BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
PLAINWELL, Mich. – Ryan Beauregard doesn’t mind flying under the radar, especially with his Plainwell boys soccer team.
The first-year head coach and 2010 Plainwell graduate spent several years as an assistant to the now retired Gerry Snyder before taking over the Tigers program this summer. Beauregard made some changes to the lineup and field formation – and it is starting to pay dividends late in the 2023 campaign.
“Early in the season we made some changes and we were up and down a little bit,” recalled Beauregard. “We beat (then-top-ranked Richland) Gull Lake and I thought that maybe we could be good, but then we turned around and lost three of our next four games.”
That start to the season is all a distant past. Plainwell is not the same team it was two months ago.
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Although Plainwell’s girls soccer team has won state championships or finished as the state runner-up a few times in its past, the Tigers boys soccer team has yet to win a state crown. Unranked the whole season in 2023, Plainwell is one of a handful of teams remaining in one of the four divisions that still was not ranked entering the postseason.
“That’s fine by me,” offered Beauregard. “It’s kind of a distraction, really.”
The Tigers have won six games in a row with a 25-4 scoring edge and three shutouts in that stretch. Plainwell is 10-2-0 over its last 12 games. The Tigers (14-8-1) advanced to the Division 2 regional finals with a 3-2 victory Tuesday over Wolverine Conference rival Edwardsburg to keep their dream season alive as an unranked side. It marks the first time since 2017 that Plainwell played in the regional round of the state tournament.
So far this season Plainwell has outscored the opposition 49-21 with 10 shutouts entering Thursday’s Division 2 regional finals against top-ranked Holland Christian, which also defeated the Tigers 2-0 in a non-conference matchup back on Sept. 8. Plainwell is one win away from the Final Four and playing its best soccer to date behind a senior-laden team.
Versatile senior Mason Meert is a fourth-year varsity veteran who has played a multitude of positions ranging from goalkeeper to center back to attacking midfielder and more during his career. Senior attacking midfielder Logan Beauregard, the coach’s youngest sibling, is a third-year starter and a leader of this band. Seniors Gage Truitt (F), Luke Johnson (M), Connor Wilson (CB), Andrew Eldred (G) and Zack Holtman (M/F) are some of the Tigers’ top players this season. Sophomore Sahil Zazai (F) has been a pleasant surprise and one of the team’s top newcomers.
During Plainwell’s district semifinal game with Marshall, the two teams battled to a 1-1 draw entering a penalty kick shootout. Knowing what type of shot-blocker Mason Meert is, Beauregard talked to some his players and opted to stick in Meers between the pipes.
“Mason didn’t even have gloves or a goalkeeper shirt because he hasn’t played there for a couple of years. But he stepped up and played goalie in the shootout and ended up stopping three penalties,” noted Beauregard. “He’s such an outstanding athlete.”
That’s what the Tigers have – a collection of quality, hard-working athletes that have bought into the team concept and play well together. In total there are 11 seniors on the roster along with some talented underclassmen climbing the ranks – all eager to erase history and get the Tigers into the coveted Division 2 Final Four.
“We may not have a ton of kids that play for some of the larger clubs. Some grow up playing for the local club (Plainwell Force) and they get used to playing with one another for years,” said Beauregard. “Some may go onto bigger clubs once they get to high school but you can’t replace that (camaraderie) that these boys have playing together for a long time.”
The unranked Tigers have shown great improvement over the course of the season and came away with a district title last week after upsetting No. 2-ranked and defending Division 2 state champion Richland Gull Lake. The Blue Devils won state titles in 2020 and 2022 and reached the state semifinals in 2018 and 2021 – and have been one of the most consistent programs in all of Michigan during the last decade.
Plainwell also defeated Richland Gull Lake 1-0 back on Aug. 21 during a season-opening stretch where the Tigers started 2-3-1.
“There was a time there where we didn’t try to schedule them,” admitted Beauregard of nearby Gull Lake which is less than 15 miles away. “We used to be in the same conference years ago but they have done so well recently that we didn’t schedule them again until this year.
“When (Gull Lake head coach Jeff Corstange) was coaching the Gull Lake girls (team) I was his assistant for one season. I learned a lot from Jeff,” said Beauragard. “I coached under Gerry Snyder and he was here for a long time. I can say I honestly learned a lot from both of them.”
Gull Lake’s boys soccer team only lost three times this season – and two of those losses were to Plainwell.
“When we beat them the first time I can honestly say that they were the better team. They are very experienced with all of those seniors and (Gull Lake) won the state title last year,” offered Beauregard, who was a varsity assistant and junior varsity head coach in recent years and coached several current varsity players at the JV level. “When we beat them in the district finals, I thought we were even with them or even the better team. That shows you how far we’ve come. But it started, actually, back in the summer at a team camp. I don’t know (Gull Lake) had everyone there, but we beat Gull Lake then, too, and I think it got the boys to start believing in themselves.”
Last season the Tigers finished 8-8-2 overall and in fifth place in the Wolverine Conference in what could be considered a slight rebuilding year. The campaign ended with a 3-2 loss to Holland in the D-2 pre-district round.
Plainwell finished 5-2-0 in the Wolverine Conference with the same record as Edwardsburg. Sturgis finished 7-0-0 to claim its first-ever league crown. A late-season 1-0 upset loss to Otsego eliminated the Tigers from the league championship race.
Plainwell has made up for it this postseason, where they have won four straight games with a 13-4 scoring edge and one shutout. Now the Tigers will face off with last year’s Division 3 state champion Holland Christian, which bumped up to Division 2 this year and climbed into the top spot on the rankings at the beginning of October, for some regional championship hardware.