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Boys Soccer Top Players Preview: Melaragni of Stoney Creek named top player, Dzafic of E. Kentwood is top goalie

Soccer   | Dan Stickradt

Boys Soccer Top Players Preview: Melaragni of Stoney Creek named top player, Dzafic of E. Kentwood is top goalie

Rochester Hills – Not long ago basketball was Michael Melaragni’s favorite sport.

Always tall for his age group, Melaragni had his heart set on playing college basketball.

His soccer-playing skills ended those thoughts, however.

Although Melaragni, a senior at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek and a two-sport star, still has a passion for basketball but his major impact is on the soccer pitch. 

And scoring goals is his specialty.

For good measure, he’s one of the state’s best high school players, entering the 2017 season as one of the leading candidates for Mr. Soccer, given annually by the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association to the state’s top player.

“I just go out there and do what I can to help my team win games,” Melaragni said. He’s also in the top 10 in his class academically with a 4.0 GPA. 

“When I was in elementary school and even in middle school, I wanted to play basketball. I dreamed of playing college basketball. But I started to get better at soccer. Then I realized that soccer was my best sport.”

Melaragni made varsity as a freshman. He was All-State Third Team as a sophomore and All-State First Team in Division 1 as a junior.

He tallied just one goal his freshman season, scored 11 as a sophomore and set a single-season school record last season with 29 goals.

He earned All-State honorable mention honors in basketball as a junior as he averaged 12 points and 10.5 rebounds in leading the Cougars to their first district championship (Class A) and spot in a regional final. Stoney Creek lost to eventual state champion Clarkston.

Melaragni is off on a tear this season scoring 16 goals in nine games for a young team that has played games with as many as seven starters on the sidelines. He is simply taking over games and demoralizing opposing defenses.

Melaragni has a similar, strong physical makeup of the past two Mr. Soccer winners, Traverse City West’s Dalton Michael (2016) and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central’s Anthony Bowie (2015). Melaragni stands around 6-4 and weighs 200 pounds.

 

“He’s a great player,” said coach Doug Steinard, in his first season at Stoney Creek. Steinard spent the last four seasons at Auburn Hills Avondale. “He’s one of the best in the state. He can just take over. He scores against everybody.”

Melaragni is tall, fast, physical and has a knack for finding the back of the net. And both Division I Western Michigan and Oakland University have taken notice of this budding talent who opted not to play in the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy system. Instead he plays high school soccer and club soccer with Rochester Select Soccer Club.

He is expected to wait and make his college decision at a later date in the hopes that more Division I schools will jump into the fold. 

Melaragni joins East Kentwood senior goalkeeper Haris Dzafic and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central senior forward Eric Connerty as part of a small group of frontrunners for Mr. Soccer. Advancing beyond the districts will bolster Melaragni’s chances for the award, something that Stoney Creek has not done since 2013.

The Cougars lost in a district final the past two years. 

Melaragni said he never considered playing for one of the state’s two U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy programs, which is a 10½ month commitment. He would have had to quit playing basketball and soccer for his high school in order to go in that direction.

“There was no way I was going to do that. You can't play D.A. and still have time to play basketball, and you have to give up playing soccer for your high school because they (overlap) in the fall,” said Melaragni. “That wasn’t an option for me.” 

As a two-sport athlete and his stellar grade-point-average, there are likely more scholarship offers to come.

“I know a lot of (winning Mr. Soccer) has to do with how far you go in the playoffs, and I know you can gain more exposure by (advancing further),” added Melaragni. “It would be cool to win. But we just want to win our league and district and see what happens. Stoney Creek has never won a state title before. There’s so many good teams in this area. I hope we can get lucky and go far this season.”

— For a detailed look at some of the state’s top boys soccer talents, take a glance below and see the StateChampsNetwork’s players to watch chart:

 

TOP FIELD PLAYERS

 

1. MICHAEL MELARAGNI, Rochester Stoney Creek sr. F: See related story.

 

2. ERIC CONERTY, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central sr. M/F: After Conerty earned D-1 All-State Second Team status as a freshman in 2014, the Butler-bound Conerty opted to play the past two years with the Michigan Wolves Academy. He is now back to help Central try to win its second title in three years. He is exceptionally crafty with the ball and counters with an accurate shot. 

3. ALEX KIM, Rochester Adams sr. D/M: An All-State choice the past three years, including D-1 All-State First Team in 2016, Kim is versatile to play all over the field. Michigan, Yale and Columbia have shown great interest in him in recent months. Look for Kim to choose an Ivy League school. What makes Kim special is that he is a lock-down defender, great in the air, can distribute and also score in the clutch. His soccer IQ is quite proficient.

4. BROOKS BENNETT, Plymouth sr. M: Displaying great pace and field vision from the midfield, Bennett is the engine that makes the Wildcats go. He was D-1 All-State Second Team last season and slated for higher honors this season. If Plymouth makes a lengthy run this postseason, Bennett will be part of that fuel. He is a D-I level field general.

