By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
At this point in the season, it’s a rarity that any team has not tasted defeat.
But Saturday’s Boys Soccer Finals feature two teams undefeated this fall – including one seeking its first MHSAA championship.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central and Burton Genesee Christian have not fallen in 2015 – and while Forest Hills Central has three ties, Genesee Christian has won 27 straight since falling in a Regional Semifinal a year ago. Forest Hills Central is seeking its first title in more than a decade; Genesee Christian is seeking its first title … period.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern also will play in its first Final, and Williamston also is seeking its first championship after finishing runner-up in Division 3 two of the last three seasons. Canton is hoping to repeat in Division 1 after surviving a Semifinal against Rochester Adams, the team it defeated in last year’s Division 1 Final.
Below is Saturday's schedule, followed by a look at each team in the hunt:
Division 1 at Brighton, 3 p.m.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (22-0-3) vs. Canton (21-5-3)
Division 2 at Comstock Park, 3 p.m.
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern (22-1-3) vs. Mason (23-3)
Division 3 at Comstock Park, Noon
Grand Rapids South Christian (19-3-3) vs. Williamston (19-5)
Division 4 at Brighton, Noon
Kalamazoo Hackett (20-4-1) vs. Genesee Christian (27-0)
All four Finals will be streamed live on MHSAA.TV and available on a subscription basis. A one-day pass costs $9.95 and allows access to all four games plus the Lower Peninsula Cross Country Finals. A month pass costs $14.95 and allows fans to also watch live the Volleyball Semifinals and Finals and Lower Peninsula Girls Swimming & Diving Finals, plus weekly coverage of the football playoffs. Radio broadcasts of the Soccer Finals will be available on MHSAAnetwork.com.
Click for links to brackets and scores. All statistics below are through Regional Finals.
Record/rank: 21-5-3, No. 9
Coach: Mark Zemanski, third season (62-7-9)
League finish: First in Kensington Lakes Activities Association South
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2014).
Players to watch: Hunter Olson, sr. F (25 goals, 12 assists); Jimmy Walkinshaw, sr. M (five goals, 10 assists); Josh Posuniak, sr. M (six goals, 10 assists).
Outlook: The reigning champion lost two of its first four games and two of its final five of the regular season; hence the lower-than-expected ranking. But the Chiefs defeated No. 8 Salem in the District Final and No. 3 Rochester Adams in the Semifinal, and enter Saturday with six senior starters try to finish with a win. Olsen was an all-state honorable mention as a junior, and senior midfielder Jason Ren scored the lone goal of the 2014 Final.
GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS CENTRAL
Record/rank: 22-0-3, No. 2
Coach: Blair Lincoln, fourth season (53-21-11)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference White
Championship history: Division 2 champion 2004.
Players to watch: Mohamed Haji, jr. F (17 goals, 17 assists); Anthony Bowie, sr. F (40 goals, 24 assists); Jake Ireland, sr. M (13 goals, 13 assists).
Outlook: The Rangers’ undefeated run has included tournament wins over No. 5 Detroit Catholic Central, No. 10 Portage Northern and No. 12 East Kentwood. They’ve improved substantially and annually under Lincoln, who formerly coached at Caledonia for a decade before taking over in 2012. Forest Hills Central was 5-12-2 that fall, but has improved its win total each year. Bowie’s 40 goals heading into the week are enough to make the MHSAA record book, and Haji earned an all-state honorable mention last season.
GRAND RAPIDS FOREST HILLS NORTHERN
Record/rank: 22-1-3, No. 2
Coach: Daniel Siminski, second season (38-3-5)
League finish: First in O-K Bronze
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Brayden Texer, soph. F (38 goals, 15 assists); Dante Compean, sr. GK (.930 save %).
Outlook: Forest Hills Northern’s run to its first MHSAA Final has included wins over No. 5 East Lansing, the reigning champion, plus No. 3 Mattawan, No. 14 Petoskey and No. 17 Grand Rapids Northview. The Huskies have given up one or zero goals in 20 of 27 games and spread the wealth offensively after Texer; no other player has more than nine goals, but five more have at least five apiece.
Record/rank: 23-3, No. 8
Coach: Nick Binder, ninth season (175-30-12)
League finish: First in Capital Area Activities Conference Red
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 1997), one runner-up finish.
