BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
NORTHVILLE, Mich. – Nick Settle felt a little bit of pressure at the beginning of the 2023 season.
Northville graduated a ton of talent. Many of the key players at the goalkeeper, center back or outside back positions departed. In terms of starters in the backfield, Nick Settle was it.
“I already knew that we could score goals. We had a lot of guys that could score that were back from last season. But who was going to help keep the ball out of the goal? That was the question I had in my mind. We graduated all three goalies from last year and most of our (defensemen) graduated, too,” said Settle.
Northville graduated 16 players from last season’s team with one current junior opting to play in the MLS Next Academy system. The 6-foot, 165-pound Settle is the sole returning starter in the backfield and is an experienced, third-year starter and is quite the competitor.
Two years ago, Settle was a sophomore starting on varsity – with over 130 kids trying out for soccer at Northville each year freshmen almost never make varsity and sophomores only start when they are really good – and he made his mark on a team laden with juniors and seniors. Settle was an All-KLAA and All-District choice as a 10th-grader for a team that captured the KLAA West Division, KLAA Tournament, district and regional trophies and finished 17-2-4. The Mustangs also reached the Final Four for just the second time in school history that season before falling to eventual Division 1 state champion Okemos (1-0).
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“We had a great year when I was a sophomore, but I had a lot of underclassmen to look up to,” noted Settle. “That was a great experience winning all of those championships and getting to the Final Four (in 2021). Last year we had a really good record but didn’t win any championships. That was disappointing. We were second to Salem every time (in 2022).”
Indeed, Northville finished a very respectable 13-3-4 overall last season with Settle again playing center back, but the team finished second to Salem in the KLAA-West standings and lost in the district finals to the Rocks. That shortfalls was only more fuel to the fire burning inside of Settle and his teammates.
Now a senior, Settle, who had been a part of 34 shutouts as a third-year starter in Northville’s backfield – his teams are a combined 49-7-9 over that three-year span – has elevated his game personally and would nothing more than to help his team accomplish some great things down the stretch.
Northville has never won a state title in boys soccer and never even played in the state finals in school history. The Mustangs boys soccer team is 0-2 in Final Four games entering this week all while Northville’s girls soccer program has won three state titles and finished as the state runner-up twice.
“Our girls soccer team is always so good,” beamed Settle. “I’ve seen some (banners) at our school. But our boys (soccer) program has not won one before. That is something that we’ve dreamed about.”
Settle and the Mustangs are 19-2-1 this season with the two losses coming to fellow KLAA-West member Brighton. Northville has outscored the opposition 76-17 this year with 11 clean sheets and posted a team goals-against-average of 0.78 all while playing high levels of competition.
Settle and his Northville teammates understand the magnitude of this year’s deep run and high aspirations. The second-ranked Mustangs, who have won 14 of their last 15 games and have only tasted defeat twice to Brighton (2-1 and 1-0), will face host and third-ranked Troy Athens on Wednesday in the Division 1 state semifinals at 7 p.m. Athens is riding a 15-game win streak and have outscored the opposition 59-7 in that span after a slow start.
“I was reading on (Michigan Soccer Network’s) web site the other day how Athens is in the Final Four something like 13 times. They have a lot of history,” noted Settle, who was All-State Honorable Mention in 2022 but was listed on the Michigan Soccer Network’s Top 45 Field Players to Watch list at the beginning of the 2023 season. He is considered one of the state’s top defensemen overall and in particular one of the best center backs.
“I’m really looking forward to playing them,” he continued. “I love playing in games like this. It’s what you have practiced for all season.”
Personally, Settle is a college recruit, talking to some NCAA Division I and Division II schools in the past year. He will likely play down in the NAIA or Division III to start his collegiate career and try to get his grades up so he can potentially enter the transfer portal in a couple of years. But for now, Settle and Co. is only concentrating on the task at hand – and that is winning a pair of games in the final week of the 2023 high school season.
Henry Klimes, Northville’s veteran head coach, has nothing but great things to say about his backfield captain.
“Nick’s the only won that started two years ago when we reached the state semifinals.,” said Klimes. “He’s a very talented kid and has meant so much to our program. We’ve had some great players over the years and Nick is right up there with them. I don’t know how many (All-State) Dream Team or (All-State) First Team players I’ve coach exactly, but if Nick is up there this year it will be well-deserved.”
Northville’s next opponent is Athens, which owns six state titles in its school history in eight overall trips to the state finals. Both Brighton and Rockford, which play in the other state semifinal Wednesday at East Lansing, have each been to the show one time apiece but like Northville are vying for their first state title this week.
“I know we’re all going to give it everything we have against Athens and if we can win we’ll give it everything we have in the finals against Brighton or Rockford,” noted Settle. “Being here as a senior is a dream come true and I know we’ve all dreamed of winning a state championship one day. We have two more to go.”