By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Five teams will look to make history Saturday as they play for their first MHSAA boys soccer championships. And at least two are assured of doing so.
The Lower Peninsula Division 1 and 4 championship games feature four teams looking to win for the first time, including first-year school Bloomfield Hills. Spring Lake in Division 2 also is going for its first Finals win, but against three-time champion East Lansing and one of the state’s winningest coaches in Nick Archer.
Only in Division 3 is a team assured of adding to its trophy collection. Flint Powers Catholic is hoping for its first title since 1996, but must beat reigning champion Grand Rapids South Christian to earn it.
Below is Saturday's schedule, followed by a look at each team in the hunt.
Division 1 at Troy Athens, Noon
Bloomfield Hills (16-2-5) vs. Ann Arbor Skyline (20-1-5)
Division 2 at East Kentwood Crestwood Middle School, Noon
East Lansing (24-2) vs. Spring Lake (16-6-3)
Division 3 at Troy Athens, 3 p.m.
Grand Rapids South Christian (21-1-3) vs. Flint Powers Catholic (14-8-2)
Division 4 at East Kentwood Crestwood Middle School, 3 p.m.
Grand Rapids Covenant Christian (22-1-3) vs. Lansing Christian (21-0-1)
All four Finals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV and available on a subscription basis. A one-day pass costs $9.95 and allows access to all four games plus the Lower Peninsula Cross Country Finals. A month pass costs $14.95 and allows fans to also watch live the Volleyball Semifinals and Finals and Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals. Radio broadcasts of the Soccer Finals will be available on MHSAAnetwork.com.
Click for links to brackets and scores. All statistics below are through the Regional Finals.
ANN ARBOR SKYLINE
Record/rank: 20-1-5, No. 3
Coach: Chris Morgan, fourth season (53-17-16)
League finish: Second in Southeastern Conference Red
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Alec Lasinski, jr. F (32 goals, six assists); Nick Russo, sr. M (11 assists, three goals).
Outlook: Skyline has improved in the win column each season during its four as a varsity program and won its second straight District title two weeks ago. The Eagles beat No. 5 Caledonia and honorable mentions Okemos and Salem to win the Regional and advance to the championship game. Lasinski earned an all-state honorable mention as a sophomore and leads an offense that has outscored opponents 74-15 with 14 shutouts this fall.
Record/rank: 16-2-5, unranked
Coach: Dougie Macaulay, first season (16-2-5)
League finish: Second in Oakland Activities Association White
Championship history: First season as a school.
Players to watch: Alex Joneson, jr. F; Griffin Hamel, sr. GK (statistics not submitted).
Outlook: This is the first year of Bloomfield Hills soccer and school, which was created by a merger of Lahser and Andover. Lahser won one MHSAA title and finished runner-up twice during its history. The only teams to score more than one goal on Bloomfield Hills this season were the two that beat the Black Hawks, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and Birmingham Groves. Bloomfield Hills has won 13 straight, including avenging that loss to Groves with a 4-1 win in the District opener.
Record/rank: 24-2, No. 4
Coach: Nick Archer, 38th season (572-152-72)
League finish: Second in Capital Area Activities Conference Blue
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2005), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: DeJuan Jones, jr. F (25 goals, eight assists); Tommy Lammers, sr. M (six goals, five assists); Ben Swanson-Ralph, sr. F (14 goals, 12 assists).
Outlook: East Lansing advanced with its first Regional title since 2007, but was poised for such a run after claiming the league and District titles in 2012 with Swanson-Ralph making the all-state first team and Lammers earning an honorable mention. The Trojans spent much of this season ranked No. 1 before a couple close losses near the end to No. 6 DeWitt and Division 1 honorable mention Okemos. East Lansing then beat DeWitt and No. 2 Linden on its way to this championship game.
Record/rank: 16-6-3, unranked
Coach: Jeremy Thelen, 13th season (200-70-11)
League finish: Second in Lakes 8 Conference
Championship history: 2011 runner-up.
