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Star-laden Detroit Catholic Central primed for title run in Division 1

BY DAN STICKRADT

WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR

C: 248-884-1051

TW: @LocalSportsFans


NOVI, Mich. — One by one, Novi Detroit Catholic Central has checked things off on its to do list of season goals.


Catholic Central, which finished a respectable 12-6-3 last season, including runner-up in the CHSL Central Division, did not reach the CHSL Bishop Tournament finals a year ago. The Shamrocks also lost in the district finals to Northville (3-1) last season.


This year has been different.


Much different.


And again, the program has been checking several boxes along the way.


Catholic Central opened up the season by winning four straight games – all via shutout – and all over quality programs. Three of those wins (Salem, Canton, Clarkston) gave them the title at the annual eight-school Balconi Tournament. The Shamrocks also avenged Northville 2-0 in the season opener.


If he needed any more validation, veteran coach Gene Pulice knew in August he had a special team in the works -- a team that could definitely make a deep postseason run and challenge for multiple championships along the way.


“When you have all of those returning guys, and you add some Academy players in there, you know you have the capability of beating teams,” said Pulice. “When we won the Balconi Tournament and didn’t allow a goal against some very good teams, we knew that this could be a special season.


“These boys have big goals in mind and so far they have been able reach those goals,” continued Pulice. “They won the (CHSL Central) Division and Catholic League. They wanted to be one of the top teams in the state and have proven that. Now we have bigger goals in mind for the (state) tournament. That’s where it really counts.”


Amongst the goals, the Shamrocks wanted to be ranked No. 1 in the state and have finished each week of the rankings either in the top spot or at No. 2 in the Division 1 rankings, only trading off with fellow senior-laden Troy. No other school has been ranked first or second.

Catholic Central played one of the state’s toughest non-conference schedules in the entire state this season, regardless of division, and still posted a stellar 16-1-3 record in the regular season. The Shamrocks (18-1-3 through district play) won two postseason district games by a combined 13-0 margin and have now outscored the opposition 78-10 overall (65-10 in regular season) entering regional play.


Catholic Central has 14 total shutouts, including 12 in the regular season, and now has lowered its team goals-against-average down to a paltry 0.46 entering Tuesday’s Division 1 regional semifinal.


In terms of championships, the Shamrocks have added to the Balconi Invitational title back in August. The team won the CHSL-Central Division title at 5-0-1, came back for a 3-2 overtime win over Division 2 top-ranked Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook in the CHSL Bishop Tournament finals and recently captured the school’s sixth district title over an eight-year span with wins over White Lake Lakeland (8-0) and state-ranked South Lyon (5-0), the Lakes Valley Conference regular season champion.


The team’s sole loss was back on Aug. 27 to eventual Saginaw Valley League co-champion Midland Dow (2-1), when the Shamrocks were missing a few of their starters. The three ties came against three quality programs that have combined for five state titles since 2000 (Ann Arbor Skyline, Detroit U-D Jesuit and Okemos).


The Shamrocks have always been a solid program since the inception of the boys soccer program back in 1982, and during the last decade has really risen to the top of the charts in terms of consistency. CC captured regional titles in 2015, 2017 and 2020, lost in the state semifinals in 2015 and captured the school’s only two state titles in 2017 and 2020.

Of the 31 players on CC’s roster this season, which includes four player-managers, there are 19 total seniors, nine juniors and three sophomores. There is talent galore and plenty of depth at every position.


Senior forward Kyle Pierson, who spent the last three years at the Michigan Wolves MLS Next Academy, joined the fold this season and has proven to be a worthy Mr. Soccer candidate. The University of Michigan recruit has been scoring in bunches and against almost everyone that has faced off with the Shamrocks. Fellow senior midfielder Ali Jeffer, another Division I recruit, also joined the high school ranks after competing in the Academy system the past couple years.


Then there are the returning starters and reserves. Senior Drew Pierson has been a staple on defense for three years and is one of the anchors, along with junior Simon Sawyer. Both Drew Pierson and Sawyer have also spent time in the midfield. Seniors Frank Swanson, Ian Arroyo, Aaron Rybicki, Lucas Quick and Ryan Taylor have also rotated in a deep and stingy backfield. Entering regional play, the 10 goals allowed over 20 games is one of the best all-time defensive marks in school history.


After not earning many postseason accolades last season, senior Jack Rogers has emerged as a steady presence in net and has aided the 14 shutouts entering regional week. Senior Liam Ramsey has also gained plenty of minutes for a team that holds a 10-0-2 record against schools that spent at least one week in the top 15 in Division 1 or Division 2. Additionally, the Shamrocks are 9-0-1 against schools that won a district title in D-1 or D-2 and the tie was against Division 1 fourth-ranked Okemos, the defending D-1 state champs and CC’s regional semifinal opponent.


Catholic Central is also one of 10 schools who were ranked late in the regular season to win district titles in Division 1, along with Salem, Saline, Dearborn Fordson, Traverse City West, Rockford, Troy, Rochester Adams, Okemos and Clarkston.


While Kyle Pierson has been one of the state’s most lethal forwards and is a lock for the All-State Dream Team, Catholic Central has multiple explosive offensive targets up top at forward or in the midfield.


Sophomore Lars Larsen, senior Lefteri Theodorou, Arroyo and senior Ethan Lampham, who transferred from Brighton Charyl Stockwell Academy two years ago, have all scored their share of goals up top.


Along with the aforementioned Drew Pierson, Sawyer and Jeffer, seniors Luke Joseph, Jack Sharkey, Kellen Larson and George Atala, sophomore Joeseph Goudeseune and junior George Vartanian have all spent plenty of time in the midfield.


Seniors Tyan Taylor (D), Arnie Pulpa (F) and John Ryan (F), juniors Paul Ibegbu (M, Thomas Ogena (F) and Brady Schmidt, and sophomore Daniel Bravo (M) have also been vying for minutes.


“We have tremendous depth,” beamed Pulice. “In every game we go at least 18 deep. And in some games we are able to play almost everybody (that dresses). Everyone on this team has accepted their roles and are contributing in different ways.”


Already in the Sweet 16 in Division 1, the Shamrocks can now go after their ultimate goal – to challenge for their third state crown in six years. Several quality teams potentially lie in the pathway.


“No doubt that this team has the talent to win it,” said Pulice, who has coached high school and club soccer in the Metro Detroit area since the 1980s. “When you have this much talent and this many seniors, they are playing every game like it could be their last. This team wants to win.”


SHAMROCKS’ BANNERFUL YEARS


CHSL Central Division Titles – 2022, 2020, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014, 1993, 1992, 1984, 1982 (incomplete list)

CHSL Tournament Titles (Class A-B/Bishop) – 2022, 2020, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2014, 1993, 1992, 1984, 1982

District Titles – 2022, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2015, 2013, 2007, 2004, 1996 (incomplete list)

Regional Titles – 2020, 2017, 2015, 1996

State Quarterfinals (Only played in 1996 in Class A and Class B) -- 1996

Final Four – 2020, 2017, 2015

State Finals Appearances – 2020, 2017

State Runner-Up – None

MHSAA State Championships – 2020, 2017

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