By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The most memorable season in Leland boys soccer history did not have the most championship-caliber beginning.
As the team’s annual three-night summer boot camp came to a close, it was obvious the Comets weren’t all physically ready for the rigors of the upcoming fall. Put another way, some of them just weren’t in shape.
It wasn’t a promising sign for a team looking to win its first MHSAA championship in the sport, especially a contender that’s had reams of success at the league and District levels over the last decade.
But a game-changing sign followed.
“As we were ending camp, Cobe (Lund) wanted to say something to the boys. He circled them up and asked, "Do you guys want to win states, (be)cause I do," Leland coach Joe Burda said. “He talked about how they had a short time to get into game shape, and how they weren't there yet.
“The boys came together that afternoon and set their goal for a state championship right then and there. They then spent the next couple of months achieving that goal.”
The MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for October lost only one game this season, to Cadillac during its opening tournament in August. The Comets finished 24-1-3, claiming the Division 4 title Saturday at Comstock Park with a 1-0 win over reigning champion Ann Arbor Greenhills.
Leland had never before played in an MHSAA Final in boys soccer. But over the last seven seasons including this one, the Comets had won seven league titles, six District and two Regional championships.
They finished October with a shootout 1-0 win over top-ranked Muskegon Western Michigan Christian and 3-2 Semifinal victory over No. 3 Kalamazoo Hackett and recently-named Mr. Soccer Award winner Brennan Creek. Leland had entered the postseason ranked No. 2 in Division 4 by the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association.
The Comets finished this season outscoring their opponents 159-19 with 17 shutouts while never giving up more than two goals in a game. The scoring margin over seven MHSAA Tournament opponents was 34-2 (counting only the 1-0 in the shootout win over WMC).
It wasn’t necessarily the offense or the defense that keyed the run, however.
“It was this team, this group,” Burda said. “We were so strong at every position on the field. We had a great target in front of the goal, we had lightning speed on the flanks of the field. We had, I think, the most technical and smoothest trio in the midfield. We had lockdown defenders with an ultra-competitive center back, and then Gavin (Miller) wore the gloves in the back and made several highlight saves to keep us surviving and advancing.
“We had every inch of that pitch covered offensively and defensively, and most of all these guys trusted each other in every position and we never needed a hero.”
Six players earned all-state recognition. Senior forward Lund, junior forward Michael Roberts, junior defender Owen Kareck and sophomore keeper Gavin Miller all made the first team while senior midfielder Nick Saffell made the third and junior midfielder Andre Masse’ earned honorable mention.
Lund led the team offensively with 43 goals and 23 assists, while Roberts (24 goals), Saffell (16, 14 assists), Masse’ (15), senior forward Jack Munoz (19) and junior midfielder Jesus Calderon-Balcazar (18, 12 assists) all scored in double digits. Kareck (five goals, three assists) keyed the defense in front of Miller (0.93 goals-against average).
Senior defender Andy Mosqueda is among others who deserve special notice – as the shootout keeper in the Regional Final, he had two saves in the win over WMC. Sophomore center back JJ Popp, senior defender Colin Satterwhite and sophomore midfielder Wyatt Sirrine were among other top contributors.
“I think the biggest thing myself and the guys will remember is the support we had from the school and the community throughout the tournament run,” Burda said. “We filled both sides of those (Comstock Park) stands, those folks that couldn't make the trip sent us pictures of them gathering and watching on TV, and we arrived home led and followed by police cars and fire trucks, sirens and lights blaring. Everybody came out to greet the guys at the gym. … (it was) something everyone will remember.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2018-19
PHOTOS: (Top) Leland players celebrate Jesus Calderon-Balcazar’s goal, which proved to be the game-winner, during last Saturday’s Division 4 Final against Ann Arbor Greenhills. (Middle) The Comets’ Wyatt Sirrine, right, works to keep possession against Greenhills’ Nikhil Shrinivasan.
SCHOOLCRAFT — If it is a home game for the Schoolcraft football team, head over to Vicksburg.
If it is soccer, go to Schoolcraft’s baseball field.
Things are a bit jumbled in the sports world for the Eagles this season.
With a new football field under construction and a new elementary school built on the site of the former practice fields, the two teams have been a bit displaced.
“Along with our football field, we had three practice fields that were utilized by a lot of our youth programs, Rocket football, youth soccer and our soccer and football programs,” Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin said. “It’s taken a lot of understanding and flexibility from our coaches, players and our community to make it work out, and it has.”
Meanwhile, all four Eagles home football games will be played at Vicksburg High School.
If Vicksburg is home on a Friday, then the Eagles will play Saturday, including their Homecoming game this Saturday against Galesburg-Augusta.
