By Dan Stickradt
GET YOUR MSN TOP 50 GEAR NOW
CLARKSTON – With the population boom in northern Oakland County over the last quarter century, communities like Clarkston have benefitted from the enrollment boost.
With Clarkston High School rotating around 2,200-2,700 since the late 1990s, many of the Wolves’ athletics teams have reaped the benefits of the talent pool.
Especially Clarkston’s boys soccer team.
With an array of talented club players opting to play for the high school team, players that have come from the likes of Liverpool FC, North Oakland FC, Vardar, Nationals, Michigan Jaguars and Michigan Wolves, Clarkston has consistently been a quality team for more than two decades.
Michigan Soccer Network’s No. 1 team early in the 2023 boys soccer campaign, the Wolves only have one regional title, one Final Four appearance and one state runner-up finish (Division 1, 2007) to show for their consistent play. The school has never won a state title in soccer. In that 2007 season, the Wolves lost to powerful East Kentwood (2-0) in the title match.
Could that change in 2023?
Clarkston, despite graduating 14 players, has quite a bit of talent in its pipeline and are off to a 4-0-1 start through September 7. The Wolves’ 7-3 victory over defending Division 1 state champion Rochester Adams in late August is proof of what their capabilities are on any given night.
Clarkston lost in the regional finals in both 2021 (1-0 to Northville) and 2022 (2-1 to Novi Detroit Catholic Central) and have been to that stage three other times since the 1990s.
Senior Sebalian Roy (F/M) spent his first two years competing for FC Cincinnati in the MLS Academy system, where he took up residency with a host family and traveled the country. He returned for Clarkston last season and earned Division 1 All-State First Team honors along with teammate Richie Ludwig, an All-America on both the high school and ECNL club circuit who is now at Michigan State.
There is a host of talented players joining Roy on the pitch this season despite the loss of one player to Nashville of MLS Academy (sophomore M Cole Cooper) and the 14 players that graduated. Roy has stepped up to be the catalyst of this band. Senior Robbie Wisser (M) is also an accomplished club player and college recruit and senior Evan Desjardins (M) missed last season with an injury but would have been a starter. Senior Ben Melcher (G) also had injury issues last season and his backup services were missed because last year’s starting goalkeeper was out three-quarters of the season. He is healthy now and starting between the pipes.
Senior Brendan Gerard (F) is a third-year varsity veteran and returning starter. Junior Brayden Cooper (F), junior Tyler Niemi (M), senior Brady Melcher (M), junior Lucas Karsten (D), senior Graham Rainoldi (D) and freshmen Fagen Roy (D/M), Drew Salkowski (G/D), Jameson Duty (D) and Connell Vogelel (M/D) are also key players in the deep rotation of players. The younger Roy is 6-foot-4 and like all of the freshmen play at high levels of club soccer.
Last year Clarkston outscored the opposition 74-30 with 10 shutouts and that was playing with a revolving door of injuries including the top two goalkeepers missing a large chunk of the campaign. This year Clarkston is 4-0-1 to start with a 16-7 scoring differential and one shutout.
Clarkston is in the midst of a title chase inside the depth-laden OAA Red Division and quite capable of playing during the final week of the season.
Below is a deep look at some of the other top teams in the state regardless of division as part of the MSN’s Super 50:
10. FRASER (11-8-2): The bad news for Fraser is that last year was a mixed bags of results for the Ramblers. They started 0-3-0, played well in the meat of the regular season, then faded down the stretch by losing their final four games of the regular season. Fraser gained a shot of redemption in the state tournament by winning their first D-1 district crown since 2014 campaign and outscoring the opposition 13-2 in the process (51-34 overall). The road ended with a 2-0 loss to New Baltimore Anchor Bay in the regional semifinals. The good news is that there are 16 returning letterwinners and the Ramblers are playing much more consistent soccer behind a 7-1-0 start. That includes three clean sheets and a 22-8 differential of goals scored against goals allowed. Senior Jacob Stone (M/F, All-State Honorable Mention) is now the all-time leading scorer in Fraser history, while third-year senior veterans Amar Silmic (M), Nickolas Watley (M), Darryl Jackson (M), Zachary Wallace (M), Carter McMahon (G/D) and Chris Gresko (M/D) . Juniors Brian Lawrence (M) and Gjon Prekaj (M/F) are also in their third year and seniors Noah Manor (G, All-District), Evan Grove (D) and Branden Smigielski (D) all started games last season. Juniors Amar Milanovic (F) and Graham Hewett (F/G) have jumped in as newcomers and aided the cause.
