Girls Soccer Preseason Top 25 teams – Pressure on Stoney Creek to deliver first title; Eisenhower, Grandville to challenge
Rochester Hills — Often a two-goal lead inside 15 minutes is a safe lead to protect. That is not always the case.
Rochester Hills Stoney Creek learned the hard way last May 31 in a girls soccer Division 1 district final.
Ranked No. 2 at the time, Stoney Creek led 2-0 and even hit the crossbar before the bottom fell out.
Utica Eisenhower scored three goals all within an 11-minute span, to post a 3-2 upset to win the district title.
Instead of a deep postseason run and a hopeful clash with No. 1 Northville in the state final, the Cougars were left on the outside looking in. Instead it was Eisenhower that reached the state final, falling to nationally-ranked Northville, 2-1.
The disappointment of seeing a dream dashed away in minutes and the fact that Stoney Creek, now in its 13th season, bolsters six Division I college players and a deep well of talent is why expectations are through the roof.
There are plenty of reasons why the Cougars are the No. 1-ranked team in the inaugural State Champs preseason Top 25 and one of the favorites to win the Division 1 state championship.
“I know the girls talk about winning state,” fourth-year coach Bryan Mittelstadt said. “I remind them let’s worry about winning a district first in the postseason, and then take it one game at a time. We have a lot of talented players, but we haven’t gone anywhere yet. Right now let’s worry about playing together and getting better each time we play. We want to win the OAA Red (Division) again this year.”
Stoney Creek opened its doors in 2002-03 and the first couple of years the Cougars were in Division 2, eventually finishing as the state runner-up in 2004. The next season Stoney Creek moved to D-1 and the Cougars haven’t advanced beyond the district finals since.
That could change this season.
“One of the hardest things in our area is winning the district,” Mittelstadt said. “There are so many quality teams around here. And when you often have to play rivals in the tournament, anything can happen. We beat Rochester Adams in a shootout in the districts (semifinals) last year. And then we had to play Eisenhower.”
While Stoney Creek graduated three starters, most notably all-state first team selection Madison Schupbach (18 goals), the cupboard is stacked.
Senior forward Jamison Midgley (Butler), the Cougars’ all-time leading scorer, is a Miss Soccer candidate, while two-sport star Maria Zandi (Oakland), who’s also a fine basketball player, is a field general from the midfield with exceptional vision. Junior sniper Taylor Paradoski is effective converting opportunities.
Emily Solek, a sophomore forward who joined the squad late last season, is set for a breakout season, and sophomore Truly Hoenig comes aboard after playing club soccer last spring.
Seniors Carly Harvey, Courtney Solek, Carly Cerny and Madison Toth are both defensive minded players who have the skillset to attack out of the back. The Cougars allowed an average of .56 goals a game last season and yielded only nine goals total. Freshman Isabella Langush adds depth to the defense.
Senior Savannah Rembold (Western Michigan) was the backup goaltender last season and sophomore Gina Cerny provides a talented understudy this season.
Stoney Creek finished 15-2-1 last season, was ranked in the top five all season and won the talent-laden Oakland Activities Association Red Division for the second year in a row. For a team that has never won a state title and has not won a district in 11 years, the expectations have never been higher.
“Its high school soccer. Anything can happen,” added Mittelstadt. “Nothing is a given. There’s a lot of teams that could win it all. We have a lot of talent. We have to keep them focused.”
2. UTICA EISENHOWER (19-2-2): After upsetting Stoney Creek last year, the Eagles have a plethora of talent returning and, being in a separate district as Stoney Creek this season, there’s every indication that Eisenhower has the talent to challenge for top honors this season. Behind a 6-0-1 start, Mehrdad Nekoogar’s troops are a collective offensive juggernaut and will create severe challenges for opposing defenses. Senior F/M Paige Duda (25 goals, Central Michigan) is a Miss Soccer candidate, while senior M/F Isabella Palazzolo (St. Louis) and senior M/F Shannon Casey (Villanova) are part of a trio that can score seemingly as will. Sophomore M Sofia DiMercurio, sophomore D Jenna Morgan Mooty, senior D Samantha Dunn, senior M Jessica DeClarcq, senior D Julia Henning, junior D Malina Kattula and junior G Bianca Koupparis all started at one time or another and have formed cohesiveness as a unit. Midfielder Gabriela Jodzis is one of state’s top freshmen. Michigan State has already offered her a scholarship.
