Boys Soccer Top 50 Teams Preview: Defending Division 1 champion East Kentwood is the team to beat
Kentwood – It takes years to build a powerhouse sports program.
East Kentwood has proven just that on the soccer pitch over the past 20 years or so.
The Falcons broke through with their first Division 1 district title in 1998. Little did anyone know that was the budding seed of a sprouting, powerhouse soccer program.
When coach John Conlon took the reins in 2000, he added to the Falcons’ short-lived success story, brick-by-brick, pass-by-pass, training session-by-training session and years of preparation.
“It wasn’t easy those first few years,” he said. “When I took over, we only had that one real tournament run (in 1998) to speak of. But we were working real hard to build a strong program. The assistant coaches and I worked hard to really grow a youth program in the Kentwood community and make sure our players were playing on some of the best clubs.
“The thing about our soccer program is that it is not easy to play here — there’s an extraordinary amount of commitment. Not every player out there can (do it).”
East Kentwood’s first lengthy tournament run ended that season in the regional semifinals to Brighton, 3-1. The Falcons would not return to regional play until 2004.
East Kentwood has more than made a name for itself in the sport since, becoming one of the state’s most dominant large-school programs.
The Falcons compete in one of the deeper districts and have won 10 districts in 19 seasons, claimed six regional titles with one more regional runner-up showing. The Falcons have reached six semifinals including five state titles.
They are the defending state champions defeating Troy Athens in the final in a shootout, 1-0.
The Falcons have boasted dozens of All-State players and college players, and even had a handful of players climb to the professional ranks, both in the U.S. and overseas.
East Kentwood’s place among the state’s elite programs is cemented and should continue in 2017.
In a year of parity, where there are some 20-plus schools in Division 1 that have a legitimate shot at making a run to the semifinals and another dozen or so in Division 2 with those same aspirations, it’s difficult to predict which team will win it all in 2017. The race in Division 3 and 4 have a small handful of schools with legitimate chances of reaching the title match.
“We have another good group of players this year, guys that work hard,” noted Conlon, who said that he has lost a half-dozen or so standouts to the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy since that program went to a 10-month schedule in 2012.
“And not just Academy players, but Big Ten-level players, players that would have really helped us. We still compete without some of those guys. A lot of the best programs in the state lose players to the Academy. It is what it is.”
East Kentwood, 18-3-5 last season, has earned the distinction of being one of the state’s elite programs. The Falcons have captured five state titles in the past decade, more than any other program during that span.
Dating back to 1982 (when the MHSAA first sanctioned the sport), the Falcons are tied for second for most titles in the Class A/Division 1. Of the 29 programs that have reached this level, Livonia Stevenson ranks first with 11 appearances and a 6-5 finals record.
East Kentwood has won all five of its state-final matches.
East Kentwood won back-to-back titles (2007, 2008) and won its other titles in 2010, 2012 and 2016. Last season the Falcons dropped to as low as No. 19 in the rankings before beginning their rise to the top.
Additionally, Warren DeLaSalle is 5-1 in title games. Troy Athens is 4-2, Plymouth Canton is 3-1, Plymouth Salem 1-5, Birmingham Brother Rice is 2-3 and Rochester Adams is 1-2 in the finals matches — the only other group of schools to play in more than two Class A/D-1 state finals.
A total of 17 schools have won Class A/D-1 state titles.
Detroit Country Day tops all classes/divisions with a 14-1 state-finals record, with those coming in D-2, Class B, Class C or Class C-D.
The Falcons’ rise to the top is anchored by a true sense of family.
“I think our program is really a family,” Conlon said. “Last year when we won it, there must have been 30-to-40 former players that came up to me before or after the game. They all still follow us. It’s funny, but whenever we lose or tie a game, I get calls, texts and emails from former players who are truly angry when we do not win. They really care.”
This season is now three weeks into the schedule, mainly weekend tournaments and non-league matches, where coaches around the state have juggled their respective lineups attempting to create the proper lineup to ensure their best chance for a league championship and lengthy postseason runs.
Here’s an in-depth look at the boys soccer programs to watch, a list that will surely change on a daily basis.
