Boys soccer tournament preview: Race to state titles up for grabs
After two months of battles, the Michigan High School Athletic Association will launch its 34th annual boys soccer state tournament this week.
Pre-district games are set for Oct. 19-20 around the state, while district semifinals will take place Oct. 21-22 and district finals will be played on either Oct. 23-34.
One thing is for certain this year. Many of the state-ranked programs will not advance to the regional rounds in each of the state’s four divisions. There are numerous districts with multiple state-ranked teams, including one district that boasts four top-20 programs.
Below is a breakdown of the district round of the postseason. There are 16 districts in each of the four divisions.
In the coaches association weekly top 20, over 35 schools have been ranked this season. Translation: The tournament is wide open with some brutally-difficult districts in the first week.
District No. 15 offers last year’s runner-up, Rochester Adams, which has to get past rival Rochester for a third time this season in the opener. Rochester Hills Stoney Creek awaits on the other half of the bracket and is a team that is heavy with talented underclassmen.
District No. 7 at North Farmington is loaded. No. 2-ranked Northville and No. 3 Detroit Catholic Central, which opens against No. 16 Novi in the pre-district, are all on one side of the bracket with Walled Lake Central on the other half.
No. 13 Clarkston, which shared the OAA Red Division title with Adams, is on the opposite side of KLAA runner-up Grand Blanc, which is a traditionally-strong program that surprisingly has not been ranked despite a 14-3-2 record.
Defending state champion Canton, ranked No. 6, should reach a district final. On the opposite side of the Westland John Glenn district are No. 5 Salem and No. 11 Plymouth, which opens with Livonia Stevenson, another school that logged some weeks in the top 10.
Over on the east side at Troy Athens, Utica Ford (No. 7), Athens (No. 10), Fraser (No. 14) and Clinton Township Chippewa Valley (No. 20) are all lumped in the same district that also contains Sterling Heights Stevenson. This is the only district with four ranked teams.
On the state’s west side, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central is ranked No. 1 but will have to get past No. 15 East Kentwood in the opener. East Kentwood has won three state titles in the past decade. Rockford awaits the winner in the district semifinals.
Portage Central is ranked No. 8 and Portage Northern (No. 12) in the Northern district, which also boasts Okemos, the same school that was No. 1 entering the tournament last season but has ventured through a rebuilding campaign.
No. 17 Saline is in the same district with 2013 state champion Ann Arbor Skyline and Ann Arbor Pioneer.
Birmingham Brother Rice, which won the Catholic League title last week (the Warriors upset Detroit Catholic Central), must face the likes of Birmingham Seaholm, Troy, Birmingham Groves and Berkley for a district title. Brother Rice, Seaholm and Berkley all spent time in the rankings earlier this season and Troy already owns a couple of wins against top-20 schools.
Traverse City West appears to be the best in northern Michigan.
Dearborn and Woodhaven are quality programs favored to win districts.
White Lake Lakeland, ranked for the first time this season, enters the postseason at No. 8. The Eagles won the KLAA North Division this year for the first time and is a program on the rise.
Sub-five-hundred Warren De La Salle is in a weak district and has played a strong schedule which should carry the Pilots onto the regional round. Utica Eisenhower (No. 9) and Grand Haven (No. 19) are strong favorites in their respective districts.
1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central; 2. Northville; 3. Novi Detroit Catholic Central; 4. Rochester Adams; 5. Plymouth Salem; 6. Plymouth Canton; 7. Utica Ford; 8. Portage Central; 9. Utica Eisenhower; 10. Troy Athens; 11. Plymouth; 12. Portage Northern; 13. Clarkston; 14. Fraser; 15. East Kentwood; 16. Novi; 17. Saline; 18. White Lake Lakeland; 19. Grand Haven; 20. Clinton Township Chippewa Valley.
District 1 at Grandville: Grand Haven
District 2 at Rockford: Forest Hills Central
District 3 at Portage Northern: Portage Central
District 4 at Geographic District: Traverse City West
District 5 at Flushing: Grand Blanc
District 6 at Hartland: Lakeland
District 7 at North Farmington: Detroit Catholic Central
District 8 at Ann Arbor Huron: Saline
District 9 at Woodhaven: Woodhaven
District 10 at Westland John Glenn: Canton
District 11 at Livonia Franklin: Dearborn
District 12 at Grosse Pointe South: De La Salle
District 13 at Bloomfield Hills: Troy
District 14 at Troy Athens: Utica Ford
District 15 at Rochester Stoney Creek: Adams
District 16 at Utica: Eisenhower
While not as wide open as Division 1, Division 2 boasts several teams that have a realistic shot at reaching the semifinals.
