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Coming together to be Rams tough: Unbeaten Rockford hoping to escape postseason demons and reach Fin

Updated: Oct 27, 2022


BY DAN STICKRADT

WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR

C: 248-884-1051

TW: @LocalSportsFans


ROCKFORD, Mich. — Before the preseason, Rockford coach Tim Boelman and his staff took the players in the boys soccer program on a short retreat as kind of a bonding exercise. That has more than paid off at this point.


“We thought it would be a good chance for everyone to get away for a night and kind of bond,” noted Boelman, who is in his third season as head coach at Rockford after serving as a longtime junior-varsity coach and varsity assistant coach. “We knew we had a lot of very good players, a lot of guys back and we’re trying to build a culture.”


The Rams are going with a family culture, and that is backed up by the team’s captains and senior class.


“We all get along so well,” said Brennan Karas, a senior captain and one of the starting defensemen on the deep and talented roster. “We all get along from the coaches to the seniors and everyone else.”


Behind expectations in the sky, the Rams have more than come together to enjoy their best regular season in school history. And there’s more work to be done.


Boelman is assisted by journeyman Joe Veal, who has coached at a variety of high schools, clubs and colleges over the years, and Hector Fernadez, who started his own Futbol club, Amicos FC. Also on the coaching staff are Aaron Van Drie (junior varsity head coach) and Jeremy Rivera (freshman head coach). They have compiled quite a roster for this season.


Rockford finished the regular season 17-0-1 and tied for first in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Red Division regular season standings with Grand Haven at 6-0-1. The Rams tied the Buccaneers 0-0 on Sept. 8 for its only blemish, but the unbeaten record is the school’s best regular season in school history.


Rockford, which finished second in the league’s final standings last year and 11-6-3 overall, grabbed the No. 1 seed in OK Conference-Red Division Tournament this year and went on to win the tourney. That tournament championship, coupled with Grand Haven losing to East Kentwood in the conference tournament semifinals, gave the Rams 15.5 total points and a solo ownership to the overall OK Conference-Red title – the school’s fourth in six years.


While Rockford has several players who have the potential to compete in college, no big-time offers have come in just yet. Except at the goalkeeper position, Rockford doesn’t have a bunch of future Division I college players. They do have some talented club players and fine athletes, depth at every position, and experience.


Sophomore Tegan Gumbs is one of the best 10th-grade goalkeepers in the country, turning down some opportunities to play for several MLS Next Academy programs both in Michigan and out-of-state. Senior Matthew Corrigan and sophomore Kyle Deming are quality netminders and give the Rams three quality goalkeepers. All three have rotated time in net for a team that yielded just eight goals in 18 regular season games and posted 11 clean sheets. Only Division 2 state-ranked Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern scored two goals against the Rams – a 3-2 Rockford non-conference win back on Sept. 17. The Rams have given up only three goals since that point.


Seniors Evan McCall (D, All-League last season), Michael Royce (D/M, All-League Honorable Mention last year), Zenon Fedorowych (D/M, All-League last season) and Brennan Karas (D) have all been keys to the defensive-model car this season.


Senior Andrew Bultman (F) has been on an offensive tear this season and leads a balanced offensive attack for a side that accumulated 66 goals in the regular season. Senior Davian Gumbs (AM), senior Benjamin Battreall (M), sophomore Noah Christian (M) and sophomore Dugan Black (M, All-League last season) have been key cogs in the attack.


Freshmen midfielders and twins Aidan Flanders and Adam Flanders have also joined the fold and have bright futures in the sport. Seniors Reed Carroll and Simon Pigorsch and juniors Kaizer Westgate, Owen Van Drie, Reid Wyngarden, Sam Carroll, Brian Goushaw, Kody Obenauf and Ryan Sheffer have all contributed in other ways as well. There are several other players that have moved up or down from the junior-varsity squad this season.


Competing for conference titles has not been a problem for Rockford, as the Rams annually contend in the power league along with East Kentwood, Grand Haven, Caledonia and others. However, success in the postseason has been fewer and far between for the Rams.


Since the MHSAA switched from classes to four equal divisions for boys soccer in 1997, Rockford has only been able to win two district crowns – 2001 and 2007. Neither of those teams were able to advance past the Division 1 regional semifinals. That’s the furthest the team has ever advanced in the postseason – something that this year’s seniors want to remedy.


The team chemistry is on the Rams’ side.


“We want to win districts and see how far we can go,” said Bultman, one of the leading goal scorers the last two years. “We have a lot of talent on this team. We have three good goalkeepers. We have solid (defensemen) and we have a lot of guys in our offense that can score. We know we can do it. We are comfortable playing with one another. We get along and are close.”


Even in 2012 when Rockford produced the Mr. Soccer winner in Dewey Lewis, the Rams could not get out of its district. Several times Rockford ran into East Kentwood, which has appeared in the state finals six times over the past 16 seasons with five state crowns.


Rockford (18-0-1) defeated Byron Center in its district semifinal and will face that long-time nemesis East Kentwood for the district crown Thursday night. The winner will face the district winner of 13th-ranked Grand Haven and Muskegon Mona Shores, which has one of its best teams as well this season. The regional semifinals are Oct. 25 at Portage Northern.


Behind physically fit is one of the other attributes to this team. The Rams simply wear other teams down with their fitness and depth.


“Our fitness is at another level. You probably won’t find another team at our fitness level – I’d put money on it,” said Boelman. “We are in great shape and we are deep. There have been several games where it was close at the half. But in the second half, especially in the last 20 minutes, we were able to pull away because of our fitness.”


Still, the ultimate goal is for Rockford to win a regional crown and play in the final week. A team can’t win a state title without getting over several hurdles to reach the Final Four.

“I know we all want to get to at least the Final Four and play one of those programs with a bunch of Division I kids,” said Boelman, referring to the likes of top-ranked Troy, No. 2 Novi Detroit Catholic Central, No. 7 Berkley, No. 6 Clarkston and No. 4 Okemos amongst others in Division 1. “With this group I know we can compete with just about anybody.”


ROCKFORD CHAMPIONSHIPS:

LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIPS: 2022, 2020, 2019, 2018 (incomplete list)

DISTRICT CHAMPIONSHIPS: 2001, 2007


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