1. EAST KENTWOOD (18-3-5): Another strong start has the Falcons in discussion once again, led by senior G Harris Dzafic, the only returning Dream Team player and a Mr. Soccer candidate. There are six returning starters and 15 total players back. Seniors Adis Guric, Lal San Eng and Jaxlend Delaney lead the attack, along with junior Jackson Strabel. Seniors Daniel Dias, Paul Bernard and Daniel Ackhimien anchor the midfield, and senior Adrian Diaz is the top defenseman. The recent departure of junior D Samuel Esquivel to the Wolves Academy will hurt but the Falcons are still deep.
2. TROY ATHENS (19-5-2): After a run to the D-1 title game last year, during a season tabbed as a rebuilding year, Athens has picked up right where it left off. Behind an 8-0-0 start, the Red Hawks are soaring. Senior M Will Harrison had stepped up to provide scoring thus far, along with senior F Cole Valentine. Senior M Andrew Nord, junior M Sean McConnell and junior D Aiden Fawcett (helped with 14 shutouts last year) are returning starters. Senior M Yusuf Uzhunnan, senior D Chris Culp and senior D/F Rob McCormick will see expanded roles. Athens may lack star power, but is as deep and balanced as any and in position to win its first title since 1997. Senior Clark Joslin and sophomore Jason Kemp split time in goal.
3. GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS NORTHERN (16-4-4): An injury-plagued season still saw the Huskies overcome a fourth-place finish in the O-K Conference White Division but still made a run to the D-2 regional finals. Forest Hills Northern is slated for its biggest year yet. Could a first state title be in the making for the 2015 state runners-up? The talent is there, led by senior D Hayden Strobel. Junior F Nate Texer is legacy to a former Dream Team brother, senior M Isaac Nelson and African transplant Jordan Okito (F) give the Huskies four college recruits down the middle. Junior M Sawyer Rilett, junior F Luca Licari, junior M Zac Meyers and sophomore D Aidan O’Connor
4. GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS CENTRAL (13-7-1): After winning a D-1 state title in 2015, Forest Hills Central faded from the Top 20 spotlight midway through last season with a team of mostly newcomers. That will not be the case this season. The Rangers return a bevy of talent and take a quantum leap forward with the arrival of senior F and Mr. Soccer candidate Eric Connerty (Butler), who was All-State Second Team as a freshman in 2014 but spent the last two school years starring with the Wolves Academy. Senior G Jared Ireland is a two-time All-State player who can also play in the field and sophomore M/F Sam Postelwait is one the state’s best in his class. Senior G/M Max Martin (Oakland), senior F/G Ian Able, senior D Tristan Kerr, junior G/D Zach Norris, senior M MJ Fransisco, senior D Nolan Vandegrift and senior M Mitch Strawser help make up a loaded roster. The Rangers are four-deep at the goalkeeper position.
5. NORTHVILLE (13-5-6): After winning the KLAA Central Division last season and reaching a district final before falling in double overtime to Brighton, the senior-laden Mustangs hope to escape the western suburban hot pocket and make a run towards the school’s first state title. Behind a 5-0-1 start, Northville has a multitude of quality players, led by the senior back line of Collin Neal, Jacob Temonti and Tyler Schneider. Senior midfielders Owen Marshall, Zack Westenberg and Omar Lahbiki, junior M Connor Feney, a transfer from New Jersey, and senior snipers Andrew Mitchell and Felipe McCarthy will all be key factors. Northville also is blessed with three quality goalkeepers in senior transfer Reggie Spencer, junior Winni Kanellopoulos and sophomore Robert Damron.
6. ROCHESTER (15-4-5): Despite losing three starters to injuries and having several players leave for the Vardar Academy, Rochester still had its finest season since winning the D-1 state title back in 2002, making a run to the state semifinals. There’s plenty of returning talent, as seniors Grant Benedettini, Martin Ivezaj and Joel Fickel again will play on a stingy back line in front of senior G Luke Kastran, a three-sport athlete. Senior M George Zagrodski, senior M/F Tyler Sommith and junior M/F Grant Ellison also started games last season. Sophomore F Game Baylon emerged down the stretch and will add punch to the offense. Senior F Sid Osborn, senior M Marco Gomez, who spent the last three years playing with Vardar Academy, senior F/M Luciano Errecalde, who also spent last season with the Vardar Academy, and junior M/F John Agoubi will make this team that more dangerous.
