Since the Michigan High School Athletic Association began a state tournament for boys’ soccer in 1982, only one Battle Creek area program has won a state championship.
With all the talent on local fields, that title drought may be coming to an end sooner rather than later.
The 2015 boys’ soccer season has kicked off, and every team in Michigan has the same goals in mind: win the conference and advance as far as possible in the state tournament.
In the city, Battle Creek Central continues to take its program in a positive direction and will look to make gains in the Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference.
Harper Creek is coming off a winning season thanks to a stellar back line, but the Beavers will have to make up for some graduation losses as they compete for the Interstate Eight Conference title.
Lakeview has long reigned as the top program in the city, and will look to take home yet another All-City title while also staying in the hunt for the SMAC championship.
Pennfield struggled with a young roster in 2014, but the Panthers hope those players gained valuable experience as the team tries to climb the Interstate Eight standings.
Calhoun Christian and St. Philip will again co-op, as the relationship has been beneficial for both small schools. The Cougars hope the latest combination of athletes will help them contend in the Mid-South Conference.
Gull Lake is the lone area program to have produced a state championship, as the 1993 Blue Devils shared the Class B title while the 1988 Blue Devils also shared its crown and the 1983 team finished runner-up. Gull Lake wants to get to the mountain top again, but will first have to navigate through an extremely tough SMAC schedule.
Also in the area, Coldwater brings in lofty expectations with some stellar returners off a squad that was ranked by the end of last season. The Cardinals will have to contend in league play with fellow locals Harper Creek, Pennfield and Marshall — which also feels good about its chances in the Interstate Eight.
Here’s a closer look at the 2015 area boys’ soccer teams:
Battle Creek Central
Coach: Brad Yoder (sixth season)
2014 record: 11-7-1
Top returners: Nick Insley, sr. Defense; Biak Ahling, sr. Midfield; Alejandro Bautista, jr. Midfield; Jesus Bautista, jr. Midfield; Isaac Engelhardt, so. Goalkeeper
Outlook: The Bearcats are coming off a winning season and have made great strides as a program in recent years — evident by the five former players currently playing at the college level. BCC has some strong returners back on the pitch, who will need to guide many newcomers for the team to continue its success and contend in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference.
“The guys we have returning are very talented and will be surrounded by some very young newcomers,” Yoder said. “Each area has a key piece remaining from last year’s team so it will be up to those juniors and seniors to lead their groups. After my returning varsity players the list is very even talent-wise. There should be some healthy competition for playing time which I hope will spark these guys as they get into the regular season.”
Coach: Shel Kunji (third season)
2014 record: 9-8-1
Top returners: Jack Bohannon, sr. Goalkeeper; Jacob Carlsen, sr. Defense; Mitch Coon, sr. Midfield; Cameron Keeton, sr. Midfield; Nick Robinson, sr. Forward
Outlook: The Beavers are coming off a winning season, thanks in large part to a stellar defense and returning goalkeeper Jack Bohannon, who recorded shutouts in all nine of the team’s victories. Now with many new faces in front of Bohannon, Harper Creek will have to gel quickly for the team to stay competitive in the Interstate Eight Conference.
“A large part of our success this year will be determined by how quickly our back line can gel in front of goalkeeper Jack Bohannon,” Kunji said. “Replacing 3-of-the-4 members of the back line that kept shutouts in half our games last year won’t be easy. The majority of our midfield returns from last year, which should help us control the game. However, a goalscorer will need to step up to provide us with a cutting edge.”
Coach: Ciaran Byrne (sixth season)
2014 record: 11-6-3
Top returners: Bailey Snyder, sr. Defense/Midfield; Parker Bueker, sr. Midfield; Parker Daniels, sr. Defense; Cameron Hanlon, sr. Defense; Cameron Caswell, sr. Midfield; Sam Lal, sr. Forward; Ryan Hoffman, sr. Midfield; Harman Deol, jr. Forward
Outlook: The Spartans bring back a wealth of experience from a team that won 11 games, but still have some major shoes to fill left by a talented graduating class. Still, Lakeview hopes to have another strong season as it competes in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference.
“We have a strong group of seniors who have a lot of experience,” Byrne said. “Many of them are in their third or fourth year of varsity soccer, so I expect a lot from them and they expect it from themselves. Several first-year varsity players should be able to make an impact this season and add to our side…. At this point in time we have shown we have a good mentality. We are willing to work hard and train to make ourselves better each day. We have a good chemistry and the boys enjoy playing together. I expect that we have a great chance to win as city champions, and we will be competitive in the SMAC. A tough pre-league schedule should help prepare us for those competitions.”
Coach: Steve Kipp (16th season)
2014 record: 1-16
Top returners: Joel Smith, sr. Midfield; Keith Browand, jr. Goalkeeper; Connor Davis, jr. Defense; Will Henry, jr. Defense; Chase Austin, so. Midfield/Forward; Isaac Ayers, so. Midfield; Archie Smith, so. Midfield/Forward
Outlook: The Panthers went through the school of hard knocks in the inaugural season of the Interstate Eight Conference, playing with an underclassmen-led roster. Now a year older, those players have valuable varsity experience to help Pennfield improve on its one-win campaign.
“Last year we struggled in most areas of the game, having mostly a young and inexperienced team,” Kipp said. “Although still young, many of our starters this year are now acclimated from a year on varsity, so they know what to expect and the work involved. In the I-8… finishing in the middle of the pack would be a major step for us this year. Being competitive in all games and playing attacking soccer are our main goals.”