Players to watch: Nic Ellingboe, sr. F (19 goals, seven assists); Kyle Zietlow, jr. M (10 goals, 12 assists); Keegan George, soph. F (13 goals, six assists).
Outlook: This is Spring Lake’s second Division 2 Final appearance in three seasons, and the Lakers are riding a seven-game winning streak including a shootout victory over Fruitport after losing to the Trojans in the league championship game. In fact, Spring Lake could make a run at three Finals berths in four seasons next fall; Ellingboe and defender Adam Ross are the only senior starters.
FLINT POWERS CATHOLIC
Record/rank: 14-8-2, No. 6
Coach: Tony Rowe, second season (28-15-2)
League finish: First in Saginaw Valley Association
Championship history: Class B champion 1996.
Players to watch: Jared Pechette, sr. M (10 assists, eight goals); Christian Mansour, sr. M (15 assists, five goals); Charlie Emmert, sr. F (13 goals, three assists).
Outlook: Powers has piled up successes with two league titles under Rowe, a 2003 graduate in his first varsity coaching position. The Chargers are riding a 12-game unbeaten streak after beginning the season 3-6. Although Powers has only six seniors, three start in the midfield with Brad Tuttle joining Pechette and Mansour.
GRAND RAPIDS SOUTH CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 21-1-3, No. 1
Coach: Jason Boersma, third season (58-8-8)
League finish: First in O-K Gold
Championship history: Two titles (most recent 2012), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Marlon Bykerk, sr. M (11 goals, 17 assists); Cody Kok, sr. M (11 assists, nine goals); Nick VanderHorst, sr. M (13 goals, three assists), Zac Medendorp, sr. GK (0.45 goals-against average, 15 shutouts).
Outlook: South Christian is playing for its third title in four seasons led by a talented midfield including 2012 all-stater Bykerk and honorable mention Kok and a keeper whose shutout total makes the MHSAA record book (Medendorp earned his 16th in the Semifinal against No. 5 Whitehall). The Sailors’ lone loss this season was in their opener, 1-0 to Division 2 honorable mention Grand Rapids Christian – and South Christian won the rematch 2-1.
GRAND RAPIDS COVENANT CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 22-1-3, No. 1
Coach: Mike Noorman, 10th season (127-66-14)
League finish: First in River Valley Conference
Championship history: 2012 runner-up.
Players to watch: Corbin Prince, sr. M (27 goals, 15 assists), Travis Bouwkamp, jr. F (23 goals 16 assists), Cole Bleyenberg, sr. F (12 goals, nine assists), Austin Brower, sr. GK (0.28 GAA, 13 shutouts).
Outlook: After falling short to Hamtramck Frontier International in last season’s Division 4 Final, Covenant Christian has dominated in its quest to finish the run this fall. Brower was an all-stater as a junior and Prince made the second team. They are two of 11 seniors on a team that started with seven straight shutouts and has given up only three goals during the postseason despite dispatching of No. 2 Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central and No. 10 Bellaire during the run.
Record/rank: 21-0-1, honorable mention
Coach: Joel Vande Kopple, sixth season (114-15-5)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Jordan Terry, sr. F (26 goals, 11 assists), Martin Lang, Jr., jr. F (18 goals, eight assists), Brayan Guzman-Ortiz, jr. F (11 goals, six assists), Alex McDowell, soph. M (11 goals, five assists).
Outlook: The Pilgrims didn’t enter the tournament among the top 10. But Lansing Christian proved its skill early with wins over Division 2 Haslett and Division 3 Williamston, and then beat Division 4 honorable mention Genesee Christian and No. 7 Bloomfield Hills Roeper on the way to this first Final. Terry is a returning all-stater and a dangerous scorer, but the defense is talented as well – the Pilgrims didn’t give up a goal in the playoffs until Roeper scored one in the Semifinal.
PHOTO: Grand Rapids South Christian’s Marlon Bykerk (4) advances the ball during last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final win over Williamston. He and his team return to the championship game Saturday. (Click to see more from High School Sports Scene.)
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.)