7. LIVONIA STEVENSON (9-5-5): Stevenson is off to a 7-0-0 start and figures to be a threat to make a long run if it escapes a difficult district. Senior D Justin Schultz is one of the state’s best. Senior F Lucas Rea led the Spartans in scoring last season and senior F/M Tanner Brose played with the Vardar Academy last year, and has made a huge impact. Stevenson has a deep and experienced senior class.
8. DETROIT CATHOLIC CENTRAL (12-3-4): Despite outplaying Novi in its pre-district match last season, C.C. fell short in a shootout and Novi eventually advance to the semifinals. The Shamrocks started this season 5-0-2 despite playing a difficult schedule and again are a team capable of great things. Lightning-quick senior M/F Ryan Pierson (D-II national powerhouse Saginaw Valley State), senior M/D Henry Koelling, senior D Matt Park, senior D/F Joel VanHook, senior D Josh Hereozia, junior M Drake Midgley and sophomore M Ben Kiaowac form a solid nucleus. Senior Kevin Blasfeldt and junior Andrew Nicholson, a transfer from Novi, give C.C. two quality goalkeepers.
9. ANN ARBOR SKYLINE (20-1-0): Division 1 champs in 2013, Skyline reached a district final last season with an unbeaten record only to fall short. With eight returning starters and a significantly more difficult nonleague schedule on the slate, the Eagles are looking for a big season once again. Senior Blake Sunderman is a bulldog in the back and seniors Jordan Tinco (F), Elijah Mays (M) and Jack Ammerman (F) are all experienced players. Junior F Jack Bakker is slated for a big season. Sophomores Chris Emerson (D) and Brice Schaner (F) both come over from the Wolves Academy, and seniors Russ Noble and Karl Wixom split time in goal. Skyline started the season 6-0-2.
10. BRIGHTON (13-1-5): Behind stellar goalkeeping and a balanced offense, the Bulldogs had one of their best seasons in 2016, only losing one game and that came in a district final to Novi. Senior Riley Radwanski-Gallas is one of the state’s top 10 goalkeepers and will keep the Bulldogs in games. Senior F Keegan Gormley, junior M Chase Foresman, senior M Ian Sosenko and junior M/D Charlie Sharp, junior backs Colin Adam and Travis Huffman and sophomore forward Thomas Stanis. Three freshmen have also made an impact, including D Josh Adam, midfielder Casey McCarthy and F Seth Bedford. Brighton has never won a state title in soccer even though the Bulldogs have been a steady presence in the rankings dating back to the mid-1990s.
11. PORTAGE CENTRAL (12-7-4): The Mustangs stayed in Portage Northern’s shadow the past two seasons. This year it will be Central’s time to shine, as the Mustangs return nine starters and 16 total letter-winners. Senior G Nick Kuppler, junior F Michael Ketterman, senior M Minh Le, junior F Elliot Greenhouse, senior D Mitchell Pollack, junior M/F Jason Mia, sophomore M Ben Kahmark, senior D Sam Scheffel and sophomore D Ben Sosville all started games last season and make up a seasoned group. Consistently a high-level program, Portage Central has never claimed a state title.
12. SALINE (14-5-3): The Hornets upset previously unbeaten Ann Arbor Skyline in a district final last season and will be another quality side this season that could make a deep run. Junior M Ryan Nichols is a crafty playmaker and set-up man, while sophomore F Zeke Gray comes over from the Wolves Academy and is scoring goals in bunches. Senior F Anthony Swier was the leading scorer last season and senior M/F Jack Fenlon is a capable scorer. In the back, junior G Quinn Fox and senior defenders Jake Caldwell and North York will help put a clamp down on opposing offenses.
13. PLYMOUTH (11-6-3): Now in its 15th season, Plymouth again is fielding a competitive side. It’s just that competing in the highly competitive KLAA and one of the state’s toughest districts hasn't left many championships on the Wildcats’ resume. There are 10 seniors in the starting lineup, led by D-I recruit Bennet Brooks, who plays in the midfield or on the back line. Senior G Chris Tszyoff, senior M/D Benjamin Tetlow, senior D Tommy Sullivan, senior D Alex Bowser and senior F Justin Wojick have all shined during Plymouth’s 4-0-3 start.
14. SALEM (12-7-3): Salem started last season 1-4-0 but put things together and eventually knocked off No. 2 Canton and captured a district title. Don't be alarmed with the Rocks’ 5-4-0 start this season, mainly in tournaments, as this team will again be a factor. Senior F Jason Juarez comes over from the Wolves Academy and has made a huge impact. Senior M Christian Freitag (All-State Second Team), senior M Josh Stevens, senior D John Musai, another Wolves Academy transplant, senior G Burraq Oral, junior M Dave Dillon and junior F/M Thomas Done are part of Salem’s core.