Players to watch: Leutrim Shefkiu, sr. M (26 goals, 15 assists); Holden Dippel, sr. D (14 goals, six assists); John Kingman, sr. D (seven goals, 26 assists).
Outlook: Mason occupied the top spot in the first three state coaches polls before a couple of tough losses to good teams. The Bulldogs haven’t given up a goal since their last defeat, a stretch of eight games including all six in the tournament. Shefkiu made the all-state first team as a junior and Dippel and Kingman earned honorable mentions and anchor a back line that has contributed to 18 shutouts total. Senior forward Christian Jordan (11 goals, seven assists) and junior defender Lirim Shefkiu (eight goals, 11 assists) also are key offensive contributors.
GRAND RAPIDS SOUTH CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 19-3-3, No. 2
Coach: Jason Boersma, fifth season (88-20-13)
League finish: First in O-K Gold
Championship history: Two MHSAA titles (most recent 2012), two runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Carter Selvius, sr. GK (0.59 goals-against average, 16 shutouts); Ty Brinks, sr. F (20 goals, eight assists); Austin Clark, sr. D.
Outlook: South Christian will be playing in its fifth Final over the last nine seasons, and also finished Division 3 champion in 2010 and runner-up in 2013 and 2007. Selvius, a third-team all-stater last season, is the final line of one of the state’s top defenses, with Clark – a first-team all-state midfielder a year ago – moving back to defend in front of him. Gladwin on Wednesday was the first tournament opponent to score on the Sailors. Senior Zach DeKock and sophomore Sam DeVries both had 15 goals heading into this week to augment the offense.
Record/rank: 19-5, No. 3
Coach: Brent Sorg, 11th season (151-89-21)
League finish: First in CAAC White.
Championship history: Division 3 runner-up in 2014 and 2012.
Players to watch: Brian Ganton, sr. F (17 goals, four assists); Josh Ward, sr. M (11 goals, five assists); Eric Oesterle, sr. D (one goal, one assist).
Outlook: The reigning runner-up Hornets will play in their third Final in four seasons and have had great success under Sorg; this season’s win total matches their high during his 11 and they’ve won five straight District titles. Oesterle made the all-state first team last season and Ward made the second, but they are two of a number of contributors who have helped Williamston outscore its opponents by a combined 72-20. Senior Jacob Chisholm added 11 assists from the midfield heading into this week.
BURTON GENESEE CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 27-0, No. 14
Coach: Doug Anderson, seventh season (108-41-10)
League finish: Does not play in a league.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Cole Russell, jr. M (34 goals, five assists); Riley Buchalski, jr. F (18 goals, 21 assists); Caleb DuPree, jr. F (22 goals, 10 assists).
Outlook: Genesee Christian flew under the radar much of the season despite eliminating then-reigning champion Lansing Christian in a 2014 District Final. Among those to fall early were Division 3 No. 17 Frankenmuth; the Soldiers then cruised through the first four games of the tournament and then eliminated No. 9 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett and top-ranked Lansing Christian, again, to reach this weekend. Russell made the all-state first team last season and Buchalski made the second, and the team also gets a boost from a defense backed by junior keeper Zach Noecker (0.35 goals-against average, 18 shutouts).
Record/rank: 20-4-1, No. 7
Coach: Ian Troutman, first season (20-4-1)
League finish: Second in Southwestern Athletic Conference
Championship history: Four MHSAA titles (most recent 1995).
Players to watch: Will Knoll, sr. F (24 goals, 17 assists); Max Keenan, fr. F (18 goals, seven assists); Kieran O’Brien, sr. M (10 goals, 14 assists).
Outlook: First-year coach Troutman, who formerly coached the junior varsity at Haslett and played at Byron Center, has Hackett in its first Final in more than a decade after the Irish fell in the Regional Final a year ago. Six seniors start, including the entire back line in front of junior keeper Matthew Carpenter. They have traveled a tough road over the last two weeks, beating No. 8 Grandville Calvin Christian and No. 10 Hartford to win the Regional and then downing No. 3 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian in the Quarterfinal.
PHOTO: Grand Rapids South Christian sophomore Matthew Hubbard (13) works to gain control of the ball during a game against Lake Odessa Lakewood. (Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids South Christian.)