The eight teams playing in Saturday’s MHSAA Boys Soccer Finals have combined to win 42 championships and finish runners-up 16 times.
And yet, this should be a new experience for anyone who has followed the sport at our state’s high school level.
After being split up at two sites for the last several years, all four championship matches will be played at Grand Ledge High School, kicking off at 10 a.m. with the next title deciders at 12:30 p.m., 3 and 5:30 p.m.
Below is a glance at all eight contenders, with statistics through Regionals:
Record/rank: 19-3-2, No. 14
Michigan Power Rating: No. 23
Coach: Mark Howell, seventh season (84-30-2)
League finish: Second in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 1998.
Players to watch: Devlin McGinnis, jr. F (22 goals, 6 assists); Owen Buckley, jr. F (7 goals, 8 assists), Colin Robertson, sr. F (8 goals, 15 assists); Charlie Burchfield, sr. GK (0.40 goals-against average).
Outlook: After winning its first Regional title since 2005, Brighton has reached its first championship game in 25 years thanks to a 3-1 win over No. 9 Rockford in Wednesday’s Semifinal. The Bulldogs are undefeated since Sept. 16, a stretch of 14 games with only one draw among them, and they swept No. 2 Northville this fall among other highlights. Howell was a standout keeper for the Bulldogs, graduating in 2001 and then playing at Western Michigan, and his team has 13 shutouts including four over six postseason games. McGinnis earned an all-state honorable mention last season.
Record/rank: 19-3-2, No. 3
Michigan Power Rating: No. 5
Coach: Todd Heugh, 13th season (213-44-27)
League finish: Third in Oakland Activities Association Red
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2019), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Adriano Shauya, sr. M/F (18 goals, 3 assists); Marc Delikat, jr. M (10 goals, 6 assists), Daniel Kadiu, sr. M (9 goals, 6 assists), Adam Ethridge, sr. GK (0.52 goals-against average).
Outlook: Athens has plenty of experience playing during the final week, with its Regional title this season its fourth in eight years but first since 2020. The Red Hawks opened this season 3-3-2 but have won 16 straight games and emerged from an OAA Red that also included top-ranked Berkley, No. 7 Oxford, No. 8 Clarkston and No. 10 Rochester Adams. Athens defeated Berkley 5-2 in a District Semifinal and No. 2 Northville 3-2 in overtime Wednesday to advance to this weekend. Senior defender Brody Fahnestock (8 goals/2 assists) and senior forward Miguel Ramirez Vanegas (5/6) are among other top contributors.
GRAND RAPIDS CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 17-5-2, No. 7
Michigan Power Rating: No. 11
Coach: Aric Dersham, fourth season (57-20-9)
League finish: Fourth in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2021).
Players to watch: Jackson Mindling, sr. F/M (27 goals, 9 assists), John Cassiday, jr. F (13 goals, 7 assists), Peter Borst, jr. M (8 goals, 5 assists), Christian Dersham, sr. GK (0.71 goals-against average).
Outlook: The Eagles are playing in their second Final in three seasons, with a 2-1 win over top-ranked (and 2022 Division 3 champion) Holland Christian sending them to the championship match. Grand Rapids Christian also defeated No. 4 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 3-1 in the District Final and No. 3 Fruitport 1-0 in the Regional championship match, and the Eagles haven’t allowed more than one goal in any of their eight straight victories. Freshman Liam Jansen is another notable contributor with seven goals and three assists through the Regional.
Record/rank: 13-2-5, No. 12
Michigan Power Rating: No. 7
Coach: Jacob Derby, sixth season (57-48-15)
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 2015), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Blendi Jahiri, jr. M (17 goals, 16 assists); Lucas Nay, sr. M (11 goals, 16 assists); Collin Winters, jr. M (6 goals, 11 assists); Mendi Rexhepi, jr. F (11 goals, 4 assists).
Outlook: Mason reached the season’s final week for the first time since that last championship season, defeating No. 6 Riverview 2-1 in a Regional Semifinal along the way and Warren De La Salle Collegiate 3-2 in a shootout Wednesday to advance. The team’s only losses were to Division 3 No. 6 Grosse Ile and Division 1 Holt, and sophomore keeper Mikey Krysiak entered the week giving up only 0.53 goals per game. Nay made the all-state second team last season, and Jahiri earned an honorable mention. Derby was a three-time all-state keeper for the Bulldogs before graduating in 2011.