15. UTICA FORD (12-2-4): During the past decade, Ford has developed into one of the more consistent D-1 programs and will again contend for the MAC Red Division title and for a spot in the D-1 Top 20. Senior M/F Alejandro Steinwascher (All-State Second Team) is a dangerous player, senior JB Braganza anchors the back line and junior F Lorenzo Palazzolo are all college prospects. Senior D Tommasso Palazzolo, sophomore G Jeremy Taras. Senior D Jordan Chinoski, junior M Gabe Parra and sophomore M Mateo Gjurashaj, who played with the Vardar Academy, will also help the Falcons challenge for titles.
16. MACOMB DAKOTA (14-5-3): The Cougars are hoping to build upon their best season in school history (reached a regional final). There are eight starters back from a team that started 5-0-0, led by junior F Luigi Idhia (All-State Third Team). Junior M Stefano Moraccini, senior M Jack Barnett, senior D Blake Pearce, junior F Brendan Petz, senior M Mario Colella, senior D Christian Cobbs and senior G Aidan Genette all started games last season. Sophomores Garrett Barnett (D), Nestor Nestorovski (M/F) and Brady Zarschler (D) lead the newcomers.
17. CANTON (16-3-2): Ranked in the top five most of last season, the Chiefs were upset in a district semifinal by Salem. There is plenty of older talent which will help Canton reload. Senior M Avery Olson and senior F Jordan Forney are the sole full-time returning starters. Senior G David Sadanowicz, Netorsenior M Brett McGue and senior D Ethan Schiffour will see expanded roles this season. Freshman M Nick Yono is one of the best in the state in his class.
18. TROY (9-4-8): On a 21-member roster, there are 18 hungry seniors who hope to lead Troy to its first state semifinal since 2011. Senior D/M Darius Feier (Detroit Mercy) was All-State Second Team and the leader of this band. Senior D/F Connor Bloomingdale (Oakland) comes back from the Vardar Academy and senior F Joe Mason missed most of last season and is dangerous in front of net. Senior D Matt Panella, senior D/M Ben Kozel (Lehigh), senior M/D Jack Diadato is a D-I recruit who comes over from the Vardar Academy. Senior M Ken Dowling is a crafty playmaker. Seniors Will Myers and Nolan Regan give the Colts two capable goalkeepers.
19. ROCHESTER ADAMS (12-5-4): Back-to-back large graduation classes will leave plenty of opportunity for younger players to shine in this program that has never finished below .the 500 mark since its inception in 1981. The two-time defending OAA Red Division champions, who have reached the state semifinals three of the past eight seasons, are led by three D-I college prospects in senior D/M Alex Kim, a three-time All-State selection, senior M Ben Champion (Western Michigan) and senior D/F Ryan Alda, an All-State Third Team choice last season. Junior D Parker Raymond, senior midfielders Will Wardle and Evan Meek, junior D Erik Hrischuk and senior D/M Parker Huszarik also started games last season. Junior G Logan Janes steps into a starting role. The Highlanders played a front-heavy schedule that resulted in a 6-2-2 mark.
20. ROCHESTER HILLS STONEY CREEK (15-4-4): The Cougars are off to a 5-2-2 start and that was with as many as seven starters out with injuries. Once healthy, the Cougars will be a factor for championships. Senior Mr. Soccer candidate Michael Melaragni is a pure goal scorer and juniors Adam Johns and Alex Vitale, plus sophomores Diego Perez and Sebi Kulyckyj, all started games last season in the midfield. Seniors Ivan Perez and Nick Glazer and sophomore Michael Sloan anchor the backfield. Senior Nathan Bruhan and junior Jorge Thauxtea, a transfer from Tennessee, split time in goal. The Cougars again have four D-I college prospects playing with the Vardar Academy, not competing with the school.
21. NOVI (16-3-4): After making a run to the D-1 semifinals, Novi lost many of its top goal scorers to graduation. But as the top programs often do, they find ways to reload. Senior D Dom Gatson (Detroit Mercy), senior G Luke McDonald, senior F Adam Dellavecchia and sophomore F/M Taiga Shiokawa lead the cast of players looking to keep the Wildcats in the D-1 Top 20. Sophomore M Atef Sikazwe, senior M Michael Jecmen, senior M Jason Mo and sophomore F Blair Mayes are other quality players on the Wildcats’ side. With 12 seniors, Novi began the season 4-3-0.
