The final area boys soccer team standing in last year’s MHSAA Division 1 state tourney was Northville.
And the Mustangs were on the precipice of a state championship run, only to lose in a 3-2 shootout on penalty kicks in the regional final against eventual state champion Canton.
Although Northville lost some key performers off last year’s 14-6-3 squad, coach Henry Klimes has high expectations again with the return of first team all-area senior forward Johnny Rodriguez, who had seven goals and seven assists, along with first team defender Garret Weaver.
Goalkeeper Alec Melucci also graduated, but JV goalie Evan Treiber is waiting in the wings.
“It’s really promising, all the skill that we have,” said Klimes, entering his 25th season as varsity coach. “Hopefully we can reproduce that team chemistry that we had last year. But in overall talent and skill, I think this team is stronger in than last year in that regard.”
Novi (13-4-3), one of Northville’s chief rivals in the KLAA’s tough Central Division, was hard hit by graduation as 20th-year coach Brian O’Leary has added Rachel Kain to his staff to serve as a co-coach.
The most notable loss was All-Area Player of the Year Ryan Kobakof, who is now at the University of Michigan.
The only two starters returning for the Wildcats are senior midfielder Connor O’Leary and senior defender Roy Spencer.
“Overall, the group works hard and is very coachable,” coach O’Leary said. “We will take some lumps early because of our inexperience, but hopefully we will get better as the season goes and have a quality product by the end of the season.”
Both South Lyon (5-11-4) and South Lyon East (1-17) hope to make a jump in the KLAA Central.
Senior forward Owen Jarl, senior defender Justin Roeland and junior Michael Martinez, the Lions’ tri-captains, will lead the way.
“We play in arguably the most challenging league in the state of Michigan (KLAA Central),” South Lyon coach Brian Elliott said, “so we are going to have to battle every game to earn respect and to continue to build our program moving forward.”
East, under third-year coach Jon Cadwallader, will bank on senior returnees Brent Weakland, a center midfielder; Zach Satawa, a central defender; Andrew Wolschleger, a senior forward; and Connor Bollenbacher, a senior defender.
Nick Ruschak, a junior midfielder, also looks to make an impact for the Cougars.
“We’re going to be better than we were and, hopefully, that translates into a couple of more wins and just be a little bit more competitive,” Cadwallader said.
Expectations are also higher for Lakeland (9-9) under Anthony Ibrahim, who enters his first season for the Eagles after being an assistant.
Ibrahim believes Lakeland can contend in the KLAA North despite the loss of top scorer Roddy Green, a first team all-area performer who pumped in 19 goals last year as a junior before opting to play for the Michigan Wolves, a club academy team.
Among the chief returnees for the Eagles are junior central-midfielder Tyler Green, junior midfielder Andrew Long, senior defender Brent Peterson, senior forward Eric and senior midfielder Tyler Laurer.
“I had 63 kids that tried out and to cut it down for 19 for varsity and 23 for JV, so I’ve got a pretty good squad,” said Ibrahim, who replaced Robert Kroezen. “I’m excited.”
Meanwhile, rival Milford (9-7-2) also has a new coach in Thomas Hipple, who returns his two leading scorers in first team all-area pick David Bonhard (14 goals, six assists) and second team selection Brayden Stephan (13 goals, seven assists). Both are senior forwards.
“Our team goals are to challenge for the (KLAA) West and win the district,” Hipple said. “Milford will have a freshman team. It’s the first time in program history.”
Meanwhile, Novi Detroit Catholic Central (14-5-4) enjoyed a break-out season, winning its first Catholic League A-B Division title in 22 years while reaching the district final against Northville.
The Shamrocks, who posted eight shutouts last year while outscoring their opponents 37-18, return three stalwarts from a year ago – senior goalkeeper Peter Kirouac, a second team all-area pick, senior defender Justin Murray and senior midfielder Ben Sargent.
“Our future is bright this year,” fourth-year coach Gene Pulice said. “We have added numbers and depth to our squad. Last year was a season of lessons. This year, we expect the fruits of our labor. Our Catholic Central faith and brotherhood runs deep in our veins.”
Novi Franklin Road Christian (12-5), a member of the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference’s Red Division, has been plagued during the preseason by a lack of numbers and the defection of two players.
First team all-area selection Micah Charlick (22 goals, 22 assists), an honorable mention all-state choice, and Tanner Spires (26 goals, 10 assists), the team’s leading scorer, have both transferred to Brighton for their senior seasons.
“They’ll be tough to replace because they did a lot for us, but I think we’ll be more of a team and play as a team and I think we’ll play pretty well as a team,” second-year coach Paul Coombs said. “We can’t rely on Micah to bail us out.”
Senior goalkeeper Daniel Weaver should give the Warriors a boost, while junior Paul Alex will anchor the defense.
Senior forward Gavin Harris and the Lorey brothers, Matt, a senior midfielder, and Evan, a junior midfielder, hope to transition back onto the team after being in summer baseball mode, which left Coombs with only seven available players in the first three days of preseason practice..
“Hopefully, they’ll be back,” Coombs said. “I’m working on the baseball players. I’ve touched base with three out of the four.”