9. EAST KENTWOOD (12-8-1): One of the most successful programs statewide the past 20 years regardless of division, the Falcons ventured through a rare rebuilding campaign in 2022. East Kentwood is again trending in the right direction this season. EK’s past includes eight total Fina Four bids since 2006, five state championships and one state runner-up, plus a couple of more regional appearances in that span. After not being ranked in the preseason in D-1, the Flacons have climbed the rankings with a bullet. There are 11 returnees and several full- and part-time starters back, plus three MLS Next Academy players coming over from Midwest United or the Michigan Wolves that have helped elevate the team into contention at various levels. Junior Brody Conlon (M/F), who spent last season with Midwest United after earning a rare All-State First Team nod as a freshman, returns to the prep game and is joined by senior newcomers Tarik Dizdarevic (CB/M0 and Isaiah Williams (OB), the other two MLS Next standouts, and this team went from good to being very good with their addition. Senior Elvin Bazric (F, All-State Honorable Mention), last year’s leading scorer, leads the returnees. Seniors Ryan Moore (OB) and Emrah Sejdinovic (M) are a pair of returning All-League picks who are back alongside along junior Andy Tran (M) and senior Kyle Fitzgerald (OB). Senior Hamza Duric (M) suffered an injury over the summer and may not return after starting games last year.
8. ANN ARBOR HURON (11-7-2): The River Rats have been building towards this season with a roster full of varsity and high-level club experience and have bounced around the D-1 top 15 during the season’s first month. Seniors Gavin Brooks (CB, All-District, NCAA Division I recruit) and Will Cook-Diamond (CB, All-League, All-District) anchor the back and both played for the Michigan Wolves National League team that reached the national tournament this year. Junior Antonio Cassone (F) and sophomores Matthew Pletcher (G), Phillip Leucht (CM) and Amadou Sidibe (OB) all have former MLS Next Academy experience. Seniors Esteban Mercado (M) and Jack Regan (OB), juniors Noah Maldonado (G/D) and Bernie Bowman (D/M) along with sophomores Kinley Poole (F), Nicolas Mercado (F) and Nassar Diarra (D) are some of the other players vying for playing time on a deep roster. Huron started the year 5-2-1 with four shutouts and have outscored the opposition 17-5.
7. NORTHVILLE (13-3-4): With all of the great teams and players to come through the Mustangs’ pipeline over the last four-plus decades, it’s odd to think that Northville has never won a state championship. In fact, Northville has only reached the state semifinals twice (2007, 2021). Gone are 17 players that graduated from a squad that captured the KLAA West Division and KLAA Tournament championships and reached the D-1 district finals. This year with only nine returnees Northville still started 5-1-1 with four shutouts and a 16-4 scoring edge and has been ranked in the D-1 top 15 all season. Senior Nick Settle (CB, All-State Honorable Mention) is a third-year starter and the sole current player that was on the 2021 Final Four squad. Seniors Caden Mauer (OM), Jack Frauenheim (F) and Riku Sato (D) and juniors Alex McCallum (F), Haithem Al-Zoubi (F), Ermir Tascioglo (M), Collin Sargent (CB) and Gabe Rivers (M) also have varsity experience. Sophomores Thomas Slater (M) and Jack Eisman (D) and juniors Nick Wilson (OB) and Ryan Afsari (OB/M) lead the newcomers, while juniors Zach Pfeifer (G) and Vedanth Pochhareddy (G) are splitting time in goal.
Are you interested in advertising your businesses on youtube with the Michigan Soccer Network?
6. OXFORD (7-9-3): Expectations have not been this high for the Wildcats since the mid-1990s when they were traditionally a state-ranked team in Class B. Oxford loaded up with young players the last three years to kind of build towards the 2023 and 2024 seasons and it is paying off. The Wildcats have been ranked in D-1 since the preseason and have started 8-1-1 with six shutouts all while outscoring its foes 25-8. That is after a 2022 season where the Wildcats took some lumps with only seven wins and being outscored 35-24. There are nine returning starters led by seniors Diego Madel (M, All-State Honorable Mention), Jay Cady (D)and Cooper Caupman (F). Juniors Nolan Mauser (G), Max Myrand (D), Coltrane Hudson (M), Anthony Jaboro (D) and Tristan Warthun (F) and Drew Cady (D) are also returning starters. Sophomores Ryan Pietsch (M) and Ryan Clark (M) are seeing increased minutes while sophomore Brayden Dowbley (F) leads the newcomers.