22. DEXTER (19-6-1): The Dreadnaughts made another long run in the D-2 postseason last year, reaching a regional final before being upset by Dearborn Divine Child. Off to a 6-0-0 start behind a 17-1 scoring edge, Dexter will be defensive minded with the return of senior G Max Harreld and seniors backs Connor Flaherty, Caden Doll, Dominick Burmeister, Jordan Laski and Matt Roller. Seniors Ryan Sander and Cole Harreld lead the offensive attack.
23. UTICA EISENHOWER (9-7-2): Eisenhower was down slightly from its usual spot in the D-1 Top 20, but has gained a number of new players that will help the Eagles become relevant again. Junior M Dominik Nikaj took a year off from soccer last year, sophomore D Shayne Baylet transferred in from Arizona this summer, and both junior F Josh Chunn and sophomore F Michale Alia come back from the Vardar Academy. Throw in talented returning seniors Chris DeClercq (M), Ryan Sturza (M), Michael Honaker (D) and Adam DeJong (F) and the Eagles could become mighty again if this new mix gels.
24. FLINT POWERS (17-4-3): Last season’s D-3 runner-up is poised to make a serious run at the state cup in 2017 behind nine returning starters and 15 total returnees. Seniors Connor Boerman, Trevor Durman and Alan Hill form a stingy defensive unit in front of senior G Brendan Tilden. Seniors Kyle Genord, Andrew Simon, Mason Smith and Dominic Risth all return to the midfield, and senior sniper Bryan Lendzion is the top returning goal scorer. Junior F Blasé Hayes will see a more significant role.
25. LOWELL (18-4-2): No team made bigger inroads into the elite clubs last year than the Red Arrows, a team that won the O-K Blue Division title and climbed to No. 4 in the D-2 rankings in what was the best season in school history. Can Lowell continue the upward trend? Behind a 7-1-0 start, the Red Arrows appear to be cruising behind senior D Elijah Dixon (All-State Third Team) and senior F Johnny Draigh, who missed half of last season but has scored 17 goals this season. Senior M Jay Stadt, senior G Gabs Bendal and junior M Connor Cater are part of a solid cast that have hopes of a fairytale-type season.
26. WARREN DeLaSALLE (14-6-3): After venturing a rebuilding campaign in 2015, the Pilots soared back last season and captured a district title. Junior F Ted Gabryel and junior G Justin Huttenlocher are the only two full-time returning starters. Senior F Richie Corona is off to a fast start and senior F Max Wagner is a scoring threat. Junior Matt Johnson, senior D Garrett Garbarlino, who will return later this season from injury, senior D Sebastian Foltz and senior M Damian Zachary are all quality players. DeLaSalle lost eight players to either the Vardar or Wolves Academy programs.
27. CALEDONIA (12-5-2): The Fighting Scots are a bit of an enigma on the state’s west side. They are always a tough opponent and moved into the OK Conference Red Division last season. But Caledonia has never made a deep run in the Division 1 postseason. Senior Caden Jackman (Western Michigan) is one of the state’s top midfielders and senior Trenton Beamer anchors the back line. Senior strikers Kenny Boorsma and Trenton Sailor, senior Carson Robotham and senior G Alec Morris also return. Juniors Luke Gauthier (F), Pedro Aguillon (M) and Zeke Miller (D) and sophomores Avery (F) and Josh Williams (M) will also be keys players.
28. OKEMOS (14-4-5): The runner-up in the CAAC Red Division turned heads last season when the Chieftains upset then-No. 1 ranked Portage Northern is a district final (2-1). There are several key performers back and Okemos could have the mettle for another tournament run. Senior G Patrick Restrum is solid, while senior Alec Thornburg, juniors Brandel Brogran and Ben Derby and sophomore Alejandro Arana form a tight-knit group in the midfield. Seniors Jacob Mead and Connor Mitchell anchor the defense. Senior Bryce Usiak and sophomores Ty Musiak and John-Luca Migaldi provide punch at the forward position.
