By Dan Stickradt
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20. ROCKFORD (22-1-1): Coming off its best season in school history, expectations were still high this year despite 10 players graduating and junior goalkeeper Tegan Gumbs being scooped up into the MLS Next Academy system as one of the best keepers nationally in his age group. The Rams also graduated a ton of firepower from a squad that won 22 games, captured its first regional crown, finished as the D-1 state runner-up, was ranked in the top five most of the campaign, outscored the opposition 77-11 and pitched 15 shutouts. Then at the beginning of this season the injuries began to mount. First, junior Kyle Deming, the backup goalkeeper suffered an injury and his return is unknown -- forcing last year’s junior varsity goalkeeper, senior Sam Himmelspach, into a starting role until Deming returns. Last year’s starting center back, senior Ryan Scheffler (All-District) went down with an injury and missed a few games during the Rams 5-3-1 start. Still, this is a good team in a very deep league (OKC-Red Division). Junior Dugan Black (F/M) was All-League and All-District and started games last season, while senior Brian Goushaw (F) and sophomore Aidan Flanders (M/F) were also in the starting 11 at times last year. Seniors Koby Obenruf (OB), Kaizer Westgate (M, injured most of last season), Owen VanDrie (D), Reid Wyngarden (D) and Sam Coyle (D) and sophomore Adam Flanders, who missed part of last season with injuries, gained some minutes. Juniors Noah Christian (F), Luke Carroll (D), Maximus Renton (M) and Drew Alexander (OB) will also see some increased playing time this year.
19. TROY ATHENS (14-5-2): Now in its 43rd season of soccer, Athens has had only two head coaches (Tim Storch and Todd Heugh) in its history and only one losing season (2005). In total, the Red Hawks have been to the MHSAA Final Four a total of 11 times and Athens also reached the Suburban Coaches Association Final Four in 1981 the year before the MHSAA took over the sport and still won the Class A-B. Athens has captured five MHSAA crowns to go along with that coaches association championship. This year the Red Hawks are back in their usual spot as a team ranked in the Division 1 top 15 or listed as honorable mention, as they are 3-2-2 overall with a scoring edge of 12-7. Athens welcomes back starters in seniors Alex Marine (D), Brody Fahnestock (D), Manny Aigbedo (M), Adriano Shauya (M) and Miguel Ramirez (F) and junior Marc Delikat (M), whose stick is fast rising. Seniors Griffin LaBay (M), Dario Kadiy (M), Luke DiGiovanni (M) and Nik Lulgjuraj (M) have gained more playing time this year. Sophomores Daniel Kadiu (M) and Gavin Faro (D) and junior Nick Rossi (M) are amongst the top newcomers. Senior Andrew Graziosi, who spent last season playing with Vardar MLS Next Academy, returns to the lineup after serving as a backup two years ago. Committed to NCAA Division I Colgate University, he is now the starting goalkeeper.
18. TRAVERSE CITY WEST (18-2-1): Since opening its doors in 1997, Traverse City West has built a soccer program that is just consistently good. The Titans have captured 21 Big North Conference titles (in 25 seasons) with several long postseason runs that includes one state title, two state runner-up trophies and five total Final Four berths. Last year Traverse City West reached the regional semifinals following its league and district titles and that campaign included 14 shutouts and a 90-8 scoring differential. This year the Titans have picked up right where they left off, contending for championships and are ranked again in the top 15. So far this season Traverse City West is 7-0-1 with three clean sheets and have outscored its eight foes, 28-7. Seniors Dougie Rice (D), Ben Carlson (M), Ben Schramski (D) and Jackson Cote (F) and junior Aidan Orth (F/D, All-State Third Team) are the returning starters. Carlson is a fourth-year varsity veteran and Orth had some out-of-state MLS Academy interest. Junior midfielder Brody Plumstead, who sat out last year after transferring over from Maple City Glenn Lake, juniors Trapper Holmes (G), Camden Tkach (G), Collin Ray (OB), Leland Lyon (OB/M) and speedster Jay Hagerman (F/M) and sophomore Landon Ranson (F/M), who transferred over from the St. Louis, Mo., area and played for a very talented Scott Gallagher club, are some of the many talented newcomers. The Titans’ junior varsity was undefeated the past two years.
