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Pathway of destruction: Athens ousts top-ranked Berkley for 12 straight win, earns district finals


BY DAN STICKRADT

WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR

Twitter: @MiSoccerNetwork


BERKLEY – Like an F-5 tornado picking up steam across the prairies of the Midwest, Troy Athens is beginning to create a wide path of destruction.


The Red Hawks began the campaign in the Division 1 Top 15, dropped out and down to honorable mention in mid-September only to climb back into the top 15 at the end of the month.


In the midst of its current powerful storm, Troy Athens has picked up speed, won 12 straight games with a 51-3 scoring edge and 10 shutouts, and have simply rolled over several quality opponents.


In the wake of its destructive path, top-ranked Berkley became the No.3-rated Red Hawks’ latest victim Tuesday, as Athens – one of the more storied programs in Michigan history – rolled to a convincing 5-2 victory over the host Bears in a Division 1 district semifinal at Berkley’s Hurley Field.


Athens (15-3-2) never trailed to improve to 5-3-2 against teams that have spent time this season ranked in the top 15 in one of the four divisions. The victory over Berkley (18-2-2) avenged an earlier 2-0 defeat by the Bears back on Sept. 7.


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“In a couple of our earlier games this year we gave up an earlier goal in the first half and we didn’t want to give them any momentum today. During our run we have been playing good soccer from the (get-go),” admitted Athens coach Todd Heugh. “Scoring first in a district game like this is crucial because Berkley hadn’t given up many goals all season until tonight and they shut us out back in September.”


“In a couple of our earlier games this year we gave up an earlier goal in the first half and we didn’t want to give them any momentum today. During our run we have been playing good soccer from the (get-go),” admitted Athens coach Todd Heugh. “Scoring first in a district game like this is crucial because Berkley hadn’t given up many goals all season until tonight and they shut us out back in September.”


The Red Hawks, who have now outscored its 20 opponents 63-11 overall, have not tasted defeat since a 1-0 setback to fellow OAA Red Division member and defending D-1 state champion Rochester Adams on September 12.


With several quality teams in this district, including four that were ranked at times this season, and with this being one of the more competitive districts state-wide, for Athens to step onto the field in attack mode from the beginning more than set the tone.


“It’s not easy – it just isn’t. It never really is. This district has been incredible for a few years now,” noted Heugh. “In 2019 we made a long run and in 2020 we made a long run in this district. In 2021 and 2022 Troy made some long runs coming out of this district. It’s not easy but we’ve known about it since August. We knew we had to go through a gauntlet and to go through a gauntlet like this (is tough). Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight it went our way.


“We’re playing good soccer right now and I’m proud of them,” added Heugh. “I don’t know if it’s our best soccer, but we’re playing well right now.”

Berkley, which entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in the state for two weeks and had only conceded six goals all season coming into the contest, could not match the Red Hawks’ intensity and deep waves of players in complete attack mode.



The Bears, who last won a district title in 2020 from another district group and lost in the district finals last season to then-top-ranked Troy in a shootout (2-1), came up agonizingly short again. Needing a win, Berkley also dropped a 1-0 decision to Adams two weeks ago on the final night of the OAA-Red season to finish in second place in the eight-school division.


Berkley has consistently remained in the Division 1 top 15 the last four-plus years and outscored the opposition this season 62-11 with 15 shutouts – but couldn’t stop the eye of the storm Tuesday from reigning down some terror. Last season the Bears held a 59-10 scoring edge with 17 shutouts as part of a 20-3-1 campaign only to concede five goals in a game for the first time in well over a decade.


Athens came out of the gate in attack mode, moving the ball around the field and several players were not bashful of uncorking shots from distance against Berkley senior goalkeeper Seth Davidson, a NCAA Division I recruit and one of the state’s better goalkeepers. The Red Hawks scored on three of their first seven shot attempts and the game was never in doubt.


For the game, Athens outshot Berkley 13-6 overall, including 10-3 with shots on frame, and even held a 6-2 edge on cornernicks as part of their dominating effort. The Red Hawks even scored the first goal less than two minutes into the contest.




Senior forward Manny Aigbedo broke free on the left side, slotted the ball over to the top of the box and fellow senior forward Miguel Ramirez-Vanegas blasted one home from 17 yards away with 38:12 still to play in the first half.


Keeping the Bears on their heels, the Red Hawks continued to accelerate and scored a second time with 35:25 to go in the half. This time it was junior Nick Rossi finding the back of the net off a pass from junior Marc Delikat.


Athens continued to swirl and swarm the Berkley backfield and earned a penalty kick with 7:22 left in the first half. This time it was Delikat who converted the penalty for the 3-0 lead.

The Bears never even attempted a single shot until there was 34:24 left in the game when a blast from outside the box by senior Owen Stone sailed wide of the right goal post. Berkley still couldn’t slow down the Red Hawks despite outshooting Athens 6-5 in the second half.

Athens extended the lead to 4-0 with 26:00 to go in the contest with sophomore midfielder Daniel Kadiu corralling a cornerkick from senior forward Adriano Shauya and depositing his attempt into the bank for the four-goal advantage.



Berkley, which had not given up more than one goal in any single outing leading up to Tuesday’s clash, finally spoiled the shutout with 19:12 remaining when junior Marc Sperl volleyed in a close-range shot following a bending cornerkick from senior Jaxon Cain. The Red Hawks’ funnel touched down again with senior Vansh Baxi responding with a late goal and cap the scoring for Athens.


The Bears did register a second tally when Stone set up senior Andrew Cook from distance and Cook blasted in a 30-yard laser with 1:41 to play. The devastating damage had already been done, as Berkley’s season ended in a rare blowout loss.


Athens, which finished third in the OAA Red Division this season, advances to a district finals for the first time since 2020 and will take on arch-rival Troy at 7 p.m. Thursday, also at Hurley Field. Athens defeated the Colts 3-1 in a weather-shortened contest on Aug. 29.



TROY 4, FERNDALE 1: The Colts scored three times in the opening 12 minutes of the first half and coasted to this Division 1 district semifinals win Tuesday at Berkley’s Hurley Field.


Sophomore Nicholas Kamugunga opened the scoring with 35:01 still to play in the opening half, while junior Johnny Worrell scored the eventual game-winner at the 31:29 mark.

Senior Jack Hotts pushed the lead to 3-0 with 28:04 still to go in the first half with a 31-yard rocket off a one-hop volley to pace the Colts to a 3-0 halftime advantage.

Senior Peter Leto scored the fourth goal just 17 seconds into the second half and the Colts left the stampede in cruise control.



Leto, Nicholas Kamugunga and Clay Cusmano also drew assists and senior Brady Courtney and junior Simeon Kolev combined for three saves in the win.


Ferndale spoiled the shutout with 17:53 remaining when senior Quinn Zvibleman converted a penalty kick for the Eagles (9-9-1).


Junior goalkeeper Leo Curran recorded 13 saves on 17 shots on frame for Ferndale to keep the game from getting out of hand.

Troy outshot Ferndale 23-6 overall, including 17-4 with shots on frame, and also held a commanding 9-1 differential on cornerkicks.


Troy (10-6-1) has now won five of its last six games and eight times in the previous 10 matches and have outscored the opposition 23-9 during that stretch. The only recent defeats of Troy came against OAA Red Division foes Berkley (2-0) and Clarkston (3-2). The Colts, who graduated 16 players from last year’s squad, began the season 2-4-1 and were outscored 13-6 in those seven games and shut out three times.


Ferndale finished tied for second in the OAA Blue Division.

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