BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
PARMA, Mich. — At the beginning of each soccer season, most coaches and players enter the campaign with high expectations.
Parma Western has lived up to those expectations – and more.
The Division 2 seventh-ranked Panthers finished the regular season unbeaten for the first time in school history and wrapped up a 16-0-0 record with a 3-1 victory over Birmingham Detroit Country Day -- the state’s No. 2 team in Division 3 and one of the most storied programs in Michigan high school soccer history.
“It’s been a great season so far,” beamed Parma Western coach Scott Watterson, whose program has now posted five straight winning seasons. “The boys have come together very well. We kind of figured with all of the returning players back that we would be good. And we have a talented freshman and a senior player who used to live in the Jackson area, moved to New York a few years ago and then moved back for this season. We have a lot of very good players and we’re playing well together.”
Western has taken care of business in the regular season with high hopes for the postseason. And for good reason.
Parma Western returned 14 players with varsity experience, including nine starters, plus added two talented newcomers to help form the nucleus of this talented side. The Panthers are experienced with great athletes, some high-level club players, great leadership, and quality players from all four grades.
There are seven seniors, six juniors, two sophomores and one freshman on the roster and talent throughout the lineup. The only starters lost to graduation were Marshal Eva (All-State Honorable Mention) and Jack Herrington.
“We didn’t win the district last year and I believe we were third in the league, so we didn’t have a bunch of kids that were high on the All-District list last season. We only had one all-stater last year,” explained Watterson. “We did have a bunch of players who were All-League in the Interstate 8 or honorable mention and a lot of those players are back.”
Senior forward Wyatt Robinson (All-League First Team last season) notched 13 goals with 10 assists in the regular season and is a fine overall player. Junior forward Jeff Palmer was also All-League First Team a year ago and has booted home a team-leading 26 goals entering the tournament. There’s also junior forward Christian Roza, another talented goal scorer who was All-League Honorable Mention last season, while senior forward Thomas Powell has come off the bench to score eight more goals.
Senior captain Kellen Eva is a workhorse from his center midfield position and has also nabbed six goals with 13 assists, while senior midfielder/forward Cyrus Comfort moved in from New York state and has fit in nicely in a dangerous, well-balanced offensive attack. Junior holding midfielder Whittaker Watterson, one of the coach’s two sons on the team, was All-League Honorable Mention last season.
Then there’s the coach’s youngest son in freshman attacking midfielder Roarke Watterson. The electric playmaker is considered by some to be the top freshman prospect in Michigan and a top-100 ranked player nationally in his age group. He turned down some in-state and out-of-state interest to train and compete for some MLS Next Academy programs to play for his dad and alongside his talented teammates at the high school level this season.
That is Parma Western’s blessing and the Academy system’s loss.
“As his dad and coach, I have to treat him like everyone else,” laughed coach Watterson. “He is a very gifted player and he has helped us tremendously this season.”
On the backline, sophomore centerback Luke Nally, sophomore outside back Quentin Eva, junior centerback Barrett Warner (All-League Honorable Mention last year), and senior outside back Silas Falde have comprised of the starting back four all season that has aided a team goals-against-average of 0.44 in the regular season.
It doesn’t hurt that the Panthers are also equipped with a pair of sure-handed 6-foot-5 goaltenders in junior Aidan Barrett and senior Peter Ganzel. Senior Samuel Miller (M/D) and junior Lucas Inosencio (D/M) in the field.
“We don’t have a ton of guys that play for high level clubs. But we do have a lot of experience, guys that work extremely hard, and we do have some very good athletes,” said Watterson. “And for the guys that do play for good clubs, they are high-level kids. They all play together, are very coachable, and they want to win.”
The Panthers finished just 4-6-4 in 2017 before turning the corner. They finished 12-8-2 in 2018 and had their best season in school history in 2019, finishing 18-4-0 and reaching the Division 2 regional finals for the first time before falling to Melvindale (2-1). Parma Western finished 11-2-1 in 2020 and 7-6-1 in 2021, both of those being Covid-shortened seasons.
This season there has been a major uptick.
The Panthers scored 81 goals in the regular season while giving up only seven goals, a new school record. The numbers included 10 shutouts and no team scored more than two goals in a game on Western. The Panthers defeated Woodhaven 7-2 in a non-league contest back on Aug. 27 and that team went on to share its league title (Downriver League).
Parma Western captured its first Interstate 8 Athletic Conference title this season at 7-0-0 – a league that has been dominated by Marshall and Coldwater during the past decade. The Panthers outscored the opposition 34-1 in their seven league games with six shutouts, only yielding a single goal to Jackson Northwest.
“That was one of our goals this season and they stepped up to win the league championship,” praised Watterson. “Marshall has been one of the best teams in the state (in D-2) the last couple of years and won the league. I knew they graduated quite a bit from last year. Coldwater is usually right there and they always field a competitive team. I though that with the amount of guys we had back that we could contend this season.”
The Panthers’ Division 2 district is quality and deep and features the likes of Marshall, Richland Gull Lake, Coldwater and Middleville Thornapple-Kellogg amongst others. Marshall and Coldwater have won several districts in recent years, Middleville was a district champion last season and Gull Lake is ranked third, has reached the Division 2 Final Four a total of four times in five years and finished as the state champion in 2020.
“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we have been moved west for our district. It’s a loaded district,” said Watterson. “But we can’t control what district were placed in. We can only control how we play. To be the best you have to beat the best and Gull Lake is one of the best in Division 2 over the last several years. We can hope that someone upsets them on the other half of the bracket. But if we take care of business, I expect we’ll see them in a district finals.”
Parma Western continued its winning ways to open the Division 2 state tournament, defeating Hastings (6-0) in a pre-district and Marshall (5-0) in the district semifinals. The Panthers will face No. 3 Gull Lake (17-3-0) in the district finals.