Girls Soccer Preseason Top 50 teams: Grand Blanc owns the top spot, Marian is No. 2Soccer  |
Grand Blanc – Greg Kehler received a nice gift at the start of his 20th season as Grand Blanc’s soccer coach.
Several of his top players that were listed on three of U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy rosters opted to return to the prep scene this season.
In a transition year when Michigan’s three girls academy programs — Midwest United, Michigan Hawks and Nationals Union — launched their U.S. Soccer-mandated 10-month season for girls soccer across the country, some programs were hurt with several highly-ranked players turning in their high school jerseys.
The DAs, U.S. Soccer’s highest version of club soccer which started with the boys in 2007 and a 10-month boys program in 2012, lures some of the high-level talent in each state away from the high school game and other tiers of club soccer. This is the first school year that the Developmental Academy programs have been offered for the girls nationwide.
“I wasn’t sure who we’d get back,” Kehler said. “Two told me at the beginning of the school year they were going to come back and opt for a release from their Academy, but several others weren’t sure. I was in communication with all of them, but some waited to the 11th hour before tryouts were set to begin to let me know of their decision. I know it was a hard decision for all of them. If they chose to stay with their Academy, I would have supported it as well. Fortunately for us, we had six players that were on a DA roster with the Hawks or Nationals that chose to come back.”
For a program that has had winning teams every season dating back to the 1980s and a program that has lost in the Division 1 finals three times — 2004, 2015 and 2017 — their return is crucial.
Grand Blanc has lost in the finals twice in the past three years and with a roster loaded with future Division I and Division II college talent, perhaps this will finally be the year of the Bobcats.
“That’s what we’re hoping. That would be nice for a change,” Kehler said. “We have won so many league and districts, been to the semifinals a few times and lost in the finals several times — three with the girls and twice with the boys. I wasn’t the head coach with the first boys state runner-up (Class A, 1987, Doug Borroughs), but I have been there for the other four.
“I wouldn’t be honest if I said our goal wasn’t to win it,” added Kehler. “We have that type of talent.”
Coaches from around the state have slated Grand Blanc as the team to beat, and the reason why they are the No. 1 ranked team in the State Champs’ fifth annual Preseason Fab 50.
“We have some talent. I honestly don’t think we’ve had this much talent here at the same time in terms of kids who have signed with schools or given commitments. We have the talent to do well and I think that is one reason why so many kids came back,” Kehler said. “I think they felt they had some unfinished business. They have the goal of winning a state championship.”
1. GRAND BLANC (22-3-4): After losing to Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central 2-0 in the 2017 state final, the Bobcats have looked to the future. And it’s bright with a bevy of talent on this team. Senior M Morgan Metzger (All-State First Team, 21 assists, Valparaiso), junior M Ally Childers (Michigan State), sophomore F Faith Webber (25 goals, Michigan State), senior D Ashton Cassel (17 assists, Toledo), junior F Paige Webber (23 goals, 15 assists, Michigan State) and senior D Lara Wheeler (Eastern Michigan) were all listed on Developmental Academy rosters earlier this season but came back. Throw in senior D Morgan Jewell (Northern Kentucky) and junior G Madison McKay (12 shutouts) as returning starters. Senior D Samantha Lewis, junior M Isabella Sabo, sophomore F Jenna Blackburn and freshman D Cierra Trudeau are also in the mix. Metzger, Jewell, Cassel, and Wheeler have all played in two state championship games and this team is as deep as any.
2. BIRMINGHAM MARIAN (24-0-0): How do follow up a second undefeated season in school history? The Mustangs return over half of their roster and are favored to repeat in Division 2. Senior M Claudia Schilling (Western Michigan) and senior D Annie Bruce (Cincinnati) both bounced back from Nationals Academy roster spots, while junior F Jansen Eichenlaub (27 goals, All-State Dream Team, Virginia) is a Miss Soccer candidate. Junior F Morgan Cochran is a D-I recruit, as are junior D Neve Badalow and sophomore M/D Anna Leonard. Senior D Emmy DeConnick, junior D Sarah Stroud, freshman G Annabelle Deines and junior G Megan Krause will also be factors.
