Long-Pursued Goals Becoming Expectations for Much-Improved Kearsley

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

August 30, 2023

Lucas Groulx could see this coming.

Bay & ThumbDuring his freshman year, when the goal some nights for Flint Kearsley boys soccer was “don’t get mercied,” Groulx knew there were better times ahead.

Much better.

With a 4-1 start to this season, those wins already eclipsing the total from the entire fall of 2021, it looks like he’s being proved correct.

“It doesn’t really surprise me at all,” the junior center back said. “I knew from the get-go that the guys I was playing with are really good. I could definitely see that (success coming) later on down the road.”

It’s still very early, and nobody at Kearsley is hanging a banner. The goals of winning a District championship and finishing among the top three in the Flint Metro League still require plenty of work.

But the feeling is different now. There’s no longer just hope that all of that is possible. It’s becoming an expectation.

“We don’t want to just be in games; we need to win those games,” Kearsley coach Art Moody said. “All those next steps that we talked about, we set those goals and we set them up three years ago. Midway through last season, that’s when the corner was turned. That’s when it was like, ‘OK, we can compete.’ Getting double-digit wins, that was a big deal for the program. Now, it’s like, that’s not even a question anymore. We’re doing way better than that now.”

The team celebrates its Hornet Invitational championship Saturday after defeating Birch Run and Saginaw Nouvel.Moody, who has won three MHSAA Finals championships coaching the Flint Powers Catholic girls program, is entering his third season at Kearsley.

In his first year, the team won just one regular-season game, but made a run to the District Final.

Year 2 saw the Hornets go 10-11, another major step forward.

The majority of that team was coming back this fall, including top scorers Caden Saxton and Tony Romero. Saxton, a senior, holds the school record for goals in a season (24) and career (52).

The back four, led by Groulx and classmate Saul Granados, returned intact, along with holding midfielder Danny Sanson and goalkeeper Aiden Tipton. All six received some form of all-league honors in the Metro.

And for many of the returning players, their experience playing together goes well beyond high school. Saxton’s father Keith, who is the school’s athletic director and Moody’s assistant, coached many of the current Hornets as kids on the MESA Sharks, a local travel team.

“We were all bonded,” Sanson, a senior, said. “We were pretty much family to each other since we were growing up playing with one another.”

That’s all led to the thought within the program that this is the year to truly make a mark and put Kearsley boys soccer on the map.

This season opened with four lopsided victories, and then a surprise from the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association: The Hornets were listed in the Division 2 rankings, coming in at No. 12.

Caden Saxton (6) makes his move during last season's game against Armada.“It felt incredible,” Sanson said. “I didn’t even expect that, to be honest. It was an incredible feeling for all of us. We were all so proud.”

Even Groulx, who had faith all along, had to get some extra confirmation on this development.

“When I first saw it, I honestly didn’t know if it was true or not,” he said. “Then it really kind of dawned on us that we need to set a new standard here at Kearsley. It’s definitely going to push us to try and excel and just play better overall.”

Rankings are often downplayed by coaches and players, even if they’re typically well aware of them.

But Moody, who consistently sees his Powers girls near the top of the list in their division, was OK with letting his players soak this one in a bit.

“I made that comment that we got recognized at the state level, and that’s something that’s never happened to Kearsley,” he said. “I told them it’s not because of your record. You get recognized if coaches say your name. You get recognized if coaches are saying, ‘That’s someone to watch out for.’”

Of course, celebrating the ranking has a limit, and while the Hornets dropped their first match after its release – a 3-2 loss against Lake Fenton – they’ve decided to use that recognition to further fuel them to achieve their true goals.

“I feel like it motivates us to be better, but it also puts a little bit of pressure on us,” Sanson said. “We have to keep our standards high and just be doing the best we can every time we go out on the field. We’ve gotta bring it. Bring it, bring it, bring it.”

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) Kearsley’s Carlos Granados (7) steps into a kick during a game against Durand on Aug 21. (Middle) The team celebrates its Hornet Invitational championship Saturday after defeating Birch Run and Saginaw Nouvel. (Below) Caden Saxton (6) makes his move during last season's game against Armada. (Photos courtesy of the Flint Kearsley athletic department.)

Working Together, with Neighbor's Help, Schoolcraft Teams Making Selves at 'Home'

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

September 19, 2023

SCHOOLCRAFT — If it is a home game for the Schoolcraft football team, head over to Vicksburg.

Southwest CorridorIf 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.

Schoolcraft’s Kolby Lloyd (10) works to break away from a tackler during a “home” game played at Vicksburg this fall. “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.

Clockwise, from top left: Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency, Schoolcraft boys soccer coach Jeremy Mutchler, soccer player Jack Curtis and football player Jake Bailey.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.

Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin has taken over the maneuvering of the teams’ home sites during his first year on the job.“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 ShebestPam 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.)