do all they can to make that happen, but also aren’t shying away from the possibility of blowing away his expectations once again.

“State champs,” said Bennett, who has committed to play lacrosse at Albion College along with Moore. “We want to go all the way. It would just be like – I don’t even know how to describe it. For the program, it would further push lacrosse at my high school and Port Huron. Twenty years ago, we didn’t even have a lacrosse team, so I think it would really push lacrosse in Port Huron.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Port Huron United’s Silas Klink (1) makes a run at the goal against Macomb Dakota. (Middle) Matt Graham (12) maintains possession against the Cougars. (Photos by Margaret Quinn.)