BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
CLARKSTON, Mich. — Although Clarkston has had its fair share of standout soccer players since first launching its program back in 1983, the Wolves have never produced a Mr. Soccer winner.
This year senior midfielder/forward Richie Ludwig could change that.
Ludwig entered the season as one of top candidates for the prestigious award and has lived up to that billing as a premier player. He joins Novi Detroit Catholic Central’s Kyle Pierson, St. Joseph’s Christian Shannon, Saline’s Christian Rossi and a host of other standouts who hope to remain in contention for the honor, presented by the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association, and for coveted spots on the 11-member Dream Team.
In the past, Clarkston produced three Dream Team players prior to Ludwig – Scott Rooney (1992), Michael Holody (2004) and Oliver Kupe (2007). Those three all made the Dream Team cut during their fall senior seasons and went on to play Division I college soccer.
Last year 10 of the 11 players on that Dream Team list, which annually features 10 field players and one goalkeeper hailing from the state’s four divisions, graduated and several of those standouts are now playing college soccer. Kyle Pierson spent the last three years with the Michigan Wolves MLS Next Academy and is committed to Michigan. Both Shannon and Rossi are high Division I college recruits with Shannon recently committing to Western Michigan University – a program that could very well qualify for the NCAA Division I Tournament this fall. There are several other players from around the state that have been in the discussion for those coveted Dream Team spots or for Mr. Soccer 2022.
“it’s an honor to be in that discussion,” said Ludwig. “Some of that has to do with your team doing well. I would like to help take our team all the way this year. Clarkston has never won it all. If we do that, then those awards will kind of take care of itself.”
Ludwig stepped into the starting lineup at Clarkston as a freshman in 2019 and has been a standout ever since that moment. He also has been a big-time player on the club circuit with his Nationals Union club team.
Due to his success and soccer pedigree, each year Ludwig has been approached by numerous MLS Next Academy (formerly U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy) franchises, both in Michigan and out-of-state. Those programs talked to Ludwig about switching to that route to the Division I collegiate ranks and perhaps even a route to the professional ranks someday. Many of those academies are owned by MLS franchises.
Still, the 5-foot-11, 165-pound Ludwig never wavered in his decision to stay with his high school team and remain competing for Nationals in the winter, spring and summer. He was recruited by numerous colleges of various sizes and committed to Division I Michigan State last February.
“I still got recruited by a few (colleges),” said Ludwig, who is also a fine student with a 3.8 GPA. “I was approached by some (Academy) teams every year. I got some calls and texts but I never really had much of an interest. I was happy with my club and really like playing with my buddies at Clarkston.”
Ludwig’s father, Rich Ludwig Sr., also coaches with the Nationals club, and that helped him to a decision every year. Clarkston also plays in the OAA Red Division in high school, where Ludwig and the Wolves compete against high schools that feature high-level club players, Division I college recruits and features several state-ranked opponents. The league alone has double-digit current players being recruited by NCAA Division I programs and several others being scouted by Division II, Division III and NAIA college programs.
Clarkston coach Ian Jones, who is director of coaching with Pontiac-based Liverpool Soccer Club, a competitor with Nationals on the club circuit, is glad that his star player has decided to remain in the high school ranks. Ludwig has earned countless All-OAA, All-District, All-Region and All-state awards in high school alone and multiple high honors in club soccer.
“Any time you have a player like Richie Ludwig who is a Mr. Soccer candidate, who plays at a high level in both high school and club soccer, it attracts others to want to play for Clarkston,” said Jones, who had several club players attending Clarkston Community Schools opt to play for the high school team this year. “We have a lot of very highly (touted) players who are on our roster, and some of them didn’t play high school last year but are playing this year. If Richie would have left and went to an MLS Academy, I don’t know if some of these kids would have stayed playing for Clarkston.”
Star power attracts star power and success breads success. And the Wolves have enjoyed success in recent years. Clarkston has finished well above the five-hundred mark every year that Ludwig has been a starter and captured district titles in both 2019 and 2021. In 2020, the Wolves lost in the district finals.
This year Ludwig and Co. have remained in the top 15 in the state in Division 1 all season and Ludwig amassed 16 goals and 17 assists in the regular season despite a revolving door of injured teammates. Clarkston finished the regular season with a 13-4-2 record, fourth in the talent-laden OAA Red Division standings, and even grabbed the No. 1 seed in its district.
Ludwig remained loyal to his Clarkston High School teammates and his Nationals Union 04 club team – and has still thrived without the additional exposure playing in the MLS Next Academy circles.
This past summer, Ludwig led his Nationals club team to the United States Youth Soccer National Tournament following championships at the Michigan State Cup and Midwest Cup levels. He earned some national attention as an individual. Not only did Ludwig earn a spot on the U-18 Starting XI, but he also grabbed the honor of the Golden Boot, an award given to the top player at the national championships each July.
He is one of a handful of Michigan-born players to earn the prestigious award at the club level over the past four decades.
“That meant a lot being voted for that (honor),” said Ludwig. “It gave me a lot of confidence as a player.”
While Ludwig still enters the postseason as a strong 2022 Mr. Soccer candidate and is a lock for All-State Dream Team, he hopes to lead his Wolves and close friends to one final deep postseason run. Clarkston reached the Division 1 regional finals last season before bowing out to Northville (1-0). As a freshman, Clarkston lost in the regional semifinals.
Previously, Clarkston won a regional title back in 2007 and eventually finished as the D-1 state runner-up to East Kentwood that season. But Ludwig was only three years old at the time and some of his teammates were infants or not even born yet.
“We hope to make a run or whatnot,” said Ludwig. “We came close (to reaching the Final Four) last season and we would love another chance. I think everyone on this team wants to win a state championship.”