3. GRANDVILLE (14-4-3): Two years ago Grandville established itself amongst the elite by finishing as the Division 1 state runner-up. Last season this team reached the regional finals before falling to Okemos and this year is off to a 5-0-0 start behind a roster of college prospects. Senior F Rachael Braginton (Hope College) is a goal-scoring machine and senior D Elise Royer (Dallas Baptist) is the anchor on defense. Senior forwards Madi Grit (Aquinas) and Kristina Berkzkanis (Alma College) provide experience. The junior class is even more talented with the likes of midfielders Sydney Blitchok (Iowa), Lydia Bajema (Western Michigan) and Savanna Bosworth (Western Michigan) leading the charge. Juniors Ally Nyboer and Bri Hayboer are steady in the backfield.
4. RICHLAND GULL LAKE (23-1-1): The two-time defending Division 2 champions won’t wow you with stellar droves of Dream Team-caliber talent. Gull Lake only had one all-state first team player last season. But few schools will outwork the Blue Devils (45-2-2 over the past two seasons). Senior Amanda Pavletic and junior Hannah Phommavongsa (Grand Valley State) combine to create havoc on defenses. Riley Wisser, Kirsten Taylor, and Maddie Fouts are all senior midfielders pushing the pace. Senior Olivia Sullivan anchors the back.
5. EAST KENTWOOD (15-2-2): There are 10 starters back for the Falcons and this could be the team that delivers the girls program out from under the boys program shadows, a team that has won four titles in the past decade. Could this be a year that East Kentwood makes a run to the semifinals or beyond? The defending O-K Conference Red Division champs were ousted by Grandville in the regional semifinals last season (2-1). Senior D Alexis Fricke (Bowling Green) is one of the state’s better players and is joined by fellow four-year starter Jessica Bleckley on the back line. Senior M Amalia Garcia (Davenport), senior F Chani Warfield (IPFW) and senior F Brittany Tanner (Michigan State) form a potent offensive punch. Seniors Beth Ledger and Kasey Stehouwer, and sophomore Maria Perez will all split time in goal, a luxury of three top-tier net-minders on one roster.
6. BIRMINGHAM MARIAN (19-1-1): A traditional power going back to the 1990s, Marian is still capable of contending for another title even though senior Kelley Sweeney has departed to the U-20 U.S. National Team camp and will forego her senior season. Senior M Jaclyn Engel (Dartmouth), senior D Sarah George and senior G Megan Bricely (Albion) are the apparent leaders of this talented band. Sophomores Hannah Redoute, Elaina Eckert and Ellie DeConnick are rising stars up top, and junior M Amy Stroud and sophomore D Maria Kaschalk are aback in the lineup. Marian’s sole loss last season came in the state finals.
7. UTICA FORD (16-4-1): The Falcons put together their best season to date, making a run to the state semifinals in Division 1, and return most of their talent this season. Ford has outscored its three opponents this season, 16-1. Sophomore Cecilia Steinwascher missed last season’s run with a broken collarbone and now looks to lead the Falcons. Senior M Isabella Sortzi, junior D Molly Vanderhoff, senior M Megan Bonus, sophomore D Lauren Cimino, junior M Allyson Beckwell and senior G Nikki Topping are all back to aid the cause of a first state title. Freshman Julie Ann Piechocki is going to be a load to handle at forward.
8. SALINE (19-3-3): The Hornets advanced to the D-1 regional finals last season and despite losing a few players to club soccer, have a talented cast this season that will keep them in the elite group this year. Senior Sophia Sweier (Grand Valley State) is one of Michigan’s top keepers, junior midfielder Amanda Zylstra, senior F Taylor Mulder and senior D Molly O’Sullivan form a solid nucleus.
9. WALLED LAKE NORTHERN (13-4-2): Much like Northern’s boys team, this group has made considerable headway in recent years and is a team that could reach the semifinals. While Northern is not a team of stars in the field, playing with great balance and depth, the Knights boast several college-level players. Junior F Devyn Brough (Auburn) is a quality goal scorer and Emma Voelker (Oakland) is a returning All-State senior midfielder. Senior M Rachel Rodeheffer (Wisconsin-Milwaukee), senior M Marisa Pyden (Central Michigan), senior defensemen Libby Cousino (Ohio Northern) and Caitlyn Oliver (Valparaiso), and senior G Hayden Cesarz are all slated for big years. Three of this team’s top players competed with the Michigan Hawks in the club circuit last season and have made their return to the high school ranks. The Knights turned some heads recently with a 2-1 victory over defending D-1 champion Northville, ending the Mustangs’ streak at 23 straight wins. Northern is 4-0-0 to start the campaign and is quite capable of a long tournament run.
