BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
ROCHESTER HILLS – It’s not to say that Rochester Adams’ run through the boys soccer Division 1 state tournament in 2022 was a complete surprise. The Highlanders recorded just one loss to Troy in the regular season.
It’s just that Adams only finished fifth in its conference despite its gaudy record.
“Our league was so good last year,” reminded Josh Hickey, who is now at the helm for his 15th season – longer than any other Adams coach since the program began back in 1981. “There were so many good teams with us, Troy, (Troy) Athens, Berkley, Clarkston and a few others.
“I would imagine (it will be the same this year). Our league is always so difficult with all of the teams in there who will be tough,” continued Hickey. “It will be a different landscape because a lot of us were senior heavy. I’m not sure of everybody who is returning (player-wise). For us we did lose a good senior class but we do have a really good core coming back so imagine it will be just as competitive.”
To back that up, five OAA Red Division schools – annually one of Michigan’s premier conferences for boys soccer and girls soccer -- were ranked in the top eight of the top-15 Division 1 coaches poll entering the state tournament. Adams was ranked eighth in the final regular season poll.
The Highlanders were not ranked in the preseason in 2022 but joined the fold in the second state rankings issued by the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association in early September and never dropped out. The 2023 MIHSSCA preseason polls are expected to come out on Aug. 20.
Part of the reason why Adams was not ranked last August was the fact that they went through an uncharacteristic period (2019-2021) of losing campaigns and seasons marred by injuries and the fact that the school had a high number of athletes competing in the MLS Next Academy system.
Last year’s state championship run finished with a 17-1-6 record and a string of wins over quality opponents and capped by a 2-0 shutout of No. 3 Rockford in the Division 1 state finals. The run also included a 4-3, shootout win over then top-ranked and senior-laden Troy in the regional semifinals. The Highlanders also rocked Utica Eisenhower (5-2) in the district finals, toppled 2021 D-1 state runner-up New Baltimore Anchor Bay (3-2) in come-from-behind fashion in the regional finals, and blanked No. 10 Salem (2-0) in the state semifinals. Adams also beat Lake Orion (3-1) in its district semifinal to start the tournament journey.
Still last year the school had one of their greatest seasons to date. Last season the Highlanders outscored the opposition 73-17 during a very tough schedule and registered 14 clean sheets behind three quality goalkeepers and a stout defense. During the tournament, Adams posted a 15-7 scoring edge with two shutouts to close out the state championship season.
The season before in 2021, the Highlanders were just 6-10-3. In a Covid-abbreviated campaign in 2020 Adams was just 3-6-3. Back in 2019, the Highlanders also finished below the five-hundred mark at the 8-12-2 – although Adams did get hot at the right time and won three state tournament games and a district championship that season before bowing out in overtime to Clinton Township Chippewa Valley in overtime.
Having three straight sub-five-hundred seasons had never happened before in Adams’ lore and is not expected to happen again this season or in the near future. The Highlanders return a solid core of players from a very deep 2022 roster and have some talented newcomers waiting in the wings. Translation: Adams is expected to remain in the D-1 Top 15 and again compete for championships along the way this fall.
With senior All-State First Team Jackson Craft (F/D), senior Nick Hopkins (CB), senior Colton Janes (M) and junior Anthony Page (D) all starting during the state tournament last season, the Highlanders do have big-game experience.
Throw in juniors Reid Dennis (G) and Brendan Duff (M) and seniors Henry Hall (D), Bryan Moradshahi (M), Oliver Youngman (F/D), Niko Efthyvoulidis (M) and Young Xu (D) and the core all gained valuable minutes off the bench. Adams still has plenty of talent in it wheelhouse. There are also several newcomers that have NL and ECNL club experience just chomping at the bits to gain some playing time.
Adams did lose 11 players overall, including seven starters. All-State First Team standout Luke Rosin (D/F) is on the club team at Michigan State and current senior John Coon, another All-State First Team honoree as a goalkeeper, is now testing the MLS Next Academy waters as a Division I college recruit. Current senior Adrian Ivezaj (F), who played in the first four games for Adams last season before returning to his Vardar MLS Next Academy team, is still undecided if he will suit up for the Highlanders this season and could be a late add.
Still, the cupboard is far from bare. The Highlanders have a strong freshman and sophomore class with many hopefuls in all four grades set to make their marks.
“It’s exciting to come back with a group that went through that (tournament run),” offered Hickey. “We lost a lot of talent that helped us get there. But we have a good core coming back. The thing you look at the most is the attitude of the boys, and make sure that they don’t expect or feel like they already got something this season because we haven’t done anything yet. They’ve come in and haven’t felt like they are on top of anything and are not coming in with expectations they have for themselves. They just play hard. The (upperclassmen) have a new group we are bringing into the mold, too. I’m really proud of their attitude.”
Under Hickey, the Highlanders have amassed a 158-87-55 record over 14 seasons with two conference titles, seven districts trophies and four regional crowns. Adams reached the Final Four in 2009, 2014, 2015 and 2022 while finishing as the D-1 state runner-up in 2014 and winning the state title in 2022. They also lost in the regional finals in 2013. Before Hickey’s arrival, the Highlanders were D-1 state champs in 1999, state runners-up in 2001 and also reached the Final Four in 2004 amongst some of their other standout teams.
This is the first time since Hickey took over the program that Adams has a bullet on its back after winning the D-1 state crown last year. The late Juan Delgado coached Adams from 1999-2006 and entered the 2000 season with the same bullet despite graduating 18 of 25 players from the 1999 state championship team. Adams still won a district trophy in 2000 despite only bringing back seven players.
Winning a state title last season has brought out more players for tryouts this season, as around 95 hopefuls showed up Aug. 7 with hopes of making one of three rosters. And there is a batch of Academy-level players that should reached their decisions soon.
“(I wasn’t) really expecting it. We’re usually at around 75 or 80 on a good year. Now we’re at 94, 95 kids. It’s been good. There’s a lot of interest after the year we had. Again, we haven’t done anything yet (this year). We’re all on the same page and everyone’s starting for a spot,” noted Hickey.
Adams opens at home Aug. 16 against nearby Lake Orion of the OAA White Division. The Dragons graduated 16 players, so they also will have plenty of question marks and have to face the defending D-1 state champs on opening night. Rochester Stoney Creek is also on tap for Aug. 18 and the Highlanders have another challenging schedule set up for the next couple of months.
“To get you ready for the tournament you have to play as tough of a schedule as you can,” reminded Hickey. “That will get us ready (for the second season).”