5. CHRISTIAN FREITAG, Salem sr. M: Named to the D-1 All-State Second Team last season, Freitag is Salem’s sparkplug. He is primarily a playmaker who is gaining plenty of D-I and D-II interest. But what makes this player special is his ability to step up in the clutch. He scored five goals in the state tournament last season as the Rocks reached a regional final. 

6. RYAN PIERSON, Detroit Catholic Central sr. M/F: Talk about lighting in a bottle. Pierson is extremely fast with the ball, making him a nightmare to mark. The fact that he has great touch and can score and distribute with the best of them makes him even more effective. Unheralded as All-State Honorable Mention his junior season, Pierson recently committed to Division II powerhouse Saginaw Valley State. 

7. ALEJANDRO STEINWASCHER, Utica Ford sr. M: Steinwascher’s father, brother and sister were all All-State Dream Team players and the youngest sibling is trying to make a name for himself. With scholarship offers coming from D-I and D-II schools, Steinwascher recently committed to D-II University of Indianapolis. The playmaker also has a knack of scoring clutch goals. He was D-1 All-State Second Team last year.

8. HAYDEN STROBEL, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern sr. D: In a year of standout center backs and marking backs, Strobel played in the shadows of Dream Team players the past two years but hopes to lead his school to its first state title and leave his own legacy. Extremely fast and strong on the ball, Strobel is the anchor in the backfield. Strobel carries a 4.1 GPA and is another player starting to gain plenty of interest from D-I and D-II schools.

9. DAWSUN SCHRUM, Sterling Heights Stevenson sr. F: Tabbed as one of the most talented players in Macomb County, Schrum dazzled last season enough to earn D-1 All-State Second Team honors. The 5-11 speedster is exceptionally fast and is proficient from 30 yards in. A quality baseball prospect, Schrum is being recruited by a handful of schools and his stock should continue to rise. 

10. LUIGI IDHIA, Macomb Dakota sr. F: After transferring to Dakota less than two years ago, Idhia led the Cougars to the D-1 regional finals last season. He is a pure goal scorer, completely offensive-minded with the knack for the goal. He had 11 goals as a junior (All-State Third Team) and is well on his way to surpass that this season. He’s a steal for a college roster looking for a player who has nose for the goal.

11. BRADY WALKER, Hartland sr. M/F: Walker was part of an offense that scored 92 goals last season with Walker tallying 33. Named to the All-State Third Team after leading the Eagles to their first D-1 district title, Walker is another talent who is now on the radar of college coaches.

12. MASON SMITH, Flint Powers sr. M: The Chargers lost in the D-3 final and Smith was his team’s top player. The consummate team player, Smith scored 14 goals with seven assists to earn All-State First Team honors and Flint Journal Player of the Year status.

13. DANIEL ARELLANO, Holland sr. M/F: One of two returning D-2 All-State First Team athletes for Holland, Arellano is better known for his crafty ways in generating offense. Last season he nabbed 15 goals and a school record 19 assists for a team that reached the elite eight.

14. JOSE PENALOZA, Holland sr. F: Part of the Dutch’s dynamite duo, along with the aforementioned Arellano, Penazola had 27 goals and 10 assets for a 17-4-2 team that reached a regional final. He is the type of player that demands the ball and can deliver. Shared Holland Sentinal Player of the Year honors in 2016 with teammate Arellano.

15. JAYLEN SHANNON, St. Joseph sr. D: A two-time All-State player in D-2, the 6-3, 200-pound Shannon is an imposing figure and physical presence. Notching six goals and 11 assists from his center back position last season, Shannon scored five goals the first two weeks this season. He is a proven winner, winning State Cup and Super Y National Championship with his Kalamazoo Kingdom club team. Dominate in the air, Shannon has committed to Western Michigan.

16. JUSTIN SCHULTZ, Livonia Stevenson sr. D: Part of Stevenson’s return to prominence has been aided by players like Schultz, who is one of the state’s top defensive-minded players. He is a big and strong center back who earned All-State Third Team last season. On the club side, he has won three State Cup titles with the Michigan Jaguars.

17. TROY BORMANN, Berkley sr. F: After collecting 16 goals and 10 assists as a junior, where he earned D-1 All-State Third Team status, Bormann is slated for a big year. Being recruited by a number of schools, Bormann is hoping to lead the Bears to its deepest run to date.

 

18. LUKE MORRELL, Plainwell sr. F: Part of three straight D-2 district title teams, Morrell is certain to shine once again. He was named All-State Second Team last year and should be the focus point in Plainwell’s offense. Recently committed to Oakland.

19. BLAKE SUNDERMAN, Ann Arbor Skyline sr. D: His coaching staff has nicknamed him a bulldog in the back due to his tenacious style of play. Sunderman was named D-1 All-State Honorable Mention last season for a team that finished 20-1-0. He stars defensively with his Michigan Wolves MRL club team.

20. CASEY LARUE, Midland Dow sr. M/F: Called a difference maker by a coach in the Saginaw Valley League, LaRue is entertaining scholarship offers for next season. He earned D-1 All-State Honorable Mention honors for an 18-1-4 team because he is such an unselfish, strong, fast and patient player. He noted 18 goals and 11 assists last season and should surpass that total this season. He also stars for the Midland Fusion club team. 