29. MIDLAND DOW (18-1-4): The defending Saginaw Valley North Division champions reached a district final last season and may be the top team from Mid-Michigan. Senior F Casey LaRue and junior M Andrey Hofius, junior D Jordan Plewa, senior G Kyle Hop and senior F Jacob Johnson are all college prospects. Senior D Michael McNamara is another quality player, and junior F Adam Elfawal, senior D Micah Olgine, senior D/M Adam Hancock and senior midfielders Cody Glazier and JJ Heronema have all stepped into starting roles. The Chargers started 8-1-0.
30. HARTLAND (18-5-3): Hartland captured its first district title last year since becoming a D-1 school and looks to build on that success story. Senior F Brady Walker (All-State Second Team) and senior M Tony Rizzo were part of an offense that scored a school record 97 goals last season. Senior D/M Corey White, and senior midfielder Ben Martin and Denton Paul are also returning starters. The Eagles must replace its entire back line and goalkeeper all while trying to compete with an upgraded schedule.
31. GRAND BLANC (12-5-5): With a seasoned group, the Bobcats captured the KLAA Tournament last season and made a run to a regional final. Grand Blanc must replace its goalkeeper and starting back line and began the season 3-3-0. There’s still ample talent in the fold led by senior M Chase Clark, junior F Muaz Asperger, senior F Brandon Dellaposta and senior midfielder Jacob Talk, and all back in the starting lineup. Senior M Mohamed Ali, senior F Mark Zachrison and senior D Bryce Bush will also help the cause.
32. MATTAWAN (22-4-2): After being a consistent Division 2/Class B program dating back to the late 1980s, Mattawan finally reached the summit with its first state title in 2016. Senior F/M Evan Marquess, junior F Josh Filiputti and freshman D Chad Harrison are three key players to help to keep Mattawan a contender.
33. EAST LANSING (22-3-2): The Trojans reached the semifinal round again last season and despite the loss of nine starters, one thing can be learned from a Nick Archer-coached teams. East Lansing will reload. Senior midfielders Alden Metzmaker, Petrus Martens and Almir Celovic all saw substantial time on the pitch last season, as did junior F Ansumana Lebbie and senior G Elijah Sheridan. Junior backs Kai Francisco and Paul Carney will plug holes left by graduation. The Trojans started slow this season but look for a strong finish.
34. FRASER (12-7-2): Three years removed from a D-1 semifinal appearance, the Ramblers are still a quality side although not as deep as many D-1 teams. In fact injuries took their toll on the Ramblers last season and they eventually dropped from the Top 20. This year senior D/M Noah Lowe (Lawrence Tech), senior M/F Tyler Waelchli, senior M Alex Mezin and senior G Robbie Quertermous give the Ramblers a solid core, which will help them compete in a deep MAC Red Division.
35. ROCKFORD (13-4-2): The Rams cracked the D-1 Top 20 midway through last season and climbed to the No. 4 spot after winning the loaded O-K Conference Red Division. Rockford has started slowly but is hoping to become the team to escape the west side’s toughest D-1 district. Senior F Aiden Leverett, senior M Colin Kurtz, senior backs Eric Carey and Nate Treisenberg, senior midfielders Will Meachum and Jack Faccio, senior G Jack Meachum and sophomore F Jake Pellerito make up the nucleus for the Rams.
36. DEARBORN DIVINE CHILD (12-8-4): This is a program on the rise and the Falcons hope that last season’s D-2 state runner-up finish was no fluke. Senior Evan Mazurek is one of the state’s top goalkeepers, while junior M/D Matthew Cinzori, senior D Luke Hawyer, senior M Michael Beckert, sophomore F Aidan Bruce all started games in the run. Senior F AJ Leonardo, senior D Jake Pappas, junior D/M Jordan Larsen and junior D Alex Tucker will also be key players. Freshman Gavin Bourdon leads the newcomers.
37. COLDWATER (18-3-1): A 7-1 start should keep Coldwater amongst the top teams in D-2 this season. The program has won 118 games over the past eight years after not even being on the state radar before that. Junior G Ball Nasser (!5 shutouts)senior D Ben Fagen, senior F Jonathan Brownell, senior M/F Mohamed Nagi,, senior M/D Jacob Knaack and junior D Mohamed Saleh are all returning starters. Senior F/M Nasser Nagi, senior M Tyler Kooi, junior D/M Baker Abdullah and sophomore M Sales Mohamed have stepped up their games.
