By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half
TROY – When looking for the blue print to build a high school soccer program, Ann Arbor Skyline coach Chris Morgan would be the man to see.
In four years, Morgan guided Skyline from a team with no seniors that won eight games to the summit of soccer excellence in the state of Michigan.
Morgan and his Skyline team reached the pinnacle Saturday when the Eagles defeated Bloomfield Hills 1-0 to win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 championship at Troy Athens High School.
“Every year we took a step in the right direction,” Morgan said, “and this is the coronation.”
To win its first title, Skyline needed a combination of strong defense and a timely goal as the Final was a defensive struggle from start to finish with scoring opportunities few and far between.
Senior Josh Carn-Saferstein is one of the leaders of the Skyine defense and one of seven seniors who were on the school’s first varsity as freshmen and have witnessed the program’s steady rise.
“This is just an amazing feeling,” Carn-Saferstein said. “I was one of the freshmen on the varsity the first year we had a team. We just had juniors, sophomores and freshmen that year. I think it took a little time for our program to find its identity.
“The players change but all of coaches stress the same things, and this year we all made it happen.”
The shutout was the third of the postseason for Skyline, which allowed a total of four goals in its seven tournament games.
The defensive tone was set during the first half as the teams produced just one scoring opportunity apiece.
Skyline opened the second half with a pair of scoring chances. Junior Alec Lasinski, who led the team with 32 goals this season, almost broke the deadlock when he came in on a breakaway – only to be stopped by Bloomfield Hills keeper Griffin Hamel.
Moments later Skyline’s Nick Russo sent a hard shot just over the crossbar.
Bloomfield Hills’ best scoring opportunity came with 22 minutes remaining, but Alex Joneson had his free kick caught by Skyline goalkeeper Cameron Lekas.
The scoring drought finally came to an end with 19:13 remaining. Lasinski and Lawrence Mullen worked a two-man game in front of the Bloomfield Hills goal. A hand ball was called, and Mullen was tabbed by Morgan to take the penalty kick.
Mullen sent a hard shot low on the ground and with just enough juice to make it past the keeper for what proved to be the game-wining goal.
“We have three players who can step up and take the penalty kick, and I am comfortable with all three,” Morgan said. “I picked Lawrence, and I knew he would do fine. He strikes a mean ball. We knew he would go hard and place the ball well.”
Mullen did just that and the result was all Skyline needed to grab the lead.
“I just concentrated on placement,” Mullen said. “It was pretty scary. I hit a hard shot, and I thought the goalie got a hand on it. But it made it in.”
Mullen also had all the confidence of his teammates.
“When Coach had Lawrence take it, I knew he would make it,” Lasinski said. “The penalty was called on me so I knew I couldn’t take the shot. That is what coach said. Lawrence is an amazing player, and I had faith in him. The whole team had faith in him.”
With the lead, the Eagles turned the game over to its defensive unit even more. The Skyline defense did the job, as Bloomfield Hills was unable to get a high-quality shot on goal.
For Bloomfield Hills, in its first season as the school opened this fall (after a merger by Lahser and Andover), the loss ended a strong defensive run of its own during this year’s tournament.
“We gave it everything we had,” Black Hawks coach Dougie Macaulay said. “We never gave them a clear-cut chance.”
Penalty kicks proved to be one of the few ways teams were able to put the ball in the net against Bloomfield Hills this postseason.
“I’m very proud of my team,” Macaulay said. “We gave up only one goal in open play in seven playoff games. Two of the other goals we gave up were on penalty kicks. I’m very, very proud of the boys, and we had a fantastic season.”
The Black Hawks also had to play most of the match without standout defensive player Jahza Klochco-Koo, who left with an injury in the first half and did not return.
With the win, Skyline ended the season 21-1-5. After winning its first District title in boys soccer last year, the Eagles completed the final two steps and clinched the school’s first MHSAA Finals title in any sport.
“This is just amazing,” Lasinski said. “It feels amazing. To have all of our fans here and supporting us, this is very special.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Ann Arbor Skyline players celebrate their first MHSAA championship in any sport. (Click to see more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.) (Middle) Skyline’s Alec Lasinski (9) battles Bloomfield Hills’ Trevor Drew for the ball Saturday. (Middle photo by Terry McNamara Photography.)
Join Robby Elliott as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Boys Soccer Finals.