3. WALLED LAKE NORTHERN (14-5-3): The Knights are another program that have been knocking at the door of greatness during the past decade and could have the talent and depth to make a title run this year. Northern has two of the state’s top talents in junior M/F Dani Wolfe (Michigan, All-State First Team) and sophomore F Elle Rogers (Michigan State, All-State Honorable Mention). Junior M Mara Cousino was part of the 5-0-0 start, while newcomers Andie Wolfe and Lillie Ogle, a pair of freshmen defenders, junior M Really Nessen and freshman M Sophie Zawacki have all stepped in and made an impact for a team that reached the D-1 regionals finals last season.
4. BRIGHTON (19-2-3): A regional finalist last season and regional semifinalist two years ago, the Bulldogs have a deep and powerful unit that is capable of quite capable of winning their first grand prize. The Bulldogs are 0-5 all-time in state title games. Brighton has talent up and down its roster with sophomore D Mia Hansen (All-State Honorable Mention), senior M Alexis Shatrau (All-State Honorable Mention, Michigan Tech), senior M MacCulley Barry (Saginaw Valley State), senior M Kelsey Adams (Liberty) and senior G Hannah Swanson (10 shutouts, 0.70 GAA) leading the way. Three other players that should return from injury, Ellie Saladin, Emma Gould (All-State Honorable Mention) and Meghan McCord, will help, along with senior MacCulley Barry, junior M Abbie Bowland, senior D Olivia Logo, senior F Kayla Foran, junior D Gwen Kiliunen and senior M Alicia Shatrau. They will all be a part of the state championship vision quest.
5. PORTAGE CENTRAL (17-4-2): Another program with a lot of history, the Mustangs will be relevant this season with a loaded roster after winning league and district titles last season. Junior F Alanna Richmond (All-State Third Team, Western Michigan) and senior G Macie DeWyse give Central a bookend presence. Senior midfielders Kayla Mathieu, Margaret Piper and Morgan Wright, senior D Madison Strayer, senior F Emily Mergener, senior D Taylor Pennell and sophomore snipers Lauren McColley and Jaclyn Sibley all logged significant minutes. Freshman M Sophie Bradford leads the cast of newcomers.
6. PLYMOUTH (17-4-2): In terms of returning talent, few have as much as the Wildcats, a team that welcomes back 20 varsity veterans. Four D-1 All-State players lead the way, including junior F Kennedy White (First Team), sophomore F Gabrielle McCaslin (Second Team), junior G Rebecca Przybylo (Third Team) and senior D Madelyn Rush (Honorable Mention). Regional finalists last season, senior M Arie Pfieffer, junior F/M Eve Davis, senior M/D Haley Nelnick, junior D Morgan Gooding and sophomore D Ema Lenning are all returning starters.
7. NEW BALTIMORE ANCHOR BAY (18-2-4): Coming off a season where the Tars advanced to a D-1 regional final for the first time and set numerous school records, including wins and shutouts (14), Anchor Bay will not sit under anyone’s radar. Senior Ally Gaunt is one of the state’s better keepers, while junior midfielders Carlie Barone and Isabella Hunter, sophomore M Briana Rumps, senior forwards, Stephanie Lloyd and Haley Finazzo, and senior backs Mackenzie Rahn, Kassidy Miller, Samantha Gottberg and Julia Anulare all played plenty of minutes last season. Midfielder Megan Buchan is a dynamite freshman.
