BY DAN STICKRADT
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
The best describes the prep boys soccer scene in Michigan over the years. While many of the traditional state powerhouse teams still thrive as they did some three decades ago, the talent growth and shifts has allowed the pool to spread to all corners of the Lower Peninsula.
In the Lansing area, East Lansing has become one constant example of a program never falling off the map as more and more schools state-wide have added soccer or have garnered respect.
Since winning the Class A state title in 1987, East Lansing has captured five titles with two state runner-up trophies to boot . The MHSAA adopted boys soccer in 1982, while the coaches association ran a small state tournament from 1974-81 for the scant amount of programs around at the time).
The Trojans have captured legions of conference and district championships as well and are perhaps the most successful program all-time in the Lansing area. As of late September, East Lansing sat comfortably in the No. 2 position and again is a threat to make a run at another state title.
Here is a look around the state at the teams that could make some noise when the state tournament begins on Oct. 17.
Some districts offer up several ranked squads, while others have schools under the radar waiting for the moment to spring an upset.
LANSING-CENTRAL MICHIGAN AREA
Division 1 — Okemos, which has captured two titles, is often one of the most herald teams in Central Michigan. Grand Ledge is a team on the rise and could make a lengthy run with a couple of upsets.
Division 2 — Behind East Lansing, defending D-2 champ Mason has won four titles all-time and is always a threat. Haslett could be a sleeper pick, while DeWitt can never be taken for granted.
Division 3 — Even in a rebuilding year, Williamston has risen up the ladder in the D-3 top-20. Lansing Catholic, Ithaca and Ovid-Elsie are other teams that are capable of some postseason noise.
Division 4 — Lansing Christian is seemingly a permanent resident in the top-20 and currently resides in the penthouse atop the charts.
SAGINAW-BAY CITY-MIDLAND-FLINT AREA
Division 1 — Although not ranked, Grand Blanc has never finished below five-hundred, while Midland Dow also has plenty of talented players and will be a threat.
Division 2 — A host of teams, including state-ranked Fenton and Linden, are quite capable of advancing deep. Goodrich can never be taken lightly.
Division 3 — Freeland is enjoying another fine season, as is Flint Powers Catholic. Saginaw Swan Valley could surprise, the same as Montrose.
Division 4 — Burton Genesee Christian ran the tables last year and captured the D-4 crown.
TRAVERSE CITY-NORTHERN MICHIGAN AREA
Division 1 — Traverse City West has played a loaded schedule and has enough of a talented side to make a run at the Final Four.
Division 2 — Petoskey is usually the team that escapes this area.
Division 3 — Either Gladwin or Tawas City could make a deep run, as both have reached the state semis in recent years. Elk Rapids and Charlevoix are also strong sides, while Belding and Big Rapids are having their best seasons to date.
Division 4 — Roscommon, Harbor Springs and Leland are the most likely teams to make long runs.
GRAND RAPIDS-MUSKEGON-HOLLAND AREA
Division 1 — While defending state champ Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central has dropped off from last year’s unbeaten season, the Rangers will still be in the picture. Rockford and four-time state champion East Kentwood could also make deep runs. Jenison, Hudsonville and Caledonia sit quietly under the radar ready to spring an upset.
Division 2 — Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern is ranked No. 1 after reaching the finals last year. Spring Lake is ranked third, while Holland, Holland Christian and Grand Rapids Northview provides a stiff challenge.
Division 3 — Grand Rapids South Christian is No. 1 in the state, but will see challenges by Grand Rapids Catholic Central, Hudsonville Unity Christian, Whitehall, Wyoming Godwin Heights, Kentwood Grand River Prep and Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy in this talent-deep area.
Division 4 — Muskegon Western Michigan Christian, North Muskegon, Grandville Calvin Christian, Grand Rapids Covenant Christian and Grand Rapids Northpointe Christian are all having strong campaigns with ranked teams.
KALAMAZOO-BATTLE CREEK-SOUTHWEST MICHIGAN AREA
Division 1 — Portage Northern is currently ranked No. 1 in D-1 and is aiming for its first title run since 2001. With a youth movement, Portage Central is capable of making an upset.
Division 2 — Coldwater, Mattawan, Marshall and St. Joseph appear to be the cream of the crop, while Richland-Gull Lake, Stevensville-Lakeshore and Plainwell could also sneak in and steal the show.
Division 3 — Paw Paw is ranked second, while both Parchment and Coloma are talented enough for an upset.
Division 4 — Kalamazoo Hackett was the state runner-up last season and Hartford is back in the top-20 and quite capable. Bridgman and St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic are both traditionally strong.
ANN ARBOR-JACKSON-ADRIAN AREA
Division 1 — Brighton, Saline and Ann Arbor Skyline are the teams the most capable of advancing deep if they can escape treacherous districts. Hartland is also a team on the rise. Never count out Ann Arbor Pioneer.
Division 2 — Tecumseh has its best team to date and Dexter is also ranked. Chelsea is another team to never tread lightly.
Division 3 — Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard has built a strong program and could advance deep.