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 19-2-2, No. 1
Michigan Power Rating: No. 2
Coach: Steve Bossert, ninth season (131-47-20)
League finish: Does not play in a conference.
Championship history: 15 MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Finn Hounsell, jr. GK (0.65 goals-against average); Zach Rodger, sr. M (15 goals, 7 assists); Stephen Brentano, sr. M (7 goals, 9 assists); Andrew Brentano, sr. M (2 goals, 6 assists).
Outlook: After ending last season with a Semifinal loss to Grosse Ile, Country Day took the next step again to reach the season’s last day. This tournament run has included a 2-1 win over the Red Devils in a Regional Semifinal, a 2-0 shutout of No. 5 Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in the District Final and a 3-0 shutout of No. 4 Flint Powers Catholic on Wednesday. Hounsell and Rodger made the all-state second team last season, while both Bretanos made the third team and junior defender Alex Eby (2 goals/6 assists) earned an honorable mention. Senior forward Andrew Vartanian also was tied for second on the team entering this week with nine goals.
HUDSONVILLE UNITY CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 20-2-1, No. 2
Michigan Power Rating: No. 1
Coach: Ian Billin, second season (33-6-4)
League finish: Third in O-K Blue
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2018), four runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Colin Nieuwenhuis, sr. M/F (31 goals, 6 assists); Jack Kamminga, soph. M/F (9 goals, 7 assists), Eli Groggel, sr. F (6 goals, 2 assists); Alen Deppe, fr. GK (1.02 goals-against average).
Outlook: This will be Unity’s first trip to the Finals under former standout Billin, who returned after college soccer to coach the junior varsity and took over the varsity from longtime leader Randy Heethuis a year ago. Unity ended last season in the District Semifinal against Grand Rapids South Christian, but avenged that loss with a 3-2 shutout win over the No. 7 Sailors in last week’s Regional Final and also defeated No. 14 Wyoming Godwin Heights 7-1, No. 3 Hartford 2-0 and No. 8 Alma 3-0 on the way to Grand Ledge. Nieuwenhuis made the all-state second team last season.
MADISON HEIGHTS BISHOP FOLEY
Record/rank: 18-3-1, No. 7
Michigan Power Rating: No. 12
Coach: Nino Maniaci, sixth season (68-40-11)
League finish: First in Detroit Catholic League Intersectional 2
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 1997), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Ben Barrett, sr. F (12 goals, 6 assists); Jake Nihranz, sr. F (15 goals, 7 assists); Connor Fitzpatrick, sr. M (3 goals, 14 assists); Dylan Barbieri, sr. D (7 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Bishop Foley won its first Regional title since that last championship season, and Maniaci has been building the Ventures back up to this moment leading them to a third-straight District title this fall along the way. Two of the team’s defeats were to No. 2 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and Royal Oak Shrine Catholic, and Bishop Foley avenged both defeating Shrine 2-0 in the District Final and Liggett 1-0 in a shootout in the Regional Final before then defeating No. 4 Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep 2-1 in overtime Wednesday to advance. Barrett earned an all-state honorable mention last season. Senior midfielders Aidan Letzring (7 goals/8 assists) and Matthew Totty (6/8) are among other contributors, and senior Greg Altman (1.19 GAA) mans the net.
MUSKEGON WESTERN MICHIGAN CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 20-2-3, No. 1
Michigan Power Rating: No. 6
Coach: Ben Buursma, fourth season (58-26-7)
League finish: Second in Alliance League
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recent 2022), six runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Cole DeJonge, jr. M (8 goals, 21 assists); Charlie Buursma, sr. M/F (16 goals, 13 assists); Tekalegn Vlasma, jr. F/M (21 goals, 7 assists); Ben Pollock, sr. F/M (15 goals, 13 assists).
Outlook: Western Michigan Christian is seeking its second-straight championship and third in five seasons, and they’ve reached this weekend with five shutouts in six postseason games including a 3-0 win over No. 8 Leland in the Semifinal after another 3-0 shutout of No. 12 Grandville Calvin Christian in the Regional Final. Led by junior keeper Daniel Minasian, WMC has allowed only 13 goals all season while scoring 96. Senior Lucas Dick has been another scoring leader with nine goals and nine assists at the start of this week. Charlie Buursma and DeJonge both made the all-state third team last season.
PHOTO Hudsonville Unity Christian’s Cody Walters (20) works to gain possession during Wednesday’s Division 3 Semifinal win over Alma. (Click for more from High School Sports Scene.)
Join Robby Elliott as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Boys Soccer Finals.