After a strong season in the loaded O-K Red Conference, Grand Haven was clipped in a shootout by an upstart squad from Grand Rapids Union in the district finals, while the O-K Blue Conference champion Spring Lake Lakers were upset by Reeths-Puffer in their postseason opener, also by way of penalty kicks.
Fruitport advanced to the district semifinals, but couldn’t quite close out their match against Reeths-Puffer, and Western Michigan Christian fell to North Muskegon in their opening playoff match.
All four programs are looking for redemption in 2017, but will need big contributions from some of the younger talent in their programs in order to reach those goals.
While Grand Haven and Spring Lake hope to rebuild on the fly, Fruitport and Western Michigan Christian appear to have the depth to make a serious run at both conference and district titles.
If the Bucs, Lakers, Trojans and Warriors can mesh their experience standouts with their inexperienced up-and-comers, all four teams might very well find their redemption come playoff time.
Last Year: 12-5-3 (9-2-1 in O-K Red)
Head Coach: Aaron Dean
Key Returners: senior forward Connor Lund (All-Conference, All-District in 2016), senior midfielder Tavin Ardell, senior midfielder Trent Perkins, junior midfielder Mason Mahacek, junior midfielder Jack DeKlyen, senior goalie Jake Thayer
Key Newcomers: junior forward Joe Walsh, junior forward Jax Mast, senior forward Andrew Gloksin, senior Jarett Prins, junior Timmy Kleyla, junior Adam Glasser, junior Cole Tubergen, senior Eli Traub, senior Aaron Sutherland, junior Trevor Kalis
“We graduated 12 seniors from the 2016 team that finished second in the O-K Red, and we saw our season end in a district final shootout. While we may seem to be in a rebuilding situation, the team looks to be competitive and building on a solid foundation of a group of seniors and juniors that went undefeated as freshman and sophomores just two years ago as a junior varsity team.
“Leading the charge for the Bucs at forward is last year’s leading scorer, Connor Lund. He’ll be accompanied up front by newcomers Joe Walsh, Jax Mast and Andrew Glocksin.
The midfield is where we return the most players. Tavin Ardell, Trent Perkins, Mason Mahacek and Jack DeKlyen all tallied points for the Bucs in 2016 and look to return to their scoring ways. Noah VanOordt, Sam Scarpino and Brendon Wooten will provide talented depth, as well.
“We lost our whole starting defensive group from 2017. However, Jarett Prins, Timmy Kleyla, Adam Glasser, Cole Tubergen, Eli Traub, Aaron Sutherland and Trevor Kalis are all ready to step up. Goalkeeping will be anchored by senior Jake Thayer, with juniors Filiberto Juarez and Brenner Kar also competing for the spot.”
“East Kentwood is the defending state champions, so they have to be the favorite to win the conference,” said Dean. “Coach Conlon is fantastic and will have those kids playing great soccer. Coach Quackenbush at Rockford will have a great team, as well. The tough part about the O-K Red is that on any given night, if you don't bring focus and energy, anybody can beat anyone else.
“After a heartbreaking loss in the district finals, our group is motivated and ready to do the work to earn redemption. It's a long season, and right now, our focus is on coming together as a group, getting better each practice, and when conference starts, competing with everything we've got.”
Last year: 19-2-1 overall, O-K Blue Champions
Head coach: Jeremy Thelen
Key Returners: senior center back Ben Bouwhuis, senior midfielder Robert Hartliep, junior midfielder Charlie Parker, junior forward Tommy Fine
Key Newcomers: sophomore keeper Clayton Glasgow, sophomore forward Malachi Mulder
“This year is interesting because we have a lot of seniors on the team, but they were behind some really talented players from last year’s class,” said Thelen. “It is a pretty new group to varsity experience.
“We don’t really have a superstar, so we are going to have to rely on everyone doing their jobs together. Ben Bouwhuis and Charlie Parker are going to be our engines in the midfield and Tommy Fine is a key returner up top for us. Around them the pieces will be pretty intermixed.
“We return the most strength on defense, once we figure out our goalie situation that will be our best unit.”
We hope to battle for the conference and take the postseason one game at a time. Grand Rapids Catholic Central is the other good team in our conference. We are a different team than last year, so we have to step up in every game we play. If everyone steps up and is able to do their job, we will compete for the conference.”
“So far, we are working together as a group to figure out who we are and where everyone goes. I am pretty excited about the season.”
Last Year: 11-9-1 (4th in O-K Black)
Head Coach: Greg Kobylak
Key Returners: senior forward Zach Shane, senior forward Logan Fielding, senior defender Brendan Kemme, senior forward Ryan Bytwerk, senior midfielder Eli VerMerris, junior midfielder Austin Golden, sophomore defender Kaleb Krueger.
Key Newcomers: junior keeper Connor Hines, junior defender Eli Covert, junior midfielder Cam Schultz, junior midfielder Nate Curtis, junior defender Luke Hronek, senior defender Jeremiah Bosse, junior forward Brenton Raymond, junior midfielder Jay Thompson, freshman midfielder Cody Mayette, freshman Carter Golden, sophomore Bryce LaNore.
“Our goal the first third of the season will be to mesh as a team,” Kobylak said. “We have 13 new players to the varsity roster. “Once we mesh, we have the potential to be very good.
“By the middle and end of the season, our goals again this year is to win a championship. It won’t be easy as the smallest school in the O-K Black, but a top three finish in the conference would be something to be proud of.”
“Mona Shores, Reeths-Puffer, Grand Rapids Union and Jension, along with ourselves will surely make for competitive games throughout the course of the conference season. “Any of those teams could finish first, second or third in the conference. Muskegon and Kenowa Hills are always improving programs, as well. It should make every game on our schedule a difficult test.”
WESTERN MICHIGAN CHRISTIAN
Last Year: 14-5-1.
Head Coach: David Hulings
Key Returners: senior forward Evan Fles, senior midfielder Tommy TenCate, senior midfielder Owen Alfree, senior defender Josh Paquin, senior keeper Jacob Moser, senior forward Adam VanHoven, senior forward Tyler VanBeek, senior midfielder Chandler Briet, senior midfielder John Scott Finley, senior midfielder Seth VanderKooi, senior defender Dirk Teeter.
Key Newcomers: junior midfielder Hayden Hubers, junior defender Brant Zeerip, junior defender Joe Hains, sophomore Brandon Fles, sophomore Charlie Alfree, sophomore Josh Boyink.
“We may be deeper than we have ever been during my 15 years at WMC,” said Hulings. “This is our 50th year of soccer at WMC. We are looking forward to what the 50th-year celebration will bring. We will be bringing in past coaches and past players to connect this team to the past and prepare them for the future. We simply want to control what we can control. We look forward to unfolding the year. It has much to experience.”