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GIRLS SOCCER From building blocks to success, St. Mary’s enjoying climb up the soccer charts


BY DAN STICKRADT

WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR

Twitter: @MiSoccerNetwork


ORCHARD LAKE, Mich. – Most start-up programs struggle to get off the ground.

That’s a reality.


Throw in most programs. Someone forgot to tell that to the players and coaches on the Orchard Lake St. Mary’s girls soccer team.


Orchard Lake St. Mary’s has been around for more than 100 years, as a private Catholic boys school. It wasn’t until August of 2020 that the school added a female student population and its girls sports teams have thrived, especially the girls soccer program.

The Eaglets are currently ranked 15th in the state in the Division 2 rankings, as selected by the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association. Not bad for a program only two-thirds of the way through its third season of existence.


“I don’t mind being under the radar,” admitted St. Mary’s girls soccer coach Keith Jeffery, who also coaches the boys soccer team at the school for the last seven-plus years. “I’m okay with that. But being ranked does show that we are doing something right.”

When St. Mary’s rolled out the balls in March of 2022, the school barely had enough girls to even go through with its inaugural campaign.


Jeffery and some of his players recruited student-athletes from other sports to come out for the soccer program. St. Mary’s was a Division 4 soccer program that season, with enrollment being well under 100 students on the girls’ side and only featured freshmen and sophomores in the girls portion of the prestigious school located on the eastern end of picturesque Orchard Lake in central Oakland County.


St. Mary’s still fielded a very competitive team in its inaugural campaign as a Division 4 school while playing all D-3 and D-4 schools from around southeastern Michigan. Competing as an independent, OLSM finished 11-3-0 overall with eight of the wins ending via the mercy rule. St. Mary’s outscored its 14 foes 89-8 and even went 1-1 in the D-4 postseason, blanking Brighton Livingston Christian (8-0) before falling to Clarkston Everest Collegiate/Bloomfield Hills Sacred Heart Unified (2-0) in the district finals.


The Eaglets had two players garner All-State accolades that debut season, including then-sophomore Cameron Cole (F) and then-freshman Kira Howcroft (G).

Enrollment jumped up quite a bit for the 2002-03 school year and the MHSAA opted to count both the boys and girls student-body as one, as they are on the same campus and same buildings, even though classes are separate between the two genders.

Pictures provided by St Marys

YEAR TWO AND SOME GROWING PAINS

With a much larger student-body count, OLSM landed in Division 2 in girls soccer, raising up two whole divisions, as other girls sports saw a similar drastic move up the charts.

Now, the Eaglets were in the Catholic High School League for the first time in 2023 and playing in the AA Division along with numerous quality soccer programs with a ton of history. The division is a sprinkling of Division 2, Division 3 and Division 4 programs.

“Look at the teams in our division of the Catholic League,” beamed Jeffery. “You’re talking about a lot of schools that have won state titles in their history, or at least played in the state finals or (state) semifinals. It’s really tough. But there we were, being just a second-year program with no seniors playing in that league. We held our own, but it was nothing like playing almost all D-4 programs like our first year. The competition was greater last year than our first year.”


Case in point. The entire three-division CHSL has teams that have enjoyed tremendous success the last 40 years or so. Madison Heights Bishop Foley has an MHSAA record 12 state titles, five runners-up and 21 Final Four appearances. The aforementioned Everest Collegiate was the D-4 state runner-up last year and while paired with nearby Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes during the previous decade, captured one state title with three more runners-up between 2010-2015.



Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett reached the state semifinals in D-4 last season, won state titles in 2005 and 2016 and has been on numerous deep runs. Ann Arbor Greenhills owns a state title and three runner-up trophies, Royal Oak Shrine has a pair of state crowns and one runner-up in the last decade and several other schools, such as Warren Regina, Farmington Hills Mercy, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, Macomb Lutheran North, former CHSL member Pontiac Notre Dame Prep and now defunct Livonia Ladywood have enjoyed multiple deep runs and have been to the Final Four.

Then there’s Birmingham Marian of the CHSL-Central Division. That school plays in the highest division of the CHSL and in Division 2 of the postseason, where it owns nine state titles, four state runners-up finishes and 16 Final Four appearances. St. Mary’s has yet to play Marian but could one day if the school continues to produce on the soccer pitch and gets promoted.


Or if both can advance deep into the state tournament this season.

“That’s a lot to live up to,” laughed Jeffery. “The (CHSL) is always one of the toughest leagues in the state. It’s never easy, we know that. But playing our schedule we play now will really get us ready for the postseason.”

During its second campaign, the numbers for St. Mary’s dropped somewhat, as expected, with tougher competition overall. The Eaglets only recorded three shutouts, although the former All-State performer Kira Howcroft missed last season with an injury. The team still posted a solid 11-6-1 record, including 4-2-1 in the CHSL-AA Division and outscored its opposition 50-37.


After finishing third in its league, OLSM again advanced to the district finals in Division 2 before falling to Goodrich (2-1) on a late goal in the final five minutes.

“That’s how it goes sometimes,” recalled Jeffery. “I think we would love to see Goodrich again if we can make a run and so can Goodrich. We’re in different districts this season but could see them in regionals if both of us can advance that far.”


Pictures provided by St Marys

CHECKING BOXES

St. Mary’s has enjoyed a great school year on the soccer pitch. The Eaglets captured Catholic High School-AA Division titles at both the varsity and junior-varsity levels last fall during the boys soccer season, as both of those teams went unbeaten in conference play. The varsity boys soccer team reached the CHSL-Cardinal Tournament finals last October before falling to Toledo (Ohio) St. John Jesuit 4-3 in a shootout. That was the first time the school reached the CHSL finals in soccer in either gender.


