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East Kentwood claims fifth Division 1 title with shootout win over Troy Athens

Soccer   | Lenny Padilla

East Kentwood claims fifth Division 1 title with shootout win over Troy Athens

COMSTOCK PARK, MI - Haris Dzafic was running around the field after Saturday’s game with a yellow Bosnian flag draped over his shoulders and a big smile on his face.

The East Kentwood High School goalkeeper made two huge saves during a shootout to help the Falcons beat Troy Athens 1-0 on Saturday to win the Division 1 boys soccer state championship at Comstock Park.

“I read their body language and guessed the right side. It’s just a 50-50,” said Dzafic, a junior, who made two stops during the 5-man shootout. “I ended up getting a hand on it to make a save. It’s unbelievable that we just won the state championship.”

After 100 minutes of play - regulation and two overtimes - the game went to a shootout and was on the shoulders of East Kentwood sophomore Samuel Esquivel.

The 6-foot-2 forward said he wasn’t nervous. In fact, he knew he was going to make it.

“As I was walking toward the penalty spot, all I was thinking is ‘man, we’re about to win the state championship’,” Esquivel said.

He blistered a shot past Athens goalkeeper Mason Maziasz to win the title and immediately sprinted toward the student section to celebrate.

East Kentwood coach John Conlon earned his fifth Division 1 state title, and first since 2012.

“It’s something special,” said Conlon, who is in his 17th year with the Falcons. “They’re all different. Our whole community supports us as a program. So this is a big deal for East Kentwood athletics.”

Dzafic, a tall, athletic keeper, stopped all five shots he faced during the game. He was still smiling while taking photos after the game with his family, who emigrated from Bosnia. 

“I’m from Bosnia and so is my whole family,” said Dzafic, who came to the U.S. when he was 3 years old. “The team said to bring our national flags, and depending on the outcome, wrap it around ourselves and show how diverse of a school we are and still have the ability to come together.”

Many of the players, who hail from the likes of Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, also brought flags to celebrate with.

Conlon, whose team finished 16-3-5, said he loves having Dzafic in net. 

“He’s fantastic,” Conlon said. “Definitely makes a coach look good when you’ve got the best keeper in the state. He’s paid his dues. He has sat behind several great keepers over the past few years. he was hungry this year.”

The keeper on the other side of the field was almost as good. Maziasz, a senior, made some impressive saves during regulation.

“He’s been great all season,” said Athens coach Todd Heugh, whose team finished 19-5-2. “That’s his 15th shutout of the season and 40 for his career. He’s made save after save for us. Sometimes you take a kid like that for granted a little bit.”

Conlon said his team’s defense has been big this season. The team has 15 shutouts.

 “We really started defending this year,” Conlon said. “After about 10 games … when we defended well and forced them to turn the ball over, we created chances (on offense) for ourselves.”

One of the best defenders for the Falcons on Saturday, junior Daniel Akhimien, isn’t even a soccer player first. 

“He’s a basketball player,” Conlon said. “He grew up in Nigeria and he loves soccer, but he’s a basketball player first. Over the past year, he’s gotten really good with his footwork. He’s very calm and confident back there.”

Dzafic said Athens was impressive, too.

“I have to give credit to the other team,” he said. “They are probably the best that we’ve played this season. We just found a way to hold them off in the end.”