Division 4 — Ann Arbor Greenhills, Adrian Lenawee Christian and Hillsdale Academy are all ranked.
Division 1 — Woodhaven and Dearborn are traditionally the safe bets.
Division 2 — Dearborn Divine Child, Riverview, Trenton and Melvindale have been the top teams the past couple of years, while Girbraltar-Carlson is on the rise.
Division 3 — Grosse Ile has been the most dominate school in this area.
Division 4 — Monroe St. Mary’s Catholic Central and Allen Park Inter-City Baptist are both capable of postseason success.
Division 1 — With the U.S. soccer academies baiting several of the top players away from the high school game, the race is wide open. This area offers up Canton, Salem, Plymouth, Northville, Livonia Stevenson and a host of others that are quality — again whomever survives these talent-laden districts.
Division 2 — Placed in a weak district, Detroit U-D Jesuit could be a sleeper pick thanks to a tough schedule.
Division 3 — Livonia Clarenceville and Detroit Frontier International are both competitive enough to win a district.
Division 4 — Plymouth Christian is the best bet here.
Division 1 — This tradition-rich region counters with dozens of schools with quality sides. OAA-Red schools Rochester Adams, Troy Athens, Troy, Rochester, Rochester Stoney Creek, Clarkston and Berkley are all good teams. Novi out of the KLAA and CHSL-member Novi-Detroit Catholic Central are also a threats for deep runs. Never count out Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham Brother Rice, Walled Lake Central or Walled Lake Northern.
Division 2 — Auburn Hills Avondale and Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook are both capable of reaching the Final Four. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s and Ortonville Brandon are also on the radar, while Detroit Country Day, with 14 state titles, can never be left out the discussion. Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, South Lyon or Madison Heights Lamphere could also break loose.
Division 3 — Clawson has perhaps its best team since the 1990s and is dangerous.
Division 4 — While not as strong as in the past, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, Birmingham Roeper and Royal Oak Shrine are always strong and could catch fire.
MACOMB COUNTY-PORT HURON AREA
Division 1 — Fraser, Utica Ford, Utica Eisenhower and Warren DeLaSalle are all quality teams and all have been to the Final Four in the past decade. Macomb Dakota and New Baltimore can never be taken lightly. Neither can Sterling Heights Stevenson, known for upsets.
Division 2 — St. Clair and Marysville both have some quality players and could surprise.
Division 3 — Macomb Lutheran North and Richmond are traditionally the top two teams in this area.
Division 4 — Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett is rarely challenged out of the east side.
Division 3 — Imlay City has double-digit wins but is in a tough district with two other quality teams.
Division 4 — Harbor Beach and Marlette are the best of the bunch here.
MHSSCA STATE RANKINGS (Late September)
Division 1 — 1. Portage Northern; 2. Canton; 3. Rockford; 4. Rochester Adams; 5. Fraser; 6. Brighton; 7. Troy Athens; 8. Northville; 9. Novi; 10. East Kentwood; 11. Clarkston; 12. Plymouth; 13. Saline; 14. Portage Central; 15. Traverse City West; 16. Novi-Detroit Catholic Central; 17. Utica Ford; 18. Plymouth Salem; 19. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central; 20. Rochester Stoney Creek
Division 2 — 1. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern; 2. East Lansing; 3. Spring Lake; 4. Auburn Hills Avondale; 5. Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood; 6. Holland Christian; 7. Lowell; 8. Coldwater; 9. Mattawan; 10. Tecumseh; 11. Marshall; 12. Dexter; 13. Holland; 14. Grand Rapids Northview; 15. Mason; 16. Stevensville Lakeshore; 17. Linden; 18. Fenton; 19. Orchard Lake St Mary’s; 20. Ortonville Brandon
Division 3 — 1. Grosse Pointe South Christian; 2. Paw Paw; 3. Grand Rapids Catholic Central; 4. Flint Powers Catholic; 5. Hudsonville Unity Christian; 6. Williamston; 7. Grosse Ile; 8. Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard; 9. Tawas; 10. Gladwin; 11. Clawson; 12. Lansing Catholic; 13. Freeland; 14. Whitehall; 15. Wyoming Godwin Heights; 16. Grand Rapids West Michigan Aviation Academy; 17. Kentwood Grand River Prep; 18. Belding; 19. Elk Rapids; 20. Big Rapids
Division 4 — 1. Lansing Christian; 2. Muskegon Western Michigan Christian; 3. Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett;
4. North Muskegon; 5. Leland; 6. Monroe St. Marys Catholic; 7. Grand Rapids Covenant Christian; 8. Burton Genesse Christian; 9. Ann Arbor Greenhills; 10. Hartford; 11. Plymouth Christian; 12. Hillsdale Academy; 13. Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Central; 14. Roscommon; 15. Bridgeman; 16. Adrian Lenawee Christian; 17. Grandville Calvin Christian; 18. St. Joseph Lake Michigan Catholic; 19. Harbor Springs; 20. Grand Rapids Northpointe Christian