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Traverse City West wins 21st BNC league title in 25 years, eying another deep tournament run



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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — What Traverse City West has been able to accomplish on the soccer pitch is somewhat remarkable.

Tucked into the northwestern portion of the Lower Peninsula, the Titans have a long, storied history in boys soccer since the school first made its debut a quarter century ago.

The community of Traverse City has also excelled in terms of a successful history of excellence in the sport.

Traverse City split into two public high schools in 1997 due to extreme overcrowding. Traverse City High School was Michigan’s largest high school in 1997 and that fall became Traverse City Central. At the same time Traverse City West opened its doors for the first time.

Traverse City High also had several long postseason runs before the split.

The boys soccer program took off in a hurry for Traverse City West, which is still the largest high school north of Midland and north of the Grand Rapids area, averaging between 1,600-2,000 students each year.

The school is located far away from the state’s premier clubs such as Midwest United, Michigan Wolves, Vardar, Nationals, Michigan Tigers, Michigan Jaguars, Liverpool and the Kalamazoo Kingdom, amongst others. Still, the Titans keep churning out quality players that play club locally with TBAYS North Storm and players who eventually become college prospects.

Somewhat isolated from other bigger schools except for rival Traverse City Central, the Titans have now captured 21 Big North Conference titles in the last 25 years, including an eye-catching 13 straight league titles following a 9-0-1 record in league play this year.

“This goes down to the type of kids we get each year and their work ethic,” said eighth-year head coach Matt Griesinger. “Each year we graduate a good group (of players) and the next group always step up. We always want to win the league championship. That’s always one of our goals every season. The guys want to carry on that tradition. After that, we want to challenge for a district title every year and maybe more.”

If teams overlook Traverse City West in terms of location, it will be a grave mistake. The Titans have also won 14 district crowns in the last 24 years, including three straight (2019-2021). TCW finished as the state runner-up in Division 1 in both 2019 and 2020 and even captured the D-1 state crown back in 2006.

Traverse City West has even produced two Mr. Soccer winners, as Casey Townsend won the award in both 2006 and 2007 – becoming the state’s first and only two-time winner of the prestigious award -- while Dalton Michael captured the honor in 2016. The Traverse City community has boasted of three total Mr. Soccer winners, as Anders Kelto won the award for Traverse City High back in 1994 and was one of the top players in the country at the time.

“There’s a lot of history up here,” noted Griesinger, who grew up in Ohio, prepped at Strongville High School where he helped his team capture four Northeast Ohio Conference crowns and was a 2009 All-NSCAA Scholastic All-American. He later played four seasons for Division I Bowling Green University.

Since Griesinger took over in 2015, TCW has won district titles in 2015, 2016, 2019, 2020 and 2021 to go along with the BNC streak with Griesinger on the sidelines for eight straight at the conference level (2015-2022). Former coach and current TCW athletics director Jason Carmien is responsible for coaching the rest of those league (13) and district (9) championship teams.

Although TCW is void of a host of returning All-State players this season, there are several players on this year’s roster that will be worthy of All-League, All-District, All-Region and possibly All-State accolades.

This year, senior centerback Luke Wiersma came back after earning All-League and All-District last season. Junior midfielder Ben Carlson is a third-year starter and only player to start two years ago in the D-1 state title game.

Senior forward/midfielder Ian Robertson has been steadily productive on the offensive end, while senior goalkeeper Trey Collins has pitched 12 shutouts and only yielded six goals in the regular season.

Sophomore Aidan Orth has excelled at forward and defense and has some Olympic Developmental Program pedigree on his resume. He has also garnered some interest from out-of-state MLS Next Academy and MLS Pro Academy teams. Junior D Dougie Rice and junior D/M Ben Tramsky have also become steady performers for the Titans.

The program has put up some gaudy numbers on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball despite losing a quality group to graduation, including All-State Dream Team and NSCAA All-American Colin Blackport.

“We have a lot of quality players who can finish and score goals for us,” said Griesinger of the 2022 lineup. “And we always pride ourselves on our defense. Our back line and our goalkeepers have been great all season. Only one school has scored more than one goal against us. That was Grand Haven and they are a ranked team that is also enjoying a great season. We beat Marquette and they are the top team in the Upper Peninsula. We’ve beaten some quality teams from (downstate) and we took care of business in our league. We only gave up two goals in our league this season.”

Traverse City West entered the postseason with a 15-1-1 record. The Titans only yielded a school low six goals in the regular season with the aforementioned 12 clean sheets and looks to add to those totals in the postseason. Traverse City West outscored the opposition 72-6 in the regular season and was ranked 15th in Division 1 entering the postseason behind its impressive offensive and defensive numbers.

The Titans’ sole loss this season came against fellow state-ranked Grand Haven (2-0) way back on September 2.

TCW opened D-1 districts last Thursday against Saginaw Unified with a swift 11-0 shutout to push the goal scoring total to 83 on the campaign and record the 13th shutout. The Titan, who now own a stellar 0.34 team goals-against-average entering the district semifinals, are one of two favorites in the northern D-1 district along with unranked Midland Dow. If TCW can get past Midland on Oct. 18 and Saginaw Valley League co-champion Midland Dow (13-4-0) can advance past Traverse City Central, the two would face off in the district finals Oct. 22 at a site to be determined.

TCW is currently on a 12-0-1 streak entering the district semifinals – outscoring the opposition 63-3 in that run.

“Our goal is two try to win a district and see how far we can go,” said Griesinger. “We’ve had some great teams in the past. In 2019 we made a run to the state finals in 2019 and some thought we had no business being there as we were unranked that year. But we got hot at the right time and made that run before losing to Troy Athens in the finals.

“The next year we had a lot of guys back and tons of experience and made a run back to the state finals,” continued the coach. “We beat Athens in the semifinals before we lost to (Novi Detroit) Catholic Central in the finals. That was an amazing group. Then last year we still won the district again before we lost in the regional semifinals to Okemos. They ended up winning the state championship and finished undefeated. We’ve lost to the state champions the last three years.”

Such an amazing run of league and district championships, four regional titles, three appearances in the state finals in school history to go along with the 21 league titles more than offers an explanation of the talent and work ethic of the players that have come through Traverse City West over the years.”

“We’ve been blessed since I’ve been here and I know that Jason (Carmien) was blessed when he was the coach,” noted Griesinger. “We hope to continue this (run) in the future.”

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