The defending champ is No. 5 East Lansing, which will have to get past No. 15 DeWitt in the opening round.
Top-ranked Holland Christian is in the same district as No. 11 East Grand Rapids. Holland Christian reached the semifinals last year.
No. 3 Mattawan has its best team in since the 1990s. Stevensville Lakeshore is the only team capable of an upset in the Vicksburg group.
No. 10 Coldwater and No. 20 Marshall are on collision course in the Marshall district. Spring Lake (No. 6) could have difficulty with No. 9 Fruitport and once-beaten but unranked Allegan in District 31.
Mason, ranked No. 8, reached the semifinals last season and was ranked No. 1 for over a month before a couple of losses dropped the Bulldogs down. Mason is capable of making a run at the crown but will have to get past No. 17 Dexter, a semifinalist last year, and Chelsea to advance.
Traditional power Detroit Country Day (No.12) should face unbeaten but unranked Madison Heights Lamphere in a district final.
No. 7 Orchard Lake St. Mary’s is on a collision course with 2014 state runner-up and No. 4 Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in a district semifinal. Auburn Hills Avondale, the 2011 state champion, is on the opposite end and capable of pulling the upset.
No. 19 Riverview has emerged in recent years as one of Downriver’s top teams and should win its district. Unranked Tecumseh and Farmington Hills Harrison are favored in their respective district. Plainwell (No. 13) and Marysville should cruise in their respective groups.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern enters the tournament ranked No. 2. Petoskey (No. 14) is the class of northern Michigan and Ortonville Brandon (No. 18) has its best team since the 1990s and is favored to win its own district.
1. Holland Christian; 2. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern; 3. Mattawan; 4. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood; 5. East Lansing; 6. Spring Lake; 7. Orchard Lake St Mary’s; 8. Mason; 9. Fruitport; 10. Coldwater; 11. East Grand Rapids; 12. Birmingham Detroit Country Day; 13. Plainwell; 14. Petoskey; 15. DeWitt; 16. Dexter; 17. Grand Rapids Northview; 18. Ortonville-Brandon; 19. Riverview; 20. Marshall.
District No. 17 at Vicksburg: Mattawan
District 18 at Plainwell: Plainwell
District 19 at Holland: Holland Christian
District 20 at Marshall: Coldwater
District 21 at Chelsea: Mason
District 22 at Adrian: Tecumseh
District 23 at Riverview: Riverview
District 24 at Farmington: Harrison
District 25 at Detroit Country Day: Lamphere
District 26 at Marysville: Marysville
District 27 at Holly: Cranbrook Kingswood
District 28 at Ortonville Brandon: Brandon
District 29 at East Lansing: East Lansing
District 30 at Ada Forest Hills Eastern: Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern
District 31 at Allendale: Spring Lake
District 32 at Geographic District: Petoskey
Hudsonville Unity Christian is the defending champions and has climbed up to No. 4 in the rankings. But unbeaten and top-ranked Flint Powers is the team to beat. Powers has No. 17 Frankenmuth in its district.
Unity Christian must get past Grant (two losses) in its district semifinal. Grant fell out of the top 20 but won a district title last year.
Perhaps the top game early on will be Tuesday’s pre-district featuring No. 10 Gladwin and No. 13 Tawas, which reached semifinals in 2009 and 2014. Gladwin has enjoyed its best season to date.
Coloma is ranked No. 19 and is a team to keep an eye on with its best team to date. It should face a stern test as No. 7 Paw Paw is in Coloma’s district.
Whitehall (No. 9) is perennial power from the west side and is a heavy favorite in its district.
There is a possible showdown looming with No. 5 Grosse Ile and No. 6 Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central in a district final. St. Mary C.C. enters the postseason with only one loss and is enjoying its best season to date.
Clawson (No. 14) could have problems with Macomb Lutheran North and Hamtramck Frontier International in its district, as both of those programs have won a state title.
Richmond, the 2007 state champion, is ranked No. 15. Imlay City, a regional finalist last year, awaits on the other half of the bracket.
Williamston, last year’s state runner-up, finds itself in the same group as No. 8 Lansing Catholic Central. Saginaw Swan Valley (16-1-1) and Freeland (17-2-0) should meet in a district final and the winner will be a worthy opponent down the road.