17. ROYAL OAK (12-5-3): Since Roy Oak Kimball and Dondero merged into the Kimball building and renamed Royal Oak High School in 2006, the district has never seen a start like this season. The Ravens, who were fourth in the OAA White Division, have climbed the Division 1 top15 and are 6-0-2 as of early September playing some very stiff competition. The Ravens have even outscored its opposition 26-6 with four shutouts over eight games. Several players are back that were either full-time or part-time starters last year, including seniors Antonio Acevedo (D), Anthony Antonio (D), Jack Winterburn (F), Steven Sulaiman (M), Ian Browning (F), Griffin McGee (G, All-District Honorable Mention), Owen Soper (M) Tony Seraiocco (G) and Daniel Sullivan (D), along with sophomores Cullen Wicka (D) and Aaron Austin (F). Two other returnees that have earned more playing time are sophomore Davis VanEvery (M) and Cody Schneider (D). Juniors Adam Lampman (F), Owen Miller (M) Zack Morello (D) and promising freshman Baylor Browning (F) make up a talented cast of newcomers vying for playing time on a deep roster.
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16. MUSKEGON REETHS-PUFFER (11-9-2): After finishing only fifth in the OKC Green Division last season, Reeths-Puffer finally clicked and captured a district crown in Division 2. Now they are up in D-1 and nearly firing on all cylinders behind a 7-1-0 start and a top-15 spot in the rankings. Senior forward Keegan Smith (All-State First Team) is resetting the school’s record books on a constant basis and shall break even more records when all is said and done. He is on course to become a four-time All-State performer and has committed to NCAA Division I power Western Michigan University. Senior Gage Hopkins (G) is a great shot-stopper and another fourth-year varsity veteran. Seniors JT Fansler (D), Luke Callender (D), Ethan Pennington (D) and Kyler Brainard (M) along with junior Nick Clemens (F/M) are also returning starters and part of a cohesive group that has only played one bad half of soccer this season. There are 16 total players back with varsity experience, with sophomore Owen Ritsema (M/F), seniors Levi Carlson (M) and Evan Loveland (D) and junior Ian Wright (F) also contributing.
15. ROCHESTER ADAMS (17-1-6): After landing in fourth place and being one of five state ranked schools form the talent-laden OAA Red Division last season, the Highlanders put it all together when it mattered most by winning their first Division 1 state championship since 199 and reaching the school’s seventh Final Four – fifth under current coach Josh Hickey. Although a very talented cast graduated and senior NCAA Division I recruit goalkeeper John Coon (All-State First Team) moved onto the Vardar MLS Next Academy, there’s still a strong core back this season. Adams opened up 5-0-0 with five shutouts before a severe weather storm occurred with a pair of uncharacteristic losses occurred (7-3 to Clarkston and 4-0 to Oxford). The Highlanders responded with two more shutouts and are 7-2-0 to begin the season. Seniors Jackson Craft (D/F, All-State First Team), Nick Hopkins (CB) and Colton Janes (M) and junior Anthony Page (D) are the returning starters. Junior Brendan Duff (M) and seniors Henry Hall (D), Bryan Moradshahi (M), Oliver Youngman (F/D), Niko Efthyvoulidis (M) and Young Xu (D) have all moved into the starting lineup for a team that still owns a 17-11 scoring edge. Freshman Max Craft (D) and sophomore Brian You (D) are some talented newcomers. Junior Reid Dennis and freshman Sam Beach (6-foot-4) share the goalkeeping duties with Reid serving as Coon’s backup last season. They have combined for seven shutouts.
