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WL Northern hot-to-trot entering tourney, looking to finish the job

By: Scott Burnstein, October 12, 2014, 12:00 am

WALLED LAKE – Burning up the pitch this fall with a high-powered offense and a steady-as-can-be defensive backline, Walled Lake Northern seems poised for unprecedented success on the boys soccer field.

The team’s has been taking strides in that direction all season long.

“We’re really taking things to the next level as a program,” said Northern head coach Chris Stevanovic, the architect of the Knights’ recent rise to prominence. “I’ve got a very good feeling about this group. They’re just a bunch of kids that are extremely motivated and want to achieve something special. Everyone’s stepping up. We’re more balanced than we’ve ever been before. We have multiple guys who can hurt you.”

And my do they inflict pain on the opposition.

The Knights are going into this week’s state tournament the No. 3 team in Division 1, boasting a 16-3 overall record and having recently captured a seventh-consecutive league title out of the KLAA North.

Playing at a fast-paced tempo, Northern is averaging almost four goals per game. Senior forward Connor Rutz is a legitimate Mr. Soccer candidate. Rutz has 21 goals and 11 assists.

“Connor is dynamic, he is a real talent,” said Stevanovic of his star.

Kyle Rutz (Michigan State), Connor’s older brother, captained Stevanovic’s 2011 squad that won a district crown and lost to Troy in double-overtime in a heartbreaking regional championship game.

Augmenting Connor in the Knights offensive onslaught this year has been players like Nick Brown (11 goals) and the Woods brothers (Elliott and Taylor).

Sophomore goalkeeper Jack McKenna is quickly making a name for himself as one tough-cookie in between the posts in his first year as a starter.

“Jack’s been fabulous,” said Stevanovic of his net-minder. “He’s been ready to perform since Day One.”

Part of the reason for that is his supporting cast, especially the backline in front of him, anchored by Nate Miller, Andy Swayne and Ryan Flores.

“If we stay focused and prepare like we can, I think we can make a serious run at this thing (a state title),” Stevanovic said.

Northern opens up state-tourney action Monday against Hartland.