Calhoun Christian/St. Philip (co-op)
Coach: Steve Snyder (first season)
2014 record: 6-3
Top returners: n/a
Outlook: Like many teams, Calhoun Christian/St. Philip was hit hard by graduation losses. But a fresh infusion of talent will help, as eight freshmen have signed on — giving the Cougars a roster of 22 athletes between the two schools.
Coach: Brent Salsbury (third season)
2014 record: 6-6
Top returners: Parker Hall, jr. Defense/Midfield; Sydne Pugh, sr. Midfield; Sam Lothamer, jr. Defense
Outlook: The Broncos return many of the players who led the program to a six-win season and will again operate as a co-ed squad with eight boys and seven girls. Bellevue has made strides in three years under Salsbury and will look to continue that trend.
“In the past three years, the team has constantly gotten better and expectations are that this year will be no different,” Salsbury said. “The team lost five seniors last year, but despite being young, there are many talented players who have experience joining this team. A strong core centered on defense will anchor the team and some very exciting forwards will help bring victories to Bellevue.”
Coach: Ken Delaney (seventh season)
2014 record: 15-5-2
Top returners: Wageeh Saeed, sr. Forward; Haroon Aljabaly, sr. Midfield; Fadel Said, sr. Midfield; Azam Ahmed, sr. Defense; Sean Delaney, sr. Midfield/Defense; Abdul Saeed, sr. Midield/Defense; Rudolfo Santos, sr. Midfield/Forward; Hassan Nasser, so. Midfield
Outlook: The Cardinals were among the best teams in the state last season, winning 15 games and placing second in the Interstate Eight Conference before bowing out in the districts to top-ranked Mason. Now led by All-State honorable mention pick Wageeh Saeed, Coldwater is hoping to build off of last year’s success and achieve even more.
“We have high goals for this year’s squad, including looking for our first Interstate Eight and district titles,” Delaney said. “While we lost some offensive punch with the graduation of first team All-State player Nooh Aljabaly, we will have great team speed and a very experience defensive back. Over the last several years we’ve worked to improve our high-pressure defensive style and quick ball movement, and this group is showing good signs of making that happen again.”
Coach: Alan Mabie (sixth season)
2014 record: 11-6
Top returners: Cogan McCoy, jr. Midfield; Isaac Houtkooper, so. Midfield; Tristen Arce, so. Defense
Outlook: The Panthers graduated a lot of talent from an 11-win team, and playing in a new conference (Southwestern Athletic Conference) means there are many questions at the start of the season. Those questions will be answered as the season progresses and new leaders emerge for Delton Kellogg.
“With only four returning starters and six upperclassmen, we have a very young and inexperienced team this year,” Mabie said. “That being said we have a few very talented players that could make a huge impact on our season. With joining a new conference this year (the SAC), it is hard to predict what will happen as we will be playing teams we haven’t played before.”
Coach: Scott Minehart (18th season)
2014 record: 11-10
Top returners: Jimmy Prescott, sr. Goalkeeper; Brady Cristancho, sr. Defense; Travis Ambrosio, sr. Defense; Jarrett Miller, jr. Defense; Reid Williams, sr. Midfield; Blake Lehman, sr. Midfield; Matt Cox, sr. Midfield; Mile Renwick, so. Midfield; Jack Renwick, sr. Forward; Cam Befus, sr. Forward; Alex Chamberlain, sr. Midfield; Cody Buckham, jr. Midfield; Chris Vennard, sr. Defense; Mike Tracy, jr. Defense; Ben Williams, sr. Midfield
Outlook: The Blue Devils are a veteran-led team coming off a winning season despite struggling in a tough Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference. Gull Lake will look to climb the league standings before gearing up for what it hopes is a deep playoff run.
“This year we have a lot of experience on the team. We just need to take that experience and parlay it into wins,” Minehart said. “The men so far have worked very hard and are focused. Early injuries will have some impact on our season, but I have confidence that the men will rise up and play hard for their fallen comrades.”
Coach: Andrew Roush (fourth season)
2014 record: 6-10-3
Top returners: Aaron Knoll, sr. Forward; Wyatt Ledford, sr. Defense; Dillon Walker, jr. Midfield; Mark Dixon, jr. Midfield
Outlook: The Lions were competitive last year in the newly-formed Greater Lansing Athletic Conference, and will look to take the next step with a more experienced roster.
“Our team chemistry is very strong this season, with a large number of returning players,” said Roush. “The guys have been working extremely hard and everyone has bought into our team defensive philosophy. We are in a position to move Maple Valley’s soccer program to a new level. The future is bright.”
Coach: Hans Morgan (first season)
2014 record: 11-8-2
Top returners: Alec Kraushaar, sr. Midfield; Andrew Shipnell, sr. Forward; Kurt Kraushaar, jr. Goalkeeper; Cody Clapper, jr. Forward
Outlook: The Redhawks have a lot of turnover with a new head coach and only four returners from an 11-win team. Still, Marshall will no doubt remain a formidable opponent and will be in the mix during the Interstate Eight Conference title chase.
“Right now I’m very impressed with the overall fitness, chemistry and willingness to learn, especially given that we only have four varsity players returning from last year. We are going to focus on getting better each and every day we come to the field and I think if we do that, we’ll be in pretty good shape by the end of the year.”
Coach: Ted Lynch (first season)
2014 record: 4-12-3
Top returners: n/a
Outlook: The Eagles begin a new era with Lynch at the helm. Olivet will try to make strides in the Greater Lansing Athletic Conference after tying for fifth place in the league a year ago.
“We have several returning players that we will be relying on to lead the team,” Lynch said.
The Enquirer will run fall prep sports previews periodically over the next two weeks.
Today: Prep Soccer
Coming Thursday: 2015 Enquirer Prep Football Special Section