Veteran Rangers Seek Another Title Shot

April 24, 2018

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

GRAND RAPIDS – The Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central boys lacrosse team has experienced the gamut of emotions over the past two seasons.

From the euphoria of winning the MHSAA Division 2 Final in 2016 to the heartache of falling short a year ago – and both times the Rangers had to face their biggest rival with the title on the line.

“They’ve felt both sides of it,” first-year FHC coach Andy Shira said. “The thrill of winning it and the heartbreak of losing it, and both of those are the highest and lowest you can get with it being against our rival, East Grand Rapids.”

The Rangers are determined to relive the magical season of two years ago, and they believe they have just the group to do it.

Spearheaded by seniors Bryce Clay and Patrick English, and the return of 21 players total, FHC has the talent to make another postseason run.

“We have a different chemistry from last year, and we want to win because of what happened last year in the state championship game against our crosstown rival,” said Clay, who already has surpassed 300 goals during a stellar high school career.

“It left a bad taste in our mouth, and we’re motivated to get back. We want to see East again, and we want to go out on a high note and have a successful season.”

The Rangers defeated the Pioneers 10-6 in the 2016 championship game, but were denied back-to-back titles with an 11-9 loss last season.

“It’s a huge motivation, definitely,” English said. “I think that is driving us every day. We got them two years ago, and they came back at us. We really have to step it up this year.”

FHC gained a bit of redemption with a 14-7 victory over EGR last week and currently stand at a perfect 7-0.

Shira, who has been in the program the past five years as the defensive coordinator, has seen early positive signs from his experienced team. But he knows there is room for improvement.

“The way we’ve played so far has been surprising at times,” Shira said. “I knew we would be good, but we’ve shown flashes of greatness with how well we’ve played at times against the competition we’ve played. But we’ve been inconsistent at times. We know we can play at that level, and we just have to be more consistent.”

The Rangers also are bolstered by the return of seniors Andrew Trapp and Kyle Basch, and juniors Tate Hallock, Logan Wedder and Jack Nolan.

“We’re playing really well,” said English, a four-year player who is headed to Marquette University in the fall. “A huge part is team chemistry, and we’ve been getting along and playing good team ball.”

Clay has been the team’s offensive juggernaut since joining the program as a freshman.

He scored a school-record 81 goals with 43 assists in his debut season and eclipsed his own mark the following spring with 104 goals and 53 assists.

Last season he notched 99 goals and a career-high 62 assists.

“I was fortunate enough to make the team my freshman year and had a great year, and from there I kept working hard and wanted to be better than the season before,” Clay said. “I work hard, and I want to be the best player in the state. I’ve had a good run, and it has flown by for sure, but I credit my coaches and teammates for giving me the opportunity to do what I do.”

Clay already has collected 36 goals and 23 assists this season.

“He’s a true competitor,” Shira said. “I never have to question whether or not he is giving me his all and going as hard as he can. On the field, in the classroom and in the weight room, he’s going as hard as he can and it shows in his ability on the field. Not many teams can match up well with him.”

Clay, who has committed to continue playing at the University of Michigan, attributes his success to his older brother, Andrew.

The siblings played together for two seasons. Andrew now plays at Michigan State for the club program that plays as part of the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association.

“He’s had a big impact on me, and he is why I am the gritty player I am,” Clay said. “For two years I hated him on the field because he was always on me. We would get into fights at practice, and he was the only guy who wanted to defend me and I wanted to go against him.

“We would really get into each other, but it really helped me out with that competitive edge. He was one of the best defenders in the state, and to go against him every day was huge for me. I give him a lot of credit.”

Shira remembers the physicality between the two.

“They would go at each other every day, and there was that brotherly pushing and shoving,” he said. “They were the best players at their positions and it drove them to continue building.”

Clay and English combine to produce a formidable one-two punch.

“Personally, I think we have the best offense in the state,” English said. “We’ve grown up playing with each other, and we push each other to do better. We understand each other’s games, and we play really well together.”

While the Rangers have the potential to reclaim the Division 2 championship, Shira is taking it in stride.

“Our goal every year is to make it there and win, but I don’t think success is us winning a state championship,” Shira said. “There are bigger things outside of lacrosse. Teaching them to be better young men and instilling life skills will still measure the season as a success.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Forest Hills Central's Bryce Clay rolls toward the goal on his way to unloading a shot during last season's Division 2 Final against East Grand Rapids. (Middle) The Rangers' Patrick English passes off to a teammate against the Pioneers.

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.)