8. ROCHESTER HILLS STONEY CREEK (14-4-3): Two seasons removed from its first D-1 state title, the Cougars will very much be a team capable of making another long postseason run and contend for a title along the way. Sophomore F Isabelle Paradoski is primed for a big year, along with freshman F Christina Buca and sophomore F/M Morgan Carolan. Juniors Megan Solek, Amelia Kuntzman and Lauren Orlando are third-year starters and capable of playing midfield or defense. Freshman M Kavya Parikh, senior M/F Nicole Leon, sophomore newcomer Ally Johnson (D), junior M Emily Eckhout and senior D Isabella Ubaydi (Roanoke) will also by part on the Cougars’ plans.
9. BIRMINGHAM SEAHOLM (14-2-2): Fielding perhaps its best team since being a powerhouse in the 1990s, Seaholm has a roster loaded with college prospects and could cause some serious damage come June. Senior M Zoe Gaffney (Liberty, All-State Second Team) is the engine that makes the Maples go, while junior M Cate Brown (All-State third Team) is a D-I recruit. Junior F Haley Hartwig is also drawing D-I interest, junior M Hannah Stone (Vermont), junior D Ashley David (Georgia State), senior F Olivia Graham (Northwest Florida), senior G Jillian Shefferly and senior D Fatina Demetriou (Oakland) help form a solid nucleus.
10. NOVI (13-6-3): Over the past 15 years, few teams have been as consistent as the Wildcats. Novi has who five D-1 state titles and last went to the semifinals in 2016. District champions and KLAA Tournament runners-up last season, Novi welcomes back a bevy of talent and has several wins already over top 20 programs. Junior M Jesse Bandyk (Ferris State, All-State Third Team) and sophomore F Avery Fenchel are both highly-regarded. Senior G Callie Rich is headed to NCAA Division II power Grand Valley State, while senior D Riely Schultz (Madonna), senior M Emma Takada, junior M/D Riley Balcony (Miami-Ohio) and junior D Lauren Calhoun (Indiana State) are all solid players. Freshmen Eva Burns (D) and Abbey Pheiffer (G/D) will contribute.
11. FLINT POWERS (26-1-2): For a program that outscored the postseason opposition 31-2 last season and is 2-6 all-time in state final matches, many coaches won’t be disappointed that 12 Powers players graduated. The defending D-3 state champions will still be one of the favorites to make the finals a third consecutive state finals. Junior F Rachel Rasins (Columbia, All-State Second Team) is a big-time scoring threat, while senior F/M Sophie Budnar (All-State Third Team) is another capable sniper. Junior M Kennedy Myers, senior M Maddy Cardinal moved back from Texas after playing at Powers two years ago, sophomore G Natalie Deiterling, junior midfielders Cam Murlick and Emma Murlick and freshman D Katie Cardinal will add depth.
12. DEXTER (19-2-3): The Dreadnaughts have won 13 districts in the past 22 seasons and reached the D-2 semifinals in each of the past two seasons. Senior forward Morgan Esch (27 goals, five assists, All-State Third Team) was the Ann Arbor News Player of Year last spring with nine multi-goal games. Senior midfielder Sammi Corcoran (Ball State) is a D-I signee and senior goalkeepers Caitlin Micallef and Nicole Tusinowski are solid.
13. ROCHESTER ADAMS (14-4-3): The defending OAA Red Division champions might have been hard hit by Academy defections, as six players departed. One wouldn’t know it as Adams began the season 7-0-1. Senior M Haley Wentzloff (Grand Valley State, All-State Third Team) and sophomore D/M Justice Tillotson (Michigan State) are highly-touted players. Senior D Cammy Smith, junior D Eva McCaughtry, senior F Ava Bronzetti, senior D Anna Heath, senior D/M Lillie Groesser, freshman G Maddie Dolenga and senior G Amanda Bobiak will all contribute, along with freshmen Lindsey Bower (F) and Kate Stice (D).
14. BLOOMFIELD HILLS (12-3-1): Since the merger five years ago, Bloomfield Hills has maintained a high level of play, finishing second in the OAA Red last season. Senior F Christina Hickson (Case Western), senior G Rebecca Hancock (Earlham), senior D Bridget Paulon (Illinois-Chicago) and senior M Kyra Scholfield (Calvin) will all play collegiately. Junior M Sydney Huston, senior D Grace Jaksen, junior F Sloan Marvil, senior M Anastasia Curti, junior D Lilly Formanek and senior D/M Lauren Joneson also started games last season.