21. CADEN JACKMAN, Caledonia sr. D/M: Committed to Oakland, the Midwest United club prospect earned D-1 All-State Honorable Mention honors last season. He can both defend and create scoring opportunities.

22. DOMINIC GATSON, Novi sr. D: Committed to Detroit-Mercy, Gatson is shutdown defender and a threat off restarts. The Wildcats made a run to a D-1 semifinal last season and Gatson was part of 14 shutouts along the way. He earned All-State Third Team honors and is slated for bigger things this season. 

23. ALEX DALOU, Walled Lake Central sr. M: Named D-1 All-State Honorable Mention last season, Dalou is a crafty set-up player who simply knows how to win. Committed to Western Michigan, Dalou aided his Michigan Jaguars club team to the MRL national semifinals this past summer. 

24. ADIS GURIC, East Kentwood sr. F: Last season Guric collected 10 goals and nine assists (D-1 All-State Honorable Mention). He proved to be quite effective against top level competition, scoring clutch goals down the stretch of the regular season and state championship tournament run. He’s just the latest in a long string of great field players to don the Falcons uniform.

25. TED GABRYEL, Warren DeLaSalle jr. F: The Pilots took a major step forward last season and won a D-1 district title and Gabriel was a major force behind that upgrade. He finished as the team’s leading scorer and is now being recruited by D-I and D-II schools.

26. AVERY OLSON, Canton sr. M: Playing in the shadow of several Canton All-State athletes in recent years, Olson is one of the state’s better high school talents. He has great vision, touch, counters with great decision making abilities and knows how to get the ball to the right teammate. He’s another player that is finally getting his due by gaining attention of both large and small college recruiters.

 

27. EVAN MARQUESS, Mattawan sr. M/F: Wherever Marquess plays, that team turns out to be a winner. He was one of the go-to players on Mattawan’s D-2 state championship team and has played for the Kalamazoo Kingdom’s state cup and national championship teams. Named All-State Honorable Mention, Marquess can dazzle with the ball and is also a clutch performer, scoring eight goals with three assists in last year’s state tourney run. 

28. ZACHARY CEPO, Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central soph. M/F: Cepo debuted by scoring 10 goals and setting an MHSAA state record with 48 assists (D-3 All-State First Team). Cepo plays club ball for the Toledo Celtic MRL squad and competes in the Ohio ODP system. He scored four goals with two game winners and six assists in his team’s first four games this year and is clearly one of the state’s top sophomore prospects.

29. ALEC WINDEN, Grand Rapids Catholic Central sr. F: One of the top players in D-3 last season, Winden is another striker who has a knack for scoring big goals in clutch situations. Amongst CC’s point leaders the past three years, Winden is also a standout with his Midwest United MRL team. 

30. RYAN WISNIEWSKI, Gladwin sr. F: This program has landed on the D-3 map in recent seasons, going to the Final Four in 2015 and regional finals in 2016, and Wisniewski is a big part of that success. He is an all-league and all-region sprinter in track and carries that speed onto the soccer pitch. Last season he was among the state leaders in goals with 46 tallies and 18 assists and entered his senior campaign with 104 goals and 41 assists. D-II schools are recruiting because Wisniewski is not bashful to score on any opponent. He was All-State First Team last season.

31. JON KRAEUTER, Jackson sr. M: Perhaps one of the best players to come out of the Jackson area in the past decade or so, the reigning Jackson Citizen Patriot Player of the Year was D-1 All-State Honorable Mention last season and even more impressive to start this season. He finished with 18 goals and 14 assists last season during a school record-setting campaign that saw the Vikings win 15 games, notch 82 goals as a unit and record nine shutouts. He is the type of player that seems to be all over the field and effective whenever he touches the ball.

32. JEREMY LUCIANI, Marshall jr. F: Big, fast and powerful, the offensive-minded Luciani stands 6-foot-6 and is a load to mark. He counters with great speed and agility, has a powerful shot with solid 1-on-1 skills. Throw in his height and how dangerous he is on restarts. Luciani, a twin, was D-2 All-State Honorable Mention for a team that reached the regional finals after collecting 16 goals, six game-winners, and five assists. 

33. JOHNNY DRAIGH, Lowell sr. F: A knee injury suffered in basketball two winters ago caused Draigh to miss half of last soccer season. Now that he is healthy, the speedy scorer has 17 goals in his team’s 7-1 start. He is now landing on radars of opposing teams and also on college scouting reports. Remember, Lowell was cemented in the D-2 top 10 last year and finished 18-4-2. Draigh may help push them even further.

34. JULIAN SHIER, Linden sr. F: Linden’s program has grown substantially in recent years and Shier is part of that winning recipe. Last season he earned D-2 All-State Third Team status after leading his team in scoring and to 16 wins. 

35. MICAH SONNENBERG, Brooklyn Columbia Central jr. F/M: An ODP Region II team member, Sonnenberg also shines at the prep level as a pure goal scorer. He has