After opening only a couple of years ago, No. 16 Kentwood Grand River Prep carries a 16-1-1 record into the postseason and could pull off a surprise in its district. No. 2 Grand Rapids South Christian and No. 20 Wyoming Godwin Heights are in the same district.
1. Flint Powers Catholic; 2. Grand Rapids South Christian; 3. Williamston; 4. Hudsonville Unity Christian; 5. Grosse Ile; 6. Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central; 7. Paw Paw; 8. Lansing Catholic Central; 9. Whitehall; 10. Gladwin; 11. Ludington; 12. Elk Rapids; 13. Tawas City; 14. Clawson; 15. Richmond; 16. Kentwood Grand River Prep; 17. Frankenmuth; 18. Grand Rapids Catholic Central; 19. Coloma; 20. Wyoming Godwin Heights.
District 33 at Berrien Springs: Coloma
District 34 at Comstock: Allegan
District 35 at Hudsonville Unity Christian: Unity Christian
District 36 at Portland: South Christian
District 37 at Brooklyn Columbia Central: Onsted
District 38 at Williamston: Williamston
District 39 at Chesaning: Powers
District 40 at Freeland: Saginaw Swan Valley
District 41 at Flat Rock: St. Mary Catholic Central
District 42 at Livonia Clarenceville: Allen Park Cabrini
District 43 at Macomb Lutheran North: Clawson
District 44 at Imlay City: Richmond
District 45 at Lakeview: Whitehall
District 46 at Ludington: Ludington
District 47 at West Branch Ogemaw Heights: Gladwin
District 48 at Cheboygan: Elk Rapids
Lansing Christian was ranked No. 1 all of last season before it was upset in a district final. This season the Pilgrims have been ranked No. 1 from the start and are the favorite to win the title.
Hartford (16-1) has its best team and is ranked No. 7. Harbor Beach (No. 13) is the only ranked school from the thumb and should prevail.
No. 6 Grand Rapids Covenant Christian, last year’s state runner-up, is in the same group with No. 18 Grand Rapids NorthPointe Christian. No. 11 Charlevoix has won 18 games and will have to get by rival Harbor Springs (No. 12).
Another district with multiple ranked teams features the host team, No. 4 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, No. 19 Muskegon Catholic Central and No. 20 North Muskegon.
Conference rivals Plymouth Christian (No. 14) and Allen Park Inter-City Baptist (No. 16) should meet in a district final. Fellow MIAC schools Ann Arbor Greenhills (No. 2) and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett (No. 10) are favored in their respective districts.
Defending champion Birmingham Roeper, also from the MIAC, has ventured through a rebuilding season. Royal Oak Shrine is the favorite in that district at Madison Heights Bishop Foley.
Burton Genesee Christian (16-0) is ranked No. 15 and the Soldiers are the only unbeaten team in this division. Genesee Christian was the team that upset Lansing Christian a year ago.
1. Lansing Christian; 2. Ann Arbor Greenhills; 3. Royal Oak Shrine Catholic; 4. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian; 5. Leland; 6. Grand Rapids Covenant Christian; 7. Hartford; 8. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central; 9. Grandville Calvin Christian; 10. Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett; 11. Charlevoix; 12. Harbor Springs; 13. Harbor Beach; 14. Plymouth Christian; 15. Burton Genesee Christian; 16. Allen Park Inter-City Baptist; 17. Jackson Christian; 18. Grand Rapids North Pointe Christian; 19. Muskegon Catholic Central; 20. North Muskegon.
District 49 at St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic: Hartford
District 50 at Grandville Calvin Christian: Calvin Christian
District 51 at Lawton: Marcellus Howardsville Christian
District 52 at Kalamazoo Christian: Kalamazoo Hackett
District 53 at Blissfield: Greenhills
District 54 at Laingsburg: Lansing Christian
District 55 at Riverview Gabriel Richard: Plymouth Christian
District 56 at Madison Heights Bishop Foley: Shrine
District 57 at Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett: University Liggett
District 58 at Auburn Hills Oakland Christian: Genesee Christian
District 59 at Unionville-Sebewaing: Harbor Beach
District 60 at Saginaw Nouvel Catholic: Lincoln Alcona
District 61 at Big Rapids Crossroads Academy: Covenant Christian
District 62 at Muskegon Western Michigan Christian: Western Michigan Christian
District 63 at Leland: Leland
District 64 at Harbor Springs: Charlevoix