10. NORTHVILLE (23-0-0): The defending Division 1 champs never fall too far off the map. The Mustangs lost a ton of offensive production and won’t be able to cast a magic spell over the opposition this spring with sure talent but will still be in the mix come the end of the season. Senior Emily Maresh is one of the state’s top keepers with impeccable numbers, sophomore Sydney Schembri has already committed to Xavier as a sophomore and is a reliable target up top, as is senior Kelly McHugh. Senior Tara Pawloski is a heady central defender and part of last year’s 18 shutouts. Freshmen M Kendall Dillon and freshman D Nikki Skinner have aided five shutouts this season, the same for sophomore marking back Sydney Schembri. Seniors Alana Dorfstatter, Jenna Baughman, Sarah Castellano and Morgan Gozdor will see expanded roles and provide leadership. Northville is 6-1-0 on the year to outscoring the opposition 16-3.
11. NOVI (14-5-2): Although not as potent as some of the Wildcats’ teams that won five state championships in the past decade, the most recent in 2011, not having a roster full of Dream Team-caliber players may bode well for new coach Todd Pheiffer. The cupboard is far from bare, although three players left to play club for the Michigan Hawks. Junior M Megan Riley, senior Christina Macmillan, junior F Jessica Halmaghi, junior F Chloe Allen and senior D Amanda Minissale (Saginaw Valley State) are all returning starters. Freshmen Mikayla Lynch and Reily Schultz, freshman F Laine Fenchel, sophomore D Jaclyn Schubring and sophomore M Gracie Backus have all made an impact in the Wildcats’ 4-0-1 start. Senior G Arsha Dharia is quality between the pipes. Novi lost in the D-1 district finals last season to Northville (3-1).
12. OKEMOS (13-7-2): The Chieftains won the state title in 2012, reached the Division 1 semifinals last season and have a history of long postseason runs. This year’s version will be spearheaded by Miss Soccer candidate Erin Doster, who anchors the midfield. The CAAC Gold Cup champs will also thrive behind versatile senior G/D Vanessa Nigg, junior center back Erin O’Connor, and up-and-coming junior G Caroline Serkaian. Junior Kailey Peterson is another quality midfielder.
13. GRAND BLANC (17-2-4): Over the years, Grand Blanc has rarely fielded a poor squad. This year the Bobcats will again be amongst a deep well of schools entertaining thoughts of making a long tournament run. Senior F Annie Walker (Rice) is a Miss Soccer candidate and junior Alexiss Trudeau (Louisiana Monroe) anchors the midfield. Junior M/F Allison Winterfield has a knack for the goal and senior Brianna Klaus is a steady goalkeeper. Sophomore D Alex Childers, junior F Madison Jewell, senior D Nicole Nadolski and senior F/M Natalie Daffen are all key cogs in the machine. Grand Blanc reached the D-1 regional finals last season.
14. MIDLAND DOW (14-4-1): There are few schools in central or northern Michigan that can match up with Dow, which has marched to regional play multiple times over the years. This year’s team is primed for a run. Senior M Maya Piper is the team’s top player and best since Kacy Beitel starred for the Chargers nearly 20 years ago. Senior M Becca Blitz, sophomore F Ashton Brooks, senior F Karissa LaRue, junior D Alexie Flaminio, senior G Rebecca Gamble, senior D Sarah Lather, senior D Murphy Stadelamier and senior M Katherine Pacholke unite to form an experienced supporting cast. As many as four players have already signed with colleges.
15. HUDSONVILLE UNITY CHRISTIAN (20-2-1): Here’s a question? If Unity Christian played up a level, how would they fare? This program has won numerous state championships and appeared in a number of state semifinals in the past 15 years (Unity is 8-3 in title matches). Junior Maddy VanDyke is rock solid on defense, senior M Bethany Balcer, senior D Elly Brummel and senior M Casandra Besteman are all returning all-state players. Depth is not a problem for a program that’s capable of winning another state title.
