By: Daniel Stickradt
GIRLS SOCCER: Division races a puzzling mess in Michigan — it’s anybody’s game to win a state crown
BY DAN STICKRADT
A year ago DeWitt was sailing right along as the top-ranked team in Division 2.
The Panthers captured both CAAC Red Division league and district titles as an undefeated team and spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the state.
DeWitt lost in the regional semifinals to No. 2 and eventual state champion Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 2-1. That was the only loss for the Panthers, who finished 20-1-0.
This season DeWitt returns seven starters and two-thirds of its roster. Five of the Panthers’ players were All-State last year.
“We were a better team last year because we had all that experience. But I still think we can eventually be very good once we are healthy and the younger players are (infused) into our lineup,” said coach Jamal Mubarakeh. “We still have five all-staters back. Once we start to gel, I think we can be very good.”
In terms of favorites, top-ranked Birmingham Marian, winners of five titles in the past 15 years, has a roster stacked with Division I and Division II players. Last year’s champ, Notre Dame Prep, returns a talented side and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern, last year’s state runner-up, has several future college players on its roster.
Linden and Trenton have enough talent to make deep ventures into the postseason this season, while Dexter, a state semifinalist last season, Richland-Gull Lake (state champs from 2013-15), Grand Rapids Northview and Warren Regina have talented casts and open in the top 10.
Elsewhere, Lowell will be a team to keep an eye on with some future college players dotting the Red Arrows’ roster. Likewise for Middleville Thornapple-Kellogg.
Birmingham Detroit Country Day, Livonia Ladywood, St. Johns, Allegan, Stevensville-Lakeshore, Fruitport, Zeeland West, Spring Lake, Bay City John Glen, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, Charlotte, Chelsea, Clio, Coldwater, Dearborn Divine Child, East Grand Rapids, Fenton, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Eastern, Haslett, Holland Christian, Madison Heights Lamphere, Mason, Mattawan, Mount Pleasant, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, Ortonville Brandon, Petoskey, Plainwell, Riverview, St. Clair Shores Lake Shore, St. Joseph, South Lyon and Three Rivers all have strong squads ready to make some noise.
Rochester Stoney Creek captured its first state title in 2016 after defeating Plymouth Canton 1-0 in the title match. Both return most their respective teams and are currently ranked in the top five.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central was ranked No. 1 most of last season and currently sits atop of the rankings this season. Forest Hills Central, Stoney Creek and Marian in D-2 are ranked nationally.
Division 1 is extremely deep again this season with some 20-plus schools with realistic hopes of making a run to the Final Four. Brighton, ranked second, is again loaded, while Utica Eisenhower, Novi, Utica Ford and Grand Blanc are once again strong.
Plymouth appears to have a quality team, and Muskegon Mona Shores hopes to become the first Muskegon-area team to reach the Class A/Division 1 Final Four.
Livonia Stevenson is back on the rise, while Bloomfield Hills, Rochester Adams, Troy Athens, Woodhaven, Saline, Grandville, East Kentwood, Okemos, New Baltimore Anchor Bay, Macomb L’Anse Creuse North, Plymouth Salem, Northville, Caledonia, Rockford, Fraser, Romeo, Utica, Hartland, Kalamazoo Loy-Norrix, Portage Northern, Grosse Pointe North, Dearborn, Midland Dow and Rochester are some of the other teams to keep an eye on in D-1, where there is plenty of parity.
Top-ranked Flint Powers Catholic is on a mission (please see related story) and has the talent to compete with many D-2 and D-1 programs. The Chargers are unbeaten to start the campaign but learned that there is a fine line between winning and losing in the sport of soccer.
Hudsonville Unity Christian, winners of 10 state titles in the past 12 seasons — second all-time to Madison Heights Bishop Foley’s 12 crowns — defeating Powers in last year’s title game
Sixth-ranked Williamston picked up one the nation’s top goalkeepers and hope to emerge as a serious contenders this season, Freeland is coming off three straight runs to the state semifinals and is ranked third in the state.
Hemlock is ranked an all-time best fourth in the state in late April, while Grosse Ile reached the semifinals for the first time a year ago.
Macomb Lutheran North gave Powers some fits last season in the regional finals and has several future college players on its roster. Birch Run has also emerged in recent years as a quality opponent.
Grand Rapids South Christian, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, Allen Park Cabrini, Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Lake Fenton, Leslie, Lansing Catholic, Paw Paw, Parchment, Frankenmuth, Midland Bullock Creek, Muskegon Oakridge, Muskegon Orchard View, Otsego, Ovid-Elsie, Pinconning, Roscommon, Saginaw Swan Valley, Ludington, Marine City, Marshall and Traverse City St. Francis are some of the other teams to watch.
Lansing Christian reached the state finals in 2015 and chugged along in 2016 as the state’s top-ranked team in D-4 before being upset in the state semifinals by eventual state champion Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett.
Liggett captured the D-4 crown with a 1-0 shootout win over Montrose despite being outshot and outplayed. Liggett opens the season ranked ninth, while Montrose is unranked but not off the radar.
Elk Rapids has been building for this season for a few years and is primed for a title run. Harbor Springs, Bishop Foley, Muskegon West Michigan Christian, Grandville Calvin Christian (state champs from 2012-2015), Manchester, Kalamazoo Christian and Jackson Lumen Christi are also in the top 10 of the early-season rankings. Lumen Christi drops down from D-3.
There are several other teams hoping to make long postseason runs in D-4, including Plymouth Christian, Clinton, Clarkston Everest Collegiate, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, Sterling Heights Parkway Christian, Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes, Wixom St. Catherine of Siena, Maple City Glen Lake, Marlette, Ann Arbor Greenhills, Holland Black River Academy, Muskegon Catholic Central and Harbor Beach — all are capable of winning district crowns or more.
Midland Calvary Baptist captured the previous two Michigan Association of Christian Schools state titles in girls soccer during the Kings’ first two seasons as a varsity program.
Calvary Baptist captured three straight MACS titles in both girls volleyball and girls basketball as well and is heavily favored this season with a large roster returning.
Troy Bethany Christian, Davison Faith Baptist and Clinton Township Faith Christian appear to be the Kings’ top challengers this season, although those teams did not put up much fight against Calvary Baptist last season.