15. UTICA EISENHOWER (17-4-0): A ton of firepower has graduated the past three years, but the cupboard is far from bare. Midfielder Meike Ingles (Iowa) is a nationally-ranked sophomore and was invited to a U-16 national camp in November. Junior F Lauren DeBeau is another D-I recruit and a tough matchup. Freshmen Grace Pabian (D), Makayla Belanger (F) and Nina Ferraro (M) are three more rising stars that will help the Eagles.
16. ROCKFORD (14-6-1): Although the Rams lost a couple of key players to Midwest United, they are the defending O-K Conference Red Division champs and have 14 total returners. Senior G Keeli Kornak-Kotarba, senior D Lindsey Herdsman (St. Mary’s-West Virginia), senior snipers Mary Harpst and Grace Milo, senior M Grace Filipiak, senior M/D Rachel Erste (Northern Michigan) and senior M Madiline Maple (Davenport) are all key players. Sophomore attacking players Sidney Reinke, Ashton Armock, Abby Rose and Natalie Hammer will aid the cause.
17. HARTLAND (14-5-4): After hiding in obscurity, Hartland has surfaced as a competitive side during the past decade and is quite capable of making other state powers uncomfortable. Hartland defeated Saline (1-0) in its opener. Senior F Caroline Halonen (Bowling Green), senior G Andrea Everett, senior D Chloe Holt, senior Kylie Hughes, senior F Sydney Hughes, senior D/M Jhay-lah Kennell and sophomore midfielders Mary Storm and Caitlyn Trombley from a team that recorded 11 shutouts last season.
18. SALINE (19-4-1): The Hornets return a ton of talent from last year’s D-1 semifinal team and a few holdovers from the 2015 state title. Senior D/M Morgan Jones and senior M Annika Dahlmann are both four-year veterans and senior G Annika Urdrys is a three-year starter. Sophomore D Sophia Wood, senior D Sarah Brennan (Adrian), senior D/M Bella Petrock (Ashland), senior D Emma Petrock (Alma), senior M Tate Robinson (Michigan Tech), junior F Devin Reilly (Michigan for field hockey), sophomore F Erin Reilly and freshman F/M Lauren Rubin will keep this team in the hunt. The Hornets started 3-2-0.
19. NORTHVILLE (11-7-4): After winning the 2014 D-1 title, Northville dipped a little bit. But if a 4-0-0 start is an early indication, the Mustangs may be on their way back up the charts. Losing in 14 rounds of PKs in the district semifinals last year, Northville brings back sophomore F Sarah Noonan, sophomore D Ariana Laba, senior M/D Kendall Dillon, sophomore M/D Tara Season, sophomore G Ellie Thallman (three goals allowed), senior D Jenna Lauderback, sophomore D Haley Brass, sophomore F Erica Toupin and sophomore M Lauren Fleming to a group that is young but talented.
20. WOODHAVEN (18-6-2): Winners of eight districts in 10 seasons, Woodhaven is off to a 4-1-2 start and has beefed up its non-league schedule to prepare for the tournament. Senior D Nikki May (Oakland), senior D/M Natalia Milanowski, junior M Elaina Hillman, sophomore F Olivia Alexander (27 goals), junior M Caitlin Brown and freshman M/D Morgan Hudgins will all contribute.
21. LIVONIA STEVENSON (17-2-4): One early-season minor slip-up will hurt the Spartans’ in the rankings, but this team will be capable of advancing far if it can escape one of the state’s deepest districts. Senior F Audrey Kopitz (All-State First Team, Madonna) is healthy and senior D Kennedy Thurlow (Central Michigan) gives Stevenson two excellent players on each end of the field. Sophomore Abby Werthman and senior Kayla Gacioch anchor the midfield. Junior M Sarah Dressing, sophomore G Mackenzie Fifer, freshmen Delaney Millis (M) and Adrianna Mroz (D/M) and sophomore defenders Samantha Kuszynski and Zelia Griffith will make this team a top 20 program later in the campaign.
