Preview: Perfect Time to Peak

November 4, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Four of eight finalists at Saturday's MHSAA Boys Soccer Finals are playing to take home the champion's trophy for the first time in their programs' histories.

And considering that none of seven teams that play in leagues won them this fall, claiming the highest title will be even more special.

Burton Genesee Christian is the reigning Division 4 champion and does not play in a league. The other seven finalists finished anywhere from second to fourth in their respective conferences, preparing to peak at the most opportune time and then making the most of the last three weeks.

Saturday's Finals kick off at noon and 3 p.m., with Division 4 followed by Division 1 at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and Division 3 followed by Division 2 at Comstock Park. All will be broadcast live with subscription on, with audio available on See below for glances at all eight finalists, and come back to Second Half later Saturday for coverage of all four championship games.


 15-3-5, No. 19
Coach: John Conlon, 17th season (308-52-37)
League finish: Third in Ottawa-Kent Conference Red
Championship history: Four Division 1 titles (most recent 2012). 
Players to watch: Haris Dzafic, jr. GK (0.50 goals-against average, 13 shutouts); Adis Guric, jr. F (10 goals, 9 assists); Narcis Sprecic, sr. F (11 goals, 7 assists).
Outlook: East Kentwood has risen from three seasons without District titles to make its fifth Division 1 Final over the last decade – and in grand fashion, eliminating among others No. 4 Rockford, No. 20 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, No. 16 Traverse City West and No. 14 Novi on the way. The Falcons have won 12 of their last 13, and 10 by shutout during that run, while avenging two losses to Rockford by beating the Rams 1-0 in the District Final. Junior forward Adrian Diaz had 11 goals as well entering the week, and senior midfielder Jeo Garcia had nine goals and eight assists.

 19-4-2, No. 6
Coach: Todd Heugh, sixth season (96-21-16)
League finish: Third in Oakland Activities Association Red
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 1997), one runner-up finish. 
Players to watch: Mason Maziasz, sr. GK (0.53 goals-against average, 15 shutouts); Shamik Patel, sr. M (8 goals, 10 assists); Sami Sami, jr. F (12 goals, 4 assists).
Outlook: Athens is making its deepest run under Heugh, who played on the 1989 Class A championship team and led Rochester to the Division 1 title in 2002 while boys coach at that school from 2000-05. The Redhawks entered the postseason with two straight losses but have outscored six playoff opponents by a combined 18-4 – and avenged an earlier loss to Rochester with a 2-1 Semifinal win. Junior forward Cole Valentine adds another scoring option up front, entering this week with nine goals and four assists.


 12-7-4, unranked
Coach: Dean Kowalski, second season (27-15-5)
League finish: Fourth in Detroit Catholic League AA
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.  
Players to watch: Shane Ciucci, sr. F (9 goals, 9 assists); Justin Stack, sr. M (8 goals, 5 assists); Evan Mazurek, jr. GK (1.25 goals-against average, 8 shutouts).  
Outlook: Divine Child was riding an 0-4-2 stretch into this postseason, but stormed back to make the Finals for the first time with five shutouts in six games, including 2-0 over No. 13 Dexter in the Regional Semifinal. Ciucci earned an all-state honorable mention as a junior and is one of 11 seniors including eight who start. Seven players had scored at least three goals heading into this week, including also seniors Alex Higgins (seven) and Noah Cieglo (six). Kowalski took over the program last season after a decade as an assistant.

 21-4-2, No. 11
Coach: Kirt Brown, 11th season (149-75-23)
League finish: Third in Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.  
Players to watch: Jarrett Hageman, soph. F (27 goals, 5 assists); Evan Marquess, jr. F (5 goals, 11 assists); Casey Kirkbride, sr. GK (0.68 goals-against average, 12 shutouts).
Outlook: Mattawan made the Semifinals last season but graduated 11 seniors from that team, and yet has taken the next step for the first time. The Wildcats also have won at least 20 games for the second straight season under Brown, despite playing in a league including Division 1 No. 2 Portage Northern and No. 18 Portage Central – and suffering three of their four losses this fall to those two teams. Mattawan has won eight straight, a streak that started with a 1-0 win over No. 7 Coldwater and during the tournament has included shutouts of No. 16 Stevensville Lakeshore, No. 8 Holland and No. 1 East Lansing and also a win over No. 12 Marshall.


 17-3-3, No. 4
Coach: Tony Rowe, fifth season (81-23-10)
League finish: Second in Saginaw Valley League
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2013). 
Players to watch: Chase Knoblock, sr. F (10 goals, 13 assists); Andrew Simon, jr. M (6 goals, 15 assists); Steven Tuttle, sr. M (12 goals, 11 assists).
Outlook: After leading the Chargers to the Division 3 title in his second season in 2013, alum Tony Rowe has them back in the Final after a run that has included wins over No. 7 Clawson and No. 13 Lansing Catholic. Powers has outscored its six postseason opponents by a combined 27-2 and is on a 14-game unbeaten streak. Knoblock and Simon earned all-state honorable mentions last season but have plenty of scoring help in addition to Tuttle; junior forward Bryan Lendzion led with 17 goals entering this week, and junior midfielder Mason Smith had scored 13.

 20-1-4, No. 1
Coach: Brian Hughes, seventh season (record N/A)
League finish: Second in O-K Blue.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Langston Cooper, jr. (12 goals, 4 assists); Fernando Garcia, sr. (21 goals, 12 assists); Alec Winden, jr. (18 goals, 18 assists).
Outlook: Grand Rapids Catholic Central’s first run to an MHSAA Final also has included the first District and Regional titles in program history. The team’s only loss this fall was to Division 2 No. 2 Spring Lake, and the playoff run has included wins over No. 2 Hudsonville Unity Christian, No. 8 Paw Paw and No. 12 Charlevoix. In addition to the high scorers above, senior midfielder Josh Steffes is a key contributor; he made the all-state second team last season.


 22-2-1, No. 6
Coach: Doug Anderson, eighth season (131-43-11)
League finish: Does not play in a conference.  
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2015.  
Players to watch: Cole Russell, sr. M (21 goals, 16 assists); Zach Noecker, sr. GK (0.63 goals-against average, 15 shutouts), Caleb DuPree, sr. F (27 goals, 9 assists).
Outlook: Going back to last season’s perfect run, Genesee Christian won 33 straight games including the first five of this fall, and has now won nine straight while also challenging itself in losses to much larger Fenton and Lake Fenton. The Soldiers haven’t given up a goal in the postseason, outscoring six opponents by a combined 24-0, with the latest shutout over No. 3 Ann Arbor Greenhills. Noecker, Russell and senior midfielder Riley Buchalski (5 goals, 5 assists) made the all-state first team last season, and DuPree made the second team.

 13-8-4, unranked
Coach: Bill Moulatsiotis, sixth season (72-49-7)
League finish: Tied for third in Lakes 8 Conference
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2008. 
Players to watch: Jose Zambrano, jr. F; Connor O’Neill, sr. GK; Jose Mojica, jr. M. (Statistics not submitted.)
Outlook: Muskegon Catholic Central has been one of the surprises of the tournament, downing No. 4 North Muskegon, No. 9 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian and No. 18 Kalamazoo Hackett after falling to North Muskegon and Covenant Christian during the regular season. But Zambrano was an all-state second-team pick last season and O’Neill and Mojica were honorable mentions, so the upsets can’t be entirely shocking. The Crusaders have won 10 of their last 13 games.

PHOTO: Genesee Christian's Caleb DuPree (left) works to maintain control of the ball during last season's Division 4 Final win over Kalamazoo Hackett.

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