The Eagles won their only “home” game so far, 33-14 against Kalamazoo United, and take a 3-1 record into Saturday’s contest.
The soccer team gave up its field to the football team for practices and has been practicing and playing their matches in the outfield of the baseball stadium.
For the soccer team, “It’s kind of an upgrade,” Applin said. “The soccer field they traditionally play on, they don’t have a scoreboard, they don’t have a bathroom facility, so we’ve been able to use the (baseball) scoreboard, the PA system, open up the bathroom building.
“The goal at some point is to give soccer a home, and we’re very, very excited about that.”
This year definitely has been challenging for the first-year AD, who credits Vicksburg athletic director Mike Roy with being a tremendous help.
“Mike Roy has been nothing but accommodating to us,” Applin said. “He’s been super helpful to me stepping in and assuming this scenario.
“The communities are so close, it almost feels like home for us.”
Roy said Jeff Clark, former Schoolcraft AD, reached out once the bond was passed for the new stadium last year.
“We had to make small accommodations as did Schoolcraft to make the schedules work,” Roy said. “By moving (Schoolcraft’s) games to Saturday, Vicksburg had to work with our Rocket football organization to make sure games were completed” before the Eagles varsity games.
Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency said his team has been “rolling with the punches.
“These guys don’t care where it’s at; they just want to play football. We’re all taking care of each other. What a great place to be when everybody works together.”
When Jake Bailey heard the team would be playing at Vicksburg, “That got me excited,” the junior offensive tackle said. “They’ve got a really nice facility. I know the school will come out to support us no matter where we are, but it’s definitely different.
“Good thing we don’t play Vicksburg, although it would be fun because it would be both our home fields. The new facilities and being back at our home field at Roy Davis (Field next year) will be really fun.”
Vicksburg is Division 4, while Schoolcraft is Division 7.
The soccer team was “just being a team player” in giving up its own field for football practice, second-year head coach Jeremy Mutchler said.
“For the soccer team to be a team player and get behind the football team will help the community get behind the soccer team as well,” he added.
The biggest drawback is that part of the current field includes a piece of the baseball infield.
“The only odd thing is it is a smaller field, still regulation size, but smaller,” Mutchler said. “Part of the field is in the diamond, so we have to play in the dirt and it gets tricky, especially when you’re trying to throw it in or just play down the line.”
The move has cost the team a few home games.
“At the beginning of the year, we allowed schools, if they didn’t want to play here, we would go to their house,” Mutchler said. “We had to go to a few schools we would have played at home.”
Maintenance supervisor Eric McGehee was instrumental in preparing the field.
“He laid out exactly the parameters, so I was able to send that to all the ADs that were going to visit to give them an opportunity to decide whether that’s something they wanted to help us out for our home games,” Applin said. “A lot of schools were more than willing to come and play us to give our boys some home games. A couple wanted to be cautious and play on a more traditional surface, and we were able to make those arrangements as well.”
In only its second year as a varsity sport, the boys soccer team is still finding its identity, posting a 2-5 record so far.
“We’re a very young team,” Mutchler said. “All juniors and freshmen. This is the juniors' second regular season. It’s all been a learning phase with maturity and sportsmanship.”
Junior captain Jack Curtis said he was a bit “bummed out” when he heard the team would move to the baseball field.
“The first practice, I drove over to our practice field,” he said. “No one was there.
“I drove over to the high school and saw everyone practicing (at the baseball field). I didn’t think a soccer field could fit on a baseball field.”
Curtis said in spite of the temporary move, “I’m just glad we can have some home games this year on Schoolcraft soil.”
As for Applin, he spent much of his career coaching basketball at both the high school and college levels and most recently worked as a salesman for Zeigler. His wife, Meredith, is an assistant coach for Western Michigan University’s women’s basketball team.
Ferency is appreciative of the work Clark and Applin have done to make this season’s changes relatively seamless.
“I’d like to highlight how great our athletic department is,” he said. “It takes a lot of moving pieces and parts to move people around and have a space for everybody.
“I’m really proud of our athletic department and all our coaches and kids for just rolling with the punches.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Schoolcraft’s varsity boys soccer team, including Nyan Wonders (15), faces Comstock this season on its field in the outfield of the baseball stadium. (2) Schoolcraft’s Kolby Lloyd (10) works to break away from a tackler during a “home” game played at Vicksburg this fall. (3) Clockwise, from top left: Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency, Schoolcraft boys soccer coach Jeremy Mutchler, soccer player Jack Curtis and football player Jake Bailey. (4) Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin has taken over the maneuvering of the teams’ home sites during his first year on the job. (Action photos by Stephanie Blentlinger/Lingering Memories Photography. Headshots and Applin photo by Pam Shebest.)