Portage Central senior – Soccer
A three-year varsity player, Le scored Central’s first two goals in an eventual 3-1 win over rival Portage Northern on Sept. 19 to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week” for Sept. 18-24. Portage Central hadn’t beaten Northern since 2014, and the win helped the Mustangs move up two spots to No. 2 in last week’s Division 1 state coaches rankings. After Saturday’s loss to Grand Haven, Portage Central is 12-2-3 and ranked No. 4.
Le is part of an experienced group coming off an 11-6-4 finish in 2016, and the Mustangs this season also have downed reigning Division 1 champion and current No. 8 East Kentwood. Le is focusing on soccer this school year but previously also ran cross country and track and played basketball. He’s also active in the hallways; he’s serving his fourth year as a student council representative and also served as treasurer as a junior.
Carrying a 3.7 grade-point average, Le intends next year to continue playing soccer while studying biochemical engineering at Hope College. But there’s still plenty to accomplish in high school, starting with helping to power Portage Central as it pursues its first MHSAA boys soccer championship. The Mustangs could see Northern again in a Division 1 District Semifinal.
Coach Andrew Rice said: “Minh has a great first touch on the ball, and he hardly loses the ball off his first touch. This allows him to make positive decisions with the ball at his feet. His work rate is second to none; he doesn't have to be told twice on what needs to be improved. When we are at our best as a team is when individuals like Minh bring their commitment to success through dedication and their work ethics. We talk in the program about being humble and staying the course. Being ranked as high as we are for the first time in program history is obviously an accomplishment. But at the end of the day we know it is just a number, and someone has to be there. Minh is one of the seniors that leads by example each day what it means to stay humble and continue working towards the end goal, which is bringing the first state championship to Portage Central.
Performance Point: “It was all about teamwork. I’m super glad we got over the hump,” Le said of Central finally downing the rival Huskies. “It was hard work. We were struggling a lot last year about it. We couldn’t figure anything out. So we focused on the following year, which was this year, and working together as a better team, and bringing a better mindset to the game and being smarter on the ball. … We take advantage of the field. Ours is one of the widest in the state, so we usually play wide and we took advantage of that (against Northern) because a lot of teams can’t. It was all about good looks, I guess.”
Rise to the top: “We just have to work harder at this point. The season’s almost over. Everyone’s mentally and physically tired. We just have to work through it and get the job done. … I’ve been training a lot more (by) myself, actually. In the offseason, I’ve been working harder than usual, looking forward to this year, my senior year.”
Problem solver: “Other classes, sometimes, I don’t do well in. But chemistry and all the math stuff, I’m pretty excellent at. And I get more interested every year I learn. I just have a different mindset to school, and I love equations and making things different and figuring out a solution.”
Voice of the people: “I love being a part of the student body and getting involved in a lot of stuff. For me, (student council) helped me connect with more of my peers that way and helps them get a voice (in) the school. I was always interested; I didn’t really take a chance (to join) in elementary school, (but in) middle school when they gave me a chance and I joined, I loved it.”
Revving with Ronaldo: “(Cristiano) Ronaldo is one of my best heroes. Growing up I watched him. Before every game I watch a video of him scoring goals and doing different skills. I still do to this day. It gets me more motivated, gets me more hyped up.”
- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor
Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.
The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster.
PHOTOS: (Top) Portage Central's Minh Le works to keep possession of the ball. (Middle) Le heads the ball during his team's win over East Kentwood. (Top photo by Evelyn Greathouse; middle photo by Jim Cottrell.)
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.)