16. DETROIT COUNTRY DAY (21-4-3): The Yellowjackets fought through a tough road to reach the D-3 finals last season before falling to Unity Christian. There is ample experience on this team returning, led by senior D Jenna Stout (Georgetown), and senior midfielders Emily Fisher and Libby Ronchetto. Junior Maddie Odom and Isabel Nino give the team two future collegiate goalkeepers. Junior F Sonja Niederhofer, sophomore F Lauren Alshab, sophomore M Dagny Hill, junior D Naomi Hill, junior D Georgianne Verbeek and junior M Hannah Hansen give DCD a rock solid lineup which will contend for a state title this season. After 36 years as a head or assistant coach in Country Day’s soccer programs, Bob Bukari plans to retire after this season.
17. TROY ATHENS (9-5-10): When alumnus Todd Heugh took over for veteran coach Tim Storch in 2012, he had some shoes to fill. His Athens teams have continued to play well. Last year’s team won a district title and took Utica Ford to a shootout in the regionals. A lack of high-level talent on the offensive end might make it difficult to score in bunches, as the state record of 10 ties last season might indicate. But the Red Hawks will again be a defensive juggernaut. Junior Amanda Harris is one of the state’s top keepers, while sophomore Ashley Leonard is developing at a face pace in the midfield. Junior M/D Silvanna Macini, junior defenders Elena Manzo and Hannah Schell and senior midfielders Claire Nord and Shannon Birney are also returning starters. Sophomore M Shreya Shettigar leads a strong cast of newcomers.
18. CANTON (10-6-1): Although the Chiefs lost perhaps their top player to the club circuit, Canton will still be one of the top teams in a very deep Kensington Lakes Activities Association and a contender in the South Division. Senior midfielders Kelsey Cheaney, Chloe Donlin, Cristen Pederson and Sarah Trapp, senior defensemen Hannah Reinhart and Taylor Topolski and senior F Paige Messmer are all back in uniform. Sophomore F/D Sarah Willett and freshman G Sarah Hammond will definitely contribute.
19. ROCHESTER ADAMS (12-3-2): While Adams lost three Division I players to graduation, plus the fact that this is one of the Highlanders’ younger teams, one must remember that this is still Adams and a squad that not only competes in one of top three leagues but has only yielded one losing season in school history (1995) with several semifinal appearances and two state titles. Beyond junior Olivia Argeros (Michigan State), the state’s top goalkeeper, speedy senior F Ryien McAdory, junior M Meghan Emke, senior M Raiven Owusu and senior defensemen Madison Hinsberg and Julia Herman are all rock solid. Sophomore Ryiann Owusu is a spark plug on defense.
20. LIVONIA LADYWOOD (14-4-2): If the likes of Gull Lake or Marian falter, Ladywood is a team that will entertain realistic dreams of winning a state title in June. And being from Livonia and located in a tradition-rich hotbed for soccer talent, the Blazers are eyeing their first title. Senior forwards Sam Riga and Kennedi Bullard from a tough tandem at forward and junior Connor Huggins is as steady as they come in the back. Senior G Holly Cusick and sophomore M/F Taylor Bullard, seniors Andrea Kwasniewicz, Elyse Smalley and Emma Smalley and sophomore M Clare Kelly will also help the Blazers’ cause, as will freshman M Amy Babon.
21. PONTIAC NOTRE DAME PREP (18-2-1): With several quality teams in recent years, including a semifinal appearance in 2012, the ‘13 state runner-up trophy and an appearance in the Division 3 regionals, has more than validated N.D. Prep’s promotion to Division 2 this season, just four students above the cut-off. The Irish will also be in one of the state’s top districts, grouped with the likes of Marian, Auburn Hills Avondale and Madison Heights Lamphere, among others. Still, this is a quality side that has many quality players, led by sophomore center back Nadia Burbank. Junior Hannah Zapczynski and sophomore Olivia Mears are two solid midfielders. Senior D Christine Scheer, senior M Sarah Mazur, junior M Rosella LoChirco, senior D Sarah Pieciak, junior M Erika Wiest, senior goalkeeper Natalie Kraus and sophomore F Payton Williams will help keep the Irish relevant.