14. PORTAGE CENTRAL (13-5-4): Another program that is a model of consistency, the Mustangs reached the Division 1 regional finals the last two seasons and have reached the Final Four three times in program history. Central has never won a state title in boys soccer. There are six returning starters back, including junior Aiden Phenicie (M) and seniors Hunter Meninga (All-League and All-District), CJ Branch (D), Michael Mackay (D), Sawyer Lindstrom (M) and Brycen Handley (F) for a team that has outscored the opposition 28-4 with seven shutouts and is 7-0-2 to start the year. Seniors Jackson Kiszka (G) and Keegan VanLiere-Varney (D), juniors Michael Kaczmarski (F) and Logan Jezewski (D) and sophomore Gavan Sherman (F) also return in uniform. Amongst the talented newcomers are sophomore Max Bailey (F) and Will Tarpley (D). The Mustangs were third in the regular season of the SWMAC last season but came back and won the SWMAC Gold Bracket League Tournament.
13. DEARBORN EDSEL FORD (16-6-0): While nearby rivals Dearborn, Dearborn Fordson and Dearborn Heights Crestwood have had some success in the past, Edsel Ford has recently come on strong, especially this year. After finishing as the co-champs of the Downriver League last year the Thunderbirds captured a Division 1 district championship before being ousted in the D-1 regional semifinals to Saline (4-0). Last year’s totals were some of the best in school history – 16 wins, a 81-21 scoring edge and nine shutouts. About the only knock against Edsel Ford is overall strength of schedule. This year the Thunderbirds have climbed into the top15 behind four clean sheets and another large scoring differential (40-8) and that is despite graduating five All-League First Team players. Seniors Yousef Alayamani (M), Emir Fradi (D, All-District) andAli Asfar (F). Juniors Ali Barman (M), Saqer Nasser (G) and Maslim Alahwas (M) along with sophomore Harith Nasser (M) have stepped into the starting 11. Sophomores Abdulrahman Alsawaf (F) and Khaled Award (D) and junior Mohamed Ali (D) are the top newcomers that have aided Edsel Ford’s assent.
12. GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS NORTHERN (15-4-3): Siting near the cut-off line of Division 2 and Division 1 during the last decade, it doesn’t matter what division the Huskies land in each year, they are simply a competitive side. Last season they reached the D-2 Final Four and have now been to that stage four times in the last decade, including the D-2 state title in 2019 and the D-2 state runner up showing in both 2015 and 2018. This year’s group is in the midst of a multi-school race in the OKC White Division and currently ranked in the top 15 in Division 1. Seniors Ryan Abramowski (G), Jaden Polizzi (D, All-League, All-District), Grant Ferguson (D, All-League, All-District), Grayson Traynor (M), Tyler McGlaun (M) and Aaron Knibble (M) are returning starters. Seniors Jonas Baar (F), Gabe Schafer (D), Connor Argenzio (M) and Marcos Lopez-Robinson (M) are enjoying more minutes this season. One new impact newcomer is senior forward Isiah Meyer, who comes over from the MLS Next Academy circles.
11. SALINE (18-4-2): Last year the Hornets saw the Christian Rossi end, as one of the school’s all-time greats and a very talented class graduated from Saline and with the prep All-America players many accolades. Last year was simply one of the best in school history. Saline captured the SEC Red Division crown, won a district title, spent most of the year in the top 15, outscored its foes 80-25, picked up 11 shutouts and reached the Division 1 regional finals before falling 1-0 in overtime to Salem on a controversial call. Defensive-minded Saline is again back into the top 15 and with its 3-0-3 start is still a tough team to beat, although the scoring punch (13-2) isn’t where it has been during the past decade.
Senior Connor Mitzel (M) is a fourth-years veteran, while seniors Colin Learman (D/M), Noah Lepore (D) and Michael Bryant (M/F) are third-year veterans. Seniors Gunnar Bohlendar (G) and Jacob Pianatoglou (G) are splitting duties between the pipes. Senior Lucas Caruana (M), Sean Courtney (M), Anthony Gentile (F), Nicholas Graden (D) and Alex Larson (M) along with juniors William Loveland (D) and Jackson Phillips (M). Sophomores Bryce Nadig (M), Zach Heisler (F) and Micah Gray (M), senior Cole Townsend (D) and junior Juan Balda (F)
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