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BOYS SOCCER Community-oriented Mason making another run towards title dreams


BY DAN STICKRADT

WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR

Twitter: @MiSoccerNetwork


MASON, Mich. – Every now and then Jacob Derby runs into John Gillengerten at church. Like any mentor and former coach, Gillengerten is quick to trade off stories and give some friendly advice to Derby.


The two have a lot in common and a pure love for the game of soccer and the community of Mason.


Gillengerten coached boys soccer at Mason High School, which is in a suburb south of Lansing around 20 miles to the south and built a state powerhouse program back in the 1980s and 1990s. Nick Binder took the torch for several years and is now an assistant coach – and now Derby is in his sixth season at the helm of the program, which is back on the rise once again and reclaiming its status as a state powerhouse.


“I see him now and again at church,” noted Derby about running into Gillengerten at Life Christian Church south of Lansing. “He used to be the head coach for years and retired from being a teacher a few years ago. I’ll run into him and we’ll talk soccer and trade off stories. He’ll sometimes give me some advice.”



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In a nutshell, Mason is a tight-knit community. Everyone knows everyone and if you play sports for the Bulldogs, the ties can resonate throughout the community and can last a lifetime. Derby is a former four-year varsity soccer player back in the 1990s and a three-time All-State selection. Many of his life-long friends played sports at Mason and still reside in the Lansing area and several within the Mason school district. He had siblings that also suited up for the Bulldogs.


Derby is in his sixth season as boys soccer head coach at Mason High School. His Bulldogs have been ranked in the Division 2 Top 15 all season and rightfully so. The program has quite a bit of history and this year’s group is the best in a few years and enjoying quite a run through the Division 2 state tournament.


These days, Mason (12-2-5) is back in the Final Four for the first time since 2015. That was when the Bulldogs were a nationally-ranked squad which captured a lot of championship hardware along the way including the Division 2 state title.


This year Mason returned the bulk of its roster, which has led to an impressive 66-10 scoring edge in 19 games with 11 shutouts. The Bulldogs are 7-1-2 over their last 10 games with the last loss coming on Oct. 3 in the CAAC Gold Tournament semifinals to Holt (2-1). In that 10-game stretch, Mason holds a 50-4 edge on the scoreboard with seven shutouts and seemingly peaking at the right time.


In four tournament games, the Bulldogs own a 15-1 scoring differential with three shutouts and the run included impressive wins over quality sides Parma Western (5-0), Riverview (2-1) and Dearborn Divine Child (3-0) to go along with a clean sheet victory over Jackson Northwest (5-0) in the district semifinals.


“You always want to be playing your best soccer late in October and we’ve been playing really well the last few weeks,” noted Derby.



Mason has won its fair of titles over the years. Dating back to Gillengerten’s first season way back in 1982, the Bulldogs have captured 24 conference championships, 23 district titles and 10 regional crowns.


Mason is now in the Final Four for the 10th time in 42 seasons of varsity soccer and will face unranked Warren De La Salle at 6 p.m. Wednesday at North Farmington High School. A berth in the state finals is on the line for the Bulldogs, who have made five appearances in the state title game in school history. Mason finished as the Class B state runner-up back in 1986, while the program also captured Class B crowns in 1989 and 1990 and Division 2 titles in both 1997 and 2015.


Last year’s team started slow but still won a district title despite a 8-14-1 record. That team was young and most of that roster returned this year, creating some much loftier expectations for 2023. The Bulldogs lost in the regional semifinals last season, but historically the team also lost in the regional finals five other times and district semifinals eight other times. Expectations for success never really fade away.


This year, all of Mason’s starting lineup made either the first team or honorable mention on the All-Capital Area Athletic Conference Red Division team with several others making All-District or All-District Honorable Mention. A few of them could also wind up on the All-Region squad and maybe somewhere on the All-State lists.


Senior Lucas Nay (M/F) is a fourth-year varsity veteran and a two-time All-State selection, including All-State Second Team last season. Junior Blendi Jahiri (M) was All-State Honorable Mention last year and both have been instrumental in leading the charge back to prominence.




Juniors Colin Winters (M), Alex Palmer (M), Mendi Rexhedi (F), Colin Lomax (D) and Maddox Armour (D), seniors Keegan Betts (D) and Luke Petee (D), a pair of fourth-year veterans, and sophomores Brandon Nay (M), Mikey Krysiak (G) and Brook Straub (F) have all made impacts for the Bulldogs in 2023.


“We brought back a lot of guys from last year, and even at the end of last season I think things were starting to come together a little bit,” recalled Derby. “I thought with the amount of guys we had coming back that we could be very good this season. A lot of these guys are playing well and we have a solid sophomore goalkeeper playing really well and a solid sophomore class overall. (The sophomores) have really jelled with the seniors and juniors.”


Again, Mason is having quite a season and is one win away from making a sixth appearance on the final day of the season. It is a close community with many ties on this year’s team to teams of yesterday.


“We have four boys on our roster that have dads play for our 1997 state championship team,” boasted Derby. “How cool is that?”

Collin Winters’ dad is Evan Winters; Collin Lomax’s father is Nick Lomax; sophomore Wesley Rogers’ dad is Tim Rogers; while sophomore Cameron Mayer’s father is Shaun Mayer. Over the years, there has been several other connections within the soccer program, from siblings to cousins and fathers and uncles from former teams now on the sidelines watching their offspring and nephews.



“I think that shows how close this town is when you have four fathers from a state championship team whose kids just happen to play varsity soccer all these years later,” noted Derby. “They get to see their kids make a long (tournament) run just like they did.


“We’re excited to be here in the Final Four,” continued Derby. “I know the boys will be ready. I think they would love nothing more than to play for the state championship this weekend.”

As for Gillengerten?


“I’m sure if we make it (to the finals) he’ll be there,” laughed Derby.

So will most of the town of Mason and multi-generations of those who grew up there or are growing up in the community.


That’s Mason.


It’s soccer team is good again.



(To report state tournament results, email pertinent details to both stickradt@michigansoccernetwork.com and jonathan@michigansoccernetwork.com)



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