22. GRAND RAPiDS FOREST HILLS CENTRAL (21-0-4): Gone is one stellar player to graduation and six other starters off of last year’s D-1 state championship team have departed to the Midwest United D.A. Senior G Emma Yoder (All-State Second Team), junior F Ashley Ward, senior M Hannah Bowling, sophomore D Ally Francisco, senior D Bree Probst, junior M Grace Kline, senior F Ali Czarnecki and freshmen Whitney Currie (D) and Megan Clayton (M) are in the lineup to prove that the Rangers won’t be down too long.
23. TROY ATHENS (14-4-4): One of the most successful large-school programs in state history, graduation and DA deflections may hurt the Red Hawks at first as 44 goals scored last season were by a player no longer around. Sophomore F Sam Slimak, senior G Julia Lower, junior D Brooke Russell (Grand Valley State), senior D Kaycie Peake (Oakland), junior F/M Jordyn Rauser, sophomore M Jessica McEachern and senior D Emma Haggarty form a solid nucleus for the Red Hawks, who started 2-2 against Top 50 programs — all one-goal games.
24. PONTIAC NOTRE DAME PREP (17-4-3): Two years ago the Irish won a D-2 state title and last year were upset in a regional final by Linden. Although two of their top players left for the Nationals Union squad, this team is still talented. Sophomore F Itala Gemelli has drawn some major interest from D-I schools, as are junior midfielders Maura Kruse and Stephanie Maniaci. Beginning the year 4-1-1, NDP also returns senior M Mariana McPartlin and senior D Sarah Beckett, while freshman G Sophie Thieme and sophomore midfielders Rachel Bologna, Riley Williams and Lauren Lopez lead the cast of newcomers.
25. GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS NORTHERN (20-1-3): After losing in the D-2 state finals the past two years, Northern suffered a big blow when four high-level D-I players opted to go to the Midwest United Academy, taking away the team’s star power. Behind a 3-1-0 start, there is still time for the Huskies to regroup and reload. Senior M Sophia Terzes (Hope College, All-State Third Team) came back from the Midwest United, while sophomore F Addie Brown, sophomore D Jenna Mastapha, senior M Credence White (Northern Michigan), sophomore M Elyse DeSchryver, junior F Sammi Blair and sophomore D Paige Myers will all see increased roles.
26. RICHLAND-GULL LAKE (15-4-0): The Division 2 champions from 2013-15, the Blue Devils are on their way back up the charts. Junior F Reagan Wisser (All-State First Team, Western Michigan) was Kalamazoo Area Player of the Year last season. Senior M Sara Olivarez competed for the Kalamazoo Home School last season and is a highly-regarded player. Sophomore M Taylor Wesley (All-State Honorable Mention), junior D Lindsay Buckhout, junior D/M Maddie Rossen, junior D/M Julia Dawson and junior F Avery Cook will aid the cause. Sophomore Gabby Bennecke and junior Sophie Tilbury will split time in goal.
27. SALEM (10-7-3): Logged in a deep pool of teams in the KLAA and western suburbs, the Rocks will field a talented side capable of doing some damage. Sophomore F Sydney Smith (All-State Honorable Mention, 17 goals), senior F Kate Coleman (Central Michigan), junior M Chloe Piranha (Central Michigan) and senior D Anna Fraybrick (All-State Honorable Mention, D-1 recruit) will be key cogs in Salem’s plans.
28. UTICA FORD II (15-1-4): The Falcons were hard hit by graduation, Nationals Union departures and season-ending injuries to two starters from their D-1 semifinal team. Senior D/M Darline Radamaker (All-State Second Team, Grand Valley State) and senior F/M Julie Ann