Erik Seebeck was a manager for the Gladwin boys soccer team in 2015 when it advanced to the MHSAA Division 3 Semifinals.
That team and its postseason run made quite an impression on the then-eighth grader.
“It was a good experience. I really enjoyed it,” said Seebeck, now a senior sweeper and captain for the Flying Gs. “I learned a lot from being around them and watching how they all responded even when they were down – just never giving up and always giving their all.”
That 2015 team gave Seebeck – and the Gladwin soccer program – something else: the start of what is now a 55-match conference win streak. Gladwin has not lost a Northern Michigan Soccer League game since the conference tournament in 2014.
“We like to set goals at the beginning of the season, and we like to talk about where we want to reach,” Seebeck said. “We want to keep this streak going. We have lots of talent this year, and we’re not having a drop off. We’ve had guys step up and fill the seniors’ positions. We talked over our goals, and we kind of wanted to keep that continuing, to see how far we could make it on that streak.”
Gladwin, a member of the Jack Pine Conference in its other sports, competes in the South division of the NMSL. The league includes schools as far north as Cheboygan and as far west as Big Rapids Crossroads.
Gladwin’s streak includes four straight victories in the league’s conference tournament, which consists of the top two teams from each division at the end of the season.
“We try not to dwell on it too much, but it’s kind of a fun thing for some of the kids,” Gladwin coach Jerome Smalley said. “The graduating class of last year, we had players that played on varsity all four years, and they never lost in the conference. There are some good teams in our conference, and some teams that would really like to end this. But we try not to dwell on it too much.”
This season, Gladwin is off to a 7-0-1 start, which has included 7-0 and 8-0 conference wins against Clare and Big Rapids Crossroads, respectively.
Jonathan Grijalva, a senior forward and captain who is in his third year on the Gladwin varsity team, admitted there’s some pressure that comes along with the streak, but added that it doesn’t define the team.
“Obviously we’d like to keep that going, and there is pride there,” Grijalva said. “But if it ended, I don’t think we’d be horribly upset, because we’re a successful team. And even if we didn’t keep that record going, we just like to have fun, too.”
This year’s team has built another streak all its own, not having allowed a goal through its first eight matches. While the Flying Gs are having no problem putting the ball in the net, having scored 37 goals, Smalley said the strength of the team is its defense and the collective effort the entire team puts into keeping the ball out of the net.
“Our entire team is playing defense,” Seebeck said. “Everybody is getting back, and everybody is helping out on defense. Our four guys in the back (Seebeck, Wilson Bragg, Cal Woodbury and Kurt Landenberger), we’re all communicating great and letting each other know what we have to do. Our midfield is coming back and covering those give and gos. That helps tremendously when all of your team comes back to help on defense.”
The hope now for Gladwin is that this early success on both sides of the field can translate to success not just through the regular season, but into the postseason as well. Because while the Flying Gs have not lost a conference game since 2014, they also haven’t advanced beyond the District tournament since 2015.
In 2016, Gladwin lost 1-0 in the District Semifinal against Tawas. In 2017, it lost 2-1 in the District Semifinal against NMSL North member Ogemaw Heights. And in 2018, Gladwin again lost to Ogemaw Heights, this time in a shootout in the District Final one week after the Flying Gs had claimed the conference crown with a shootout win against Ogemaw.
“The postseason hasn’t been as kind to us as the regular season,” Smalley said.
In order to try and change that, Smalley said he has attempted to beef up the nonconference schedule throughout the years. This past weekend, Gladwin won the Alma Tournament, defeating the hosts, as well as Birch Run, while playing to a scoreless draw against Big Rapids.
“Close games definitely put things into perspective for everybody,” Seebeck said. “We were in the Alma Tournament, and we played Big Rapids and played them to a 0-0 tie, and they had some good players and good passing that kind of opened up to some of our guys what very skilled teams are going to look like when we go into the postseason. It definitely shows you what your limits are.”
There’s a belief among the players that this year’s team can end the recent postseason woes and hopefully catch up to the 2015 team that set them on their current path.
“I’m hoping we can go to state,” said Landenberger, a senior stopper. “I think we can do it; we just have to work together and try our hardest. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch, but I think we can do it.”
Paul 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) Gladwin's Jonathan Grijalva (14) works to deflect the ball away from an opponent. (Middle) The Flying Gs celebrate their Alma Tournament championship this month. (Top photo by Max McDonald/Gladwin County Record. Middle courtesy of the Gladwin boys soccer program.)
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.)