38. LINDEN (16-3-2): The defending Flint Metro League champions were upset in district play last season by Fenton, which eventually reached a state semifinal. Senior F Julian Shear, senior D Nick Koan, senior M Koby Hall, junior D Zane Arnold, junior M Carson Birchmier and sophomore M Ryan Gellspie lead the Eagles, which started 5-1-1.
39. WALED LAKE CENTRAL (13-5-4): The Vikings won the KLAA Central Division last season and will vie for top honors in the newly-created Lakes Valley Association this season. Central has several potential college players, led by senior M Alex Dalou (Western Michigan) and senior M/D Nik Palafox. Junior Jackson Bowers and Brian Ostepanko give the Vikings two very solid keepers. Junior F Alex Sayeg is effective around the net. Senior D Trae Hjorth, senior M Karl Tavadia and senior backs Ray Daniels and Elton Plumbaj are all part of 20 returning letter winners.
40. WALLED LAKE NORTHERN (8-11-2): A rebuilding year has been followed up by a 4-1-1 start. That’s due to 10 returning starters and 19 total players back. Junior D Alex Stulberg has gained plenty of college interest, senior D/M Robbie Precious, junior M Carson Rogers, senior F Nick Dietrich, senior D Arvid Brunsell, senior M Henri Bonkat and sophomore D Kyle Oliver make up the Knights’ core and are making sure last season was just a one-year hiccup. Junior M Noah Hackman leads the newcomers.
41. GRAND RAPIDS CATHOLIC CENTRAL (19-1-4): A season of dreams ended with a Division 3 title last season and the Cougars are looking for another deep run. A 5-2-1 start with a quality schedule should keep C.C. back in the top five when the rankings come out Sept. 11. Senior G Noah Hughes and senior F Alec Winden are both returning All-State First Team players and leaders of this group. Junior D Caden Hunter, a transfer from East Grand Rapids, is another quality player that will keep the Cougars in the hunt. There are nine returning starters back and 13 total players returning.
42. GRAND RAPIDS SOUTH CHRISTIAN (15-5-0): The defending O-K Conference Gold Division champion Sailors captured the D-3 title two years ago and lost in a district semifinal last season. South Christian has a foursome of four-year players in Sam DeVries (M), Matt Hubbard (D), Daniel Scully (D) and Josh Langrak (M) leading the way. Senior C Luke Jager, senior Abe House, junior M Sam Schumaker and junior G Jake Tanis will also be key. Junior F Poh Rey leads the cast of newcomers. The Sailors are 78-11-8 over the past four seasons.
43. GRAND HAVEN (12-5-3): The Buccaneers slipped down on the radar last season but could re-emerge with a strong cast of experienced players. Grand Haven returns its entire midfield with the likes of seniors Tavin Ariel and Trent Perkins along with juniors Mason Mohreek and Jack Deklyyen. Senior G Jake Thayer and senior F Connor Lund are returning starters. Junior goal-scorers Joe Walschuk and Jax Mast lead the newcomers.
44. DETROIT COUNTRY DAY (8-10-2): After winning its state-leading 14th state title in 2011, the Yellowjackets faded somewhat but are now back and could become a threat to make a lengthy run in D-3. Senior D Michael O’Brien, senior F Dylan Prime, junior midfielders Elbert Yi and Gbe Akeel and junior F Kevin Tang all returning starters. Senior Garret Fragnolo and junior Jon Dougherty split time in goal. Freshman M Justin Harris is an elite prospect
45. HOLLAND (17-4-2): With nine returning starters, Holland is looking for one of its better seasons following a year when they already reached a D-2 regional final. A pair of first-team all-state forwards in Daniel Arellano and Jose Penaloza are back, and the Dutch can score in bunches. Senior M Owen Beard, senior D Jesus Morales, and senior M Landyn Beal could help make this team special.
46. BLOOMFIELD HILLS CRANBROOK KINGSWOOD (14-5-0): The defending Catholic League AA Division champs have several returning starters with hopes of another long postseason stay. The Cranes won a district title the past three years. Senior M Colin Canning, senior D Nolan Fisher and junior D Zach Buvalic are three of Cranbrook’s top players who are capable of keeping the Cranes’ tradition alive.