This spring, the girls soccer team is trying to check even more boxes than their male counterparts – and, again, this being just its third year of varsity girls soccer. The Eaglets captured their first division crown Wednesday with a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory over previously-unbeaten Macomb Lutheran North in the final division game of the season.

Lutheran North, ranked third in the state in Division 3, had not tasted defeat since a 3-1 setback to fellow state-ranked Warren Regina in a Division 3 district semifinal last May 30.

It was Lutheran North that drew first blood in the showdown when senior Marena Maceroni scored a banger just five minutes into the contest. Maceroni was named All-State Third Team last season and is the Mustangs’ leading goal scorer both last season and this season.

Maceroni’s soccer program at Lutheran North has been around since the mid-1980s, unlike St. Mary’s which is still in its infant stages. In just the second meeting between the two schools – although with bigger stakes – St. Mary’s prevailed. The Eaglets defeated the Mustangs 2-1 on May 18 of last year in an CHSL crossover game, as Lutheran North was up in the CHSL-Central Division a year ago.


St. Mary’s was able to claw back and prevail thanks to a pair of goals from senior midfielder/forward Cameron Cole. Headed for NCAA Division I University of Toledo in August on a soccer scholarship, Cole scored her 30th and 31st goals of the campaign and the St. Mary’s defense made it stand as the Eaglets finished 8-0-0 in conference play for the first time to clinch the title.


St. Mary’s will host Division 4 10th-ranked Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett on May 16 in Orchard Lake in the CHSL-Cardinal Tournament semifinals. The CHSL reinstituted a semifinals round to its Bishop Tournament and Cardinal Tournament this year. The winners of those games will advance to the CHSL finals May 18 at Royal Oak Shrine Catholic.

“We really do try to take it one game at a time,” said Cole, arguably the top player in the CHSL this season. “I think it’s so cool that we won our division. Now we have a chance to win our first (CHSL) league tournament. I didn’t think that would have been possible a couple of years ago.”


So far this season, St. Mary’s has produced 10 shutouts during a 12-2-1 start and the program is setting numerous team and individual school records along the way. The Eaglets have outscored their opposition 53-16 this season. And allowed just five schools to even score on them. Both losses came against Division 1 schools Royal Oak and Birmingham Seaholm, two schools with much larger enrollments and established programs, plus the school was missing a couple of key players against Seaholm.

Still, there is much more work to do.


BIGGER PICTURE

St. Mary’s will play host to two-time state champion University-Liggett next Thursday at home in the CHSL-Cardinal semifinals with a berth of the Catholic league finals on the line. A win will jettison the Eaglets into the finals in their first time playing in the CHSL girls soccer league tournament.


That’s just another stepping stone of literally building a program from the ground up, brick-by-brick, piece-by-piece, even though the progression has been quicker than what one eventually believed.

The Eaglets have high-level players.

Howcroft came back from injury this winter and gives St. Mary’s a quality keeper between the pipes. Sophomore Hope Richer (M/D) has also bounced back from an injury suffered last summer.


Cole, who also play club soccer with Liverpool FC and in the ECNL, gives the team a legitimate All-State First Team and All-State Dream Team candidate. The All-State Third Team selection from last year is the school’s first NCAA Division I soccer player.

Sophomore Delaney David (CB) is also a future college prospect who earned All-State Honorable Mention honors last year as a freshman. The talented David anchors a stout back line that has yielded only 1.07 goals against this season and aided those 10 clean sheets.

Seniors Gwyn Teshka (D), Bella Raynish (CB) and Summer Reising (M) are experienced players, with Raynish also doubling with lacrosse and will play at Central Michigan University in that sport next year. Juniors Caroline Kopmeyer (M) and Harper Natinsky (F/M), sophomore Olivia Rust (M) and freshman Alexis Hazamy (M/G) are some of the other players that could end up earning postseason accolades such as All-Catholic, All-Division, All-District, All-Region or even All-State.


“We have a bunch of great girls. This has been a lot of fun watching them grow as individual players and as a team,” offered Jeffery.

As for the upcoming state tournament – the district seeds will come out May 12 – St. Mary’s should gain a No. 1 seed in its district hosted by Linden and featuring schools from Oakland, Genesee and Livingston counties.

The school is going for its first district title in school history.

“We came so close last year,” recalled Cole. “We gave up that goal in the last couple of minutes. It’s frustrating, but we are really looking forward to districts this year. We want to go as far as we can this year.”


As for Jeffery, he smiles at how far his program has come in just three short years.

“We have got better and better this season,” he said. “The girls have worked hard and they are enjoyable to coach. I think we’re all looking forward to the Catholic tournament and to districts.”


Forget baby steps. This program is already beyond that.




(Have a story suggestion for the Premier Media Group and the Michigan Soccer Network regarding club soccer, high school varsity, amateur soccer, collegiate soccer or professional soccer of teams or players with Michigan ties, contact Communications Specialist/Web and Content Editor/Director of News Dan Stickradt via email at stickradt@michigansoccernetwork.com, or call 248-884-1051. Dan Stickradt is a 31-year veteran of the Michigan Media circles and recently joined the staff full time in March of 2024. Want to schedule a broadcast game or live show, contact PMG/MSN Director of Broadcasting Jonathan Turner for availability and pricing at jonathan@michigansoccernetwork.com.) 






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