BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
BERKLEY, Mich. — It’s not that Berkley has been an average boys soccer program in recent years.
In contrary, the Bears are regularly ranked in the top 15 in the state in Division 1— at least in the last decade.
Berkley is just annually placed in a logjam of quality teams inside talent-laden Oakland County, where winning titles such as league, district and regional crowns is not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.
“We’ve been very competitive in recent years,” said Berkley head coach Steve Wloszek. “I think we’ve built a winning culture here and the guys we have coming up each year want to be a part of it.”
Since the MHSAA split from classes to four even divisions for boys soccer in 1997, the Bears have only managed to win three district crowns – 2005, 2018 and 2020 – and all in Division 1. In the first district championship seasons, they were ousted in the D-1 regional semifinals by Warren De La Salle. Then in 2020 season the Bears reached the D-1 regional finals before succumbing to eventual state champion Novi Detroit Catholic Central, 3-1.
That Elite Eight appearance was the furthest that Berkley, a small landlocked community in southeastern Oakland County, has ever advanced in the sport.
“We’re not some huge school and in our league and district sometimes we play schools that have 100s of more students,” noted Wloszek, who noted Berkley boast 1,254 students in grades 9-12 and is one of the smaller Division 1 programs in Michigan. “We’re not that far from being a Division 2 school to be honest. We’re only around 30 students above the cut-off line. And we look at some of the schools we’ve played this year or in recent years and some of them are huge. Clarkston is probably twice our size, but we still hold our own against the other teams in our league and we always compete in close games in our district. Winning a league or district title around here is so tough because there are so many good teams.”
The Berkley district is made up of two communities, Berkley and Huntington Woods, and that small region is barely four miles across. Unlike many sprawling communities and townships along the northern and western ends of Oakland County – which has over 60 public, parochial, private and charter high schools within its borders -- the Berkley school district is not benefiting from several new subdivisions and complexes being built each year or mass move-ins due to corporate America growth and suburban sprawl.
The district is truly is landlocked. Berkley is what it is and the Bears take what they can get in terms of athletes born and raised in the community.
Berkley seemingly has enough club soccer players, quality athletes and coachable kids to make a winner each year.
Wloszek has molded this program into a consistent winner and each year the Bears record double digits for wins. This year’s group barley got the No. 1 seed in a deep district which features three top 10 teams in the state – Troy, Troy Athens and Berkley. The aforementioned trio of schools also make up the top three teams in the loaded OAA Red Division, which managed to keep five of its eight members ranked in the top 15 in the state in D-1 this season. The others being Rochester Adams and Clarkston, two quality sides that are favored to win their respective districts.
Seventh-ranked Berkley will face fifth-ranked Troy Athens Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the district semifinals at Athens. Top-ranked Troy, the two-time defending OAA-Red champion, will square off with unranked Royal Oak at 8 p.m. in the second game.
Berkley carries a fine 19-2-1 record into the district semifinals, as the Bears led all of Division 1 with 19 victories, which is also one of the state’s highest win totals overall. Berkley loaded up some quality non-league opponents and captured two weekend tournament crowns back in August and posted a 10-0-0 ledger to start the campaign. That helped Berkley prepare for the rugged OAA Red Division and district competition.
Berkley has outscored its 22 opponents 55-7 this season and that includes 17 shutouts. The seven goals against all came against OAA-Red opponents and only Clarkston scored more than one goal against the Bears. Troy, Troy Athens, Rochester Stoney Creek and Rochester Adams were the other foes that scored on Berkley, which finished third in the final OAA Red Division standings.
Berkley also has many fine players in its lineup, led by 10 seniors. Senior midfielder Andriy Bilous was All-State Second Team last season and should be higher this year. He is also a Dream Team candidate and a Division I and II college prospect, being courted by the likes of IPFW, Western Illinois, Oakland, Western Michigan, University of Detroit-Mercy.
Junior goalkeeper Seth Davidson has been a huge part of the Bears’ stellar 0.32 goals-against-average, along with senior center backs Luke Winter and Henry Robertson, a pair of fourth-year varsity veterans. Senior Griffin Straske had also been steady as a marking back.
Senior midfielder Chase McAvoy is being recruited by D-II, D-III and NAIA programs, while junior forward Owen Stone is one of several goal scorers on the Bears’ roster.
“We held our own all season against some really good teams and we hope to challenge for a district crown,” said Wloszek. “It’s a tough district with so many quality teams. But with the players we have and the culture that we’ve built we know we will compete.”
OAA RED DIVISION SCHOOLS RANKED IN DIVISION 1 ENTERING THE POSTSEASON:
1 Troy (16-1-0)
5 Troy Athens (12-4-2)
6 Clarkston (13-4-2)
7 Berkley (19-2-1)
8 Rochester Adams (11-1-6)
OAA RED DIVISION STANDINGS
Troy (18 points)
Troy Athens (14 points)
Berkley (13 points)
Rochester Adams (10 points)
Clarkston (8 points)
Rochester (6 points)
Oxford (4 points)
Rochester Stoney Creek (3 points)