47. MARSHALL (17-4-2): Marshall upset Coldwater in a district semifinal and eventually lost in the D-2 regional semifinals to eventual state champion Mattawan. Junior F Jeremy Luciani, junior D Jack Luciani, senior M Brandon Pace and senior M Reed Shivley give the Redhawks a solid core down the middle of the field. Marshall began the season 6-0-0.
48. GRAND RAPIDS NORTHVIEW (14-6-2): While Northview may not be as strong as its 2010 D-2 state championship team, it will still be competitive. Senior D Collin Cronwell, junior M Jared Cromwell, senior D/M Darien Brown, sophomore D/M Chris Mendez, senior F Zach Mulhesen, senior G Mitch Herman and junior M Jacob Boguslawski are the leaders of this crew. Freshmen Odin Dreyer (F) and Eric Mendez (M) will help.
49. GROSSE ILE (21-3-2): Always a perennial power, there’s no reason the Blue Devils will fsde any time soon. Senior F David Cardinal (All-State First Team), senior M Jacob Sawicki (All-State Second Team) and senior M Christian Drzyga (All-State Third Team) are all back in the fold. Senior G Brendan Eblin and junior M Benedict Tanyi also return. Freshman M Miklos Tanyi is another quality player.
50. PONTIAC NOTRE DAME PREP (16-8-3): A defensive-minded team last season, the Irish strung together some upsets and reached a regional final, the program’s longest run since the early 2000s. There are nine returning starters back for Prep, led by senior M Mitch Morisette and senior F Nick Evans. Senior G Will Baldwin had 10 shutouts a year ago. Senior M Danillo Judd, senior backs Peter Kochanski and Bryan Blakeslee, junior D Evaristo Garcia, and junior midfielders Nolan Mylenek and Tyson Lance are also returning starters.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH
DIVISION 1 — Alpena, Ann Arbor Huron, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Berkley, Birmingham Brother Rice, Birmingham Groves, Birmingham Seaholm, Bloomfield Hills, Clarkston, Dearborn, Dearborn Edsel Ford, Dearborn Heights Crestwood, U-D Jesuit, Grand Ledge, Grand Rapids Union, Grosse Pointe North, Hudsonville, Jenison, Lake Orion, Lapeer, Livonia Churchill, Muskegon Mona Shores, New Baltimore Anchor Bay, Saginaw Heritage, Sterling Heights Stevenson, Walled Lake Western, White Lake Lakeland.
DIVISION 2 — Auburn Hills Avondale, Bay City Western, Chelsea, Coopersville, DeWitt, East Grand Rapids, Fenton, Fruitport, Gibraltar Carlson, Grand Rapids Christian, Haslett, Holland Christian, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, New Boston Huron, Orchard Lake St. Mary’s, Ortonville Brandon, Petoskey, Plainwell, Richland Gull Lake, Riverview, South Lyon, St. Clair Shores Lake Shore, St. Joseph, Stevensville Lakeshore, Tecumseh, Trenton.
DIVISION 3 — Allendale, Alma, Clawson, Coloma, Comstock, Fennville, Frankenmuth, Freeland, Gladwin, Grand Rapids Aviation Academy, Grant, Hudsonville Unity Christian, Imlay City, Jackson Lumen Christi, Kentwood Grand River Prep, Lansing Catholic, Leslie, Livonia Clarenceville, Ludington, Macomb Lutheran North, Parchment, Paw Paw, Richmond, Saginaw Swan Valley, Tawas Area, Whitehall, Williamston, Wyoming Godwin Heights
DIVISION 4 — Adrian Lenawee Christian, Allen Park Inter-City Baptist, Ann Arbor Greenhills, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, Birmingham Roeper, Bridgman, Buckley, Burton Genesee Christian, Charlevoix, Clinton Township Faith Christian, Elk Rapids, Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian, Grandville Calvin Christian, Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, Harbor Beach, Harbor Springs, Hartford, Hillsdale Academy, Jackson Christian, Kalamazoo Hackett, Kalamazoo Heritage Christian, Lansing Christian, Lawton, Leland, Lincoln-Alcona, Marcellus Howardsville Christian, Marlette, Memphis, Midland Calvary Baptist, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central, Muskegon Catholic Central, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, New Buffalo, New Haven, North Muskegon, Plymouth Christian, Riverview Gabriel Richard, Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest, Roscommon, Royal Oak Shrine, Saginaw Valley Lutheran, Sterling Heights Parkway Christian, St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic, Troy Bethany Christian.