5. BERKLEY (20-3-1): The Bears have done a remarkable job over the previous decade being in a small landlocked and geographical area. Berkley has never reached the state finals and have never advanced past the regional finals, although part of that is the fact the Bears often play in a brutally-tough district and will again this season. The Bears pitched 17 shutouts last season after outscoring the opposition 59-10 and lost to then top-ranked Troy in the district finals in a shootout. This year the defensive-minded team has collected six more clean sheets while outscoring the opposition 25-4 while winning a pair of early-season weekend tournaments. Seniors Owen Stone (F/M, All-State Second Team) and Seth Davidson (G, All-State Third Team) are the backbones to this team that returns 14 players and is again comfortably inside the D-1 top 10. Seniors Andrew Cook (M), Abe Schnackel (M) and Will Knight (M) are also returning starters. Junior Kia Nelson (F/M) had a great offseason on the club circuit and summer team seasons, while senior Dennis Hayes (M) and juniors Mac Sperl (D) and Sam Niyo (D) have seen increased minutes.
4. GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS CENTRAL (13-5-2): The Rangers have sat near the cutoff between Division 1 and Division 2 during the previous decade and find themselves in D-2 with a talented roster this season. The OKC White Division member competes in a loaded league and district but does have the talent to enjoy a ton of success in the conference and make a deep run. Forest Hills Central owns two state titles and three trips to the Final Four in its history. Last season the Rangers collected 10 shutouts but only outscored its foes 39-17. This year FHC already has a 5-1-1 start and an 18-12 scoring edge. Seniors Kyle Webb (M/F, All-State Honorable Mention), Bennet Nieuwkoop (OB/OM, All-District), Chris Dongmo (F/M), Matt Taylor (CB), Will Banfield (OB), Kasey Dantuma (G) and Lance Childers (G) and juniors Eli Lipke (CB) all started games last season. Seniors Nick Bergman (M) and Brett Comiskey (D) and junior Dylan Buchanan (OM/OB) also have varsity experience. Junior Santi Tanner (M/D) and sophomore Micah Scholtens (CB/OB) have joined up with senior Alex Moeller (M/F) and junior Andrew Moeller (M), a pair of players that come over from the Michigan Wolves MLS Next Academy, as part of a cast of talented newcomers.
3. GRAND RAPIDS CHRISTIAN (11-5-5): Two years removed form a Division 2 state championship and the OKC White Division Eagles should be in the thick of the league and postseason championship runs. Behind a 4-1-2 start and a 17-5 offensive differential, Grand Rapids Christian is going to be very good this season after bouncing around the top 15 a year ago with a younger roster. Senior Jackson Mindling (M, All-League, All-District) and junior John Cassiday (F, All-League) are back to lead then Eagles. Senior Christian Dershem (G) is one of the state’s top keepers, while seniors Carter Goodyke (D) and Andrew Overvoorde (D) and juniors P:Eter Borst (M) and Soren White (D) are part of a talented unit. Freshman Liam Jansen (F) is one of the top players in his age group.
2. RICHLAND-GULL LAKE (22-3-0): The Blue Devils have been one of the most successful teams in the state during the past decade, reaching at least the final Four in four of the last five seasons. Gull Lake captured state titles in 2020 and 2022 while stalling in the state semifinals in 2018 and 2021. Overall, Gull Lake has won five state crown, one state runner-up and nine total Final Four appearances. Last season the Blue Devils were an offensive juggernaut with 15 shutouts and a 93-19 scoring edge and despite the last week of the regular season where Gull Lake went 1-2-0 in the SWMAC Tournament the Blue Devils were a dominating team. So far this season Gull Lake is 6-1-1 after outscoring its foes 22-3 with five shutouts in seven games. There are 14 returnees back to lead this squad, anchored by senior Ryker Corstange (F, All-State First Team, 20 goals, 25 assists). Seniors Evan Kaiser (G, All-State Third Team), Drew Boucher (CB), Tre Reiner (D), Kai Watts (D, All-League, All-District), Ethan Carr (M, All-League, All-District), Blake Wesley (M) and Zavier Thomas (F, All-League) are also returning starters. Seniors Charlie Waldorf (M) and Braden Minehart (G) and junior Javier Padilla (M) also logged lots of minutes. Senior David Rodriguez (M) and freshman Angel Torres (M) are two newcomers that have helped fill in some gaps.
1.CLARKSTON (16-5-3): See above.
WATCH THE MIHSSCA RANKING SHOW EVERY SUNDAY NIGHT
Are you interested in advertising your businesses on youtube with the Michigan Soccer Network?