22. STEVENSEVILLE LAKESHORE (19-3-1): Another west side team that is quite capable of making some noise, Lakeshore reached the D-2 regional finals before succumbing to Richland Gull Lake last season. In fact, Gull Lake beat Lakeshore three times last year. This season this team if off to a 3-0-0 start behind eight returning starters and 11 seasoned veterans. Sophomore M Sydney Cason leads this cast. Junior D Miranda Shindeldecker, three-time all-state senior F Lindsay Ebeling, senior M Rachel Edinger, two-time all-state honoree Carley Dubbert (M) and sophomore M Sarah Dubbert, junior defenders Molly Buckleitner and Tessa Binkley, an all-state honorable mention pick, are back to lead this talented side. Freshmen Lauren Clem and Mackenzie Clem are expected to make an impact.
23. MASON (14-3-2) — Back-to-back CAAC Gold titles and seven returning starters bode well for the Bulldogs, another experienced team out of the Lansing area capable of making a long run. Coach Christie Hursey welcomes back senior D Erica Bartlett, senior G Natalia Milashus, junior D Marissa Pease and senior D Kelleigh Pier to a sterling back line. Senior midfielders Claire Barkholz and Hannah Darmofal join junior sniper Kali Thompson to form a potent attack.
24. DEWITT (16-4-2): The CAAC Silver power has thrived under Jamal Mubarakeh, now in his 19th season as head coach. This team is built for the future, as most of the top players are non-seniors. Brianna Bishop anchors the back line, while senior Allison Sims and junior Calle Fisher will control the midfield. Mackenzie Dawes is an up-and-coming sophomore and a quality striker, while sophomore Jessah McManus is versatile enough to play all over the field.
25. HASLETT (16-2-5): Jack Vogel is in his second season and welcomes back a core of veterans who hope to lead Haslett to some Division 2 glory. Forward Hannah Beebe, midfielder Abby Schmidt and defenders Adriana Stolicker, Victoria Surian and Shannon Szedlak are five seniors leading the charge. The Vikings have only lost 11 games the past three seasons.
OTHER TEAMS TO WATCH BY DIVISION
Division 1 — Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, Troy, Brighton, Woodhaven, Livonia Churchill, Livonia Stevenson, Farmington Hills Mercy, Royal Oak, Lake Orion, Rochester, Lapeer, Midland, Traverse City West, Rockford, Caledonia, Plymouth, Plymouth Salem, Walled Lake Western, Ann Arbor Pioneer, Ann Arbor Skyline, Ann Arbor Huron, Hartland, New Baltimore Anchor Bay. Fraser, Holt, Portage Central, Portage Northern, Grosse Pointe South, Grosse Pointe North. Saginaw Heritage, Bloomfield Hills, Macomb Dakota, Garden City. North Farmington.
Division 2 — Grand Rapids Christian, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, Dearborn Divine Child, South Lyon East, Auburn Hills Avondale, Fenton, Ortonville Brandon, Linden, Spring Lake, East Grand Rapids, East Lansing, Mt. Pleasant, Bay City John Glenn, Warren Regina, Chelsea, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood. Trenton, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, St. Clair Shores Lake Shore, Dexter, Madison Heights Lamphere. Berkley. Fruitport. St. Joseph. Plainwell, Middleville Thornapple-Kellogg. Charlotte.
Division 3 — Grand Rapids South Christian, Grosse Ile, Paw Paw, Flint Powers Catholic, Freeland, Birch Run, Williamston, Jackson Lumen Christi, Muskegon Oakridge, Muskegon Orchard View, Marshall, Ovid-Elsie, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Frankenmuth, Ludington, Otsego, Lansing Catholic Central, Grand Rapids West Catholic, Macomb Lutheran North, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Clawson, Cheboygan, Saginaw Swan Valley, Lake Fenton, Goodrich.
Division 4 — Grandville Calvin Christian, Saginaw Nouvel Catholic, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, Clarkston Everest Collegiate/Bloomfield Hills Sacred Heart Unified, Lansing Christian, Charlevoix, Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett, St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic, Harbor Springs, Holland Black River Academy, Leland, Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central, Kalamazoo Christian, Riverview Gabriel Richard, Marine City Cardinal Mooney Catholic, Madison Heights Bishop Foley Catholic, Ann Arbor Greenhills, Bad Axe, Harbor Beach, Manchester, Big Rapids Crossroads Academy, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, Plymouth Christian, Birmingham Roeper, Quincy, Marlette. Royal Oak Shrine Catholic, Elk Rapids.