Lapeer Seniors Relish Long Walk Together

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

October 10, 2017

Senior Night is an emotional time for any team as it symbolizes the end of a four-year run, even if it doesn’t technically mark the finish of a season.

For the Lapeer boys soccer team, however, it signaled the end was coming to a run that’s lasted much longer than four years for many of the players.

The core of the team and their coach, Deb Johnson, first joined forces as a recreation team in the Under-10 division, and has been building a remarkable chemistry for the past eight years.

“It didn’t really hit me until our senior night, then I was like, ‘Wow,’” senior midfielder Brian Morris, who joined the group as an 11-year old, said. “I’ve been walking out with them for seven years, and it was going to be my last time walking out with them.”

Fortunately for Morris and his teammates, the end isn’t here quite yet, and they feel it may be a while before it actually comes. The Lightning are 8-4-3 on the season and 8-2-1 in the Saginaw Valley League, and they host their Division 1 District. A District championship would be the first for the school since Lapeer East and West merged to make one high school in the district starting in fall 2014.

The main reason for optimism in Lapeer? Chemistry.

“The benefit of playing together for so long is we know each other really well,” senior center back Gabe Curiel said. “We can predict each other’s movements, and we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We know basically everything about each other.”

That chemistry started with a recreation team called the Renegades, and continued at the travel level with the Tri-County Nationals. In total, eight of the nine seniors on the current Lapeer team played for Johnson on those teams at one point or another. The other, Pablo Esteve, is a foreign exchange student.

“I had them all the way up through 13 and 14 (years old),” said Johnson, who is in her second year as varsity coach at Lapeer. “Now they’re all back together again for their final year. For me, it’s super exciting and sad all at the same time. They were babies, now they’re all going to play college soccer.”

Not only have the players been competing together for a long period of time, but their positions have remained fairly consistent, as well.

“My coaching style has changed, but as far as their position on the field, it didn’t really change that much,” Johnson said. “They got to understand and respect each role. They could be interchangeable if I need that, but they have a good idea of what they’re good at. They trust everybody to do their job. There’s not one superman coming in to save the day. Even if they’re not communicating (verbally), they’re communicating in a way that only a team that has played together this long would understand.

“They don’t argue with one another. They don’t fight with one another. If someone makes a mistake, they really rally that player back up. It’s nice to watch them work together.”

The thought the team could be special at the high school level was one that everyone had, albeit at different times. For Morris, it was when the players all came back together in high school that it dawned on him. For Curiel, it happened even earlier.

“When I was like 12 or 13, I saw the way we progressed and I saw us building and bonding,” he said. “I had hope and faith that in the future, that when we would come back together for high school, that we could be good.”

Johnson also saw it early on, and when she looks back on old game film, she sees it even more.

“Sometimes I go back through and I see some of the stuff they still do today that they did when they were little, but it’s just better now,” she said. “It’s still some of the foundational stuff I taught them when they were 8, 9, 10 years old, but they do it better now.”

While the seniors – Harry Hirth, Nelson Gaunt, Michael Mejia, Chad Buike, Ethan Fike and Jack Vangel, along with Morris and Curiel – have a history of playing with one another and make up the core of the Lapeer team, they have integrated well with the classes below them. Sophomore Alex MacNaughton has fit in so well that he became a captain in his second year.

But making the program about more than this senior class is what Johnson has preached.

“I have four freshmen on the team, and (the seniors have) all taken them under their wing and really helped them,” she said. “That’s something I’ve instilled in them, that it’s their job to take care of the youngsters. It’s their job to leave something behind.”

There’s no question, however, that the class of 2018 always will have a special place in her heart.

“They’re my babies,” she said. “Not only on the field; I was hands-on off the field. With their grades, I ask for progress reports all the time. I go to their other events, I go to their basketball games. I want them to know that I’m involved as much as I possibly can be.”

It’s not time to say goodbye just yet, and that’s something the Lightning hope to put off for as long as possible.

“I don’t want to think about that until after it’s over, until the last whistle is blown,” Curiel said. “We’re not saying goodbye to the team; we’re saying goodbye to our family, basically.”

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) Lapeer’s Nelson Gaunt (8) controls the ball against Bay City John Glenn during a 3-1 win Sept 27. (Middle) Lapeer’s seniors stand with coach Deb Johnson during Senior Night. (Photos courtesy of Lapeer’s boys soccer program.)

Be the Referee: Soccer Offside

By Paige Winne
MHSAA Marketing & Social Media Coordinator

June 4, 2024

Be The Referee is a series of short messages designed to help educate people on the rules of different sports, to help them better understand the art of officiating, and to recruit officials.

Below is this week's segment – Soccer Offside - Listen

We have an offside situation in soccer to talk about today. The offense sends a long pass from their own half of the field to a teammate way down at the defensive team’s 18-yard line … but she’s offside.

The assistant referee raises her flag and the referee blows her whistle for offside, and an indirect free kick is given to the defense. Where do they take the kick from?

  • Is it the spot where the offside player was when the assistant referee raised her flag?
  • The spot where the ball was when play was stopped?
  • The point of the infraction?
  • Or the spot from where the ball was originally passed?

If you said “at the point of the infraction” you are correct. In this case, the defense gets an indirect free kick where the offside occurred.

Previous Editions

May 28: Appeal Play - Listen
May 21: Lacrosse Foul in Critical Scoring Area - Listen
May 14: Avoiding the Tag - Listen
May 7: Baseball Pitch Count - Listen
April 30: Boys Lacrosse Helmets - Listen
April 23: Softball Interference - Listen
April 16: Soccer Red Card - Listen
April 9: Batted Baseball Hits Runner - Listen
March 12: Basketball Replay - Listen
March 5: Hockey Officials - Listen
Feb. 27: Less Than 5 - Listen
Feb. 20: Air Ball - Listen
Feb. 13: Hockey Penalties - Listen
Jan. 30: Wrestling Tiebreakers - Listen
Jan. 23: Wrestling Technology - Listen
Jan. 9: 3 Seconds - Listen
Dec. 19: Unsuspecting Hockey Hits - Listen
Dec. 12: No More One-And-Ones - Listen
Nov. 21: Football Finals Replay - Listen
Nov. 14: Volleyball Unplayable Areas - Listen
Nov. 7: Pass/Kick Off Crossbar - Listen
Oct. 31: Cross Country Interference - Listen
Oct. 24: Soccer Overtime - Listen
Oct. 17: Tennis Spin - Listen
Oct. 10: Blocked Kick - Listen
Oct. 3: Volleyball Double & Lift - Listen
Sept. 26: Registration Process - Listen
Sept. 20: Animal Interference - Listen
Sept. 13: Feet Rule on Soccer Throw-In - Listen
Sept. 6: Volleyball Jewelry - Listen
Aug. 30: Football Rules Similarities - Listen
Aug. 23: Football Rules Differences - Listen

(Photo by Gary Shook.)