By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
East Kentwood’s exit in the 2011 District Final was the team’s earliest from the MHSAA boys soccer tournament since 2003.
Although it came against a formidable opponent, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, that was ranked just a few spots lower and had beaten the Falcons earlier in the season, the loss still didn’t sit right for a team that had won three of the past four Division 1 Finals.
East Kentwood made the fixes this fall to push that championship run to four of the last six.
The Falcons get a Second Half High 5 this week after finishing another title push with a 1-0 win over Grand Blanc in Saturday’s Division 1 Final at Troy Athens. They finished this fall 22-1-4.
“Every team has a personality, and the personality of this team was unity,” Conlon said. “That’s not coach-speak. They bought into each other, bought into their roles, were very unselfish.
“Last year, we focused on the wrong things, and that bit us at the end of the season. When you play great teams like Grand Blanc and Novi, it comes down to trusting teammates. And we won a 1-nothing tight game … because we trusted someone up top, and he scored.”
East Kentwood totaled an impressive 85 goals this season, considering especially the strong schedule again this fall. That lone goal in the Final came from junior Emir Cengic, a defender who will be part of the attack in 2013 but hadn’t scored this season before tapping in the team’s final goal of 2012.
That ending was indicative of the balanced contributions from all over the field. Senior midfielder Charlie Constantino is perhaps the team’s best-known talent, and he had a solid 10 goals and 11 assists. But senior forward T.J. Ifaturoti led the team with 16 goals and senior defender Tyler Moorman also added 10. Senior midfielder Josh Hagene had a team-high 12 assists, with junior forward Erick Pizano also totaling 11.
The balance extended to the net, where senior Denis Duratovic had nine shutouts and a 1.0 goals-against average. But sophomore Peyton Gonzalez finished the run with shutouts in the Semifinal and Final, giving him four in eight games with a 0.38 GAA. Both were beneficiaries of a group that prided itself on defense although it was known more for its attack.
“There’s definitely a pressure on the guys. We have a bunch of our former players who come back and tell them how good they were, so the guys have expectations to live up to,” Conlon said. “Honestly, we don’t talk a lot about state championships. We talk about doing the right thing and focusing on the game at hand. It sounds like coach-speak, but really, that’s what we focus on
The Falcons final moments of 2012 were part another show of unity and tribute to one of many who helped establish the program’s success and expectations before them. They posed in the team photo with their trophy and medals wearing black T-shirts with the words “Seal Team Three” in honor of former player David Warsen. The Navy Seal played for East Kentwood from 2001-04 and died in August in Afghanistan. Two of his brothers also played for the Falcons; Ryan was the main keeper when the team won its previously most-recent title in 2010.
“Today was just a fun celebration,” Conlon said after the photos were taken. “That’s the way we looked at the day.”
PHOTO: East Kentwood goalkeeper Peyton Gonzalez (far right) prepares to snag a shot amid teammates and Grand Blanc players during the Falcons' 1-0 win in the MHSAA Division 1 Final. (Click to see more from HighSchoolSportsScene.com.)