Metro Detroit boys high school soccer: Anchor Bay ready to make push in state playoffs

By Jonathan Szczepaniak
Special to The Detroit News

Anchor Bay has had its way in the Macomb Area Conference this season, but to continue its dream season it will have to beat another league foe.

Anchor Bay (20-1-1) fell to Troy Athens, 4-3, in a shootout last year in the regional finals to end its season. On Thursday, Anchor Bay coach Nate Williams and his team will get another crack at winning a regional final, this time taking on Troy at Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.

Anchor Bay's Tommy Mittelstadt.

“Those games are done and over. You’re only as good as your next game,” Williams said. “It’s all about game day.”

Anchor Bay defeated Utica Eisenhower, 4-3, Tuesday in a double overtime victory to punch its ticket to the final.

While his team has been on a steady track of success, Williams said they have remained grounded.

“It’s important to only look 200 feet ahead of us and go day-by-day,” Williams said. “The team knows this in order to be successful.

Anchor Bay has experienced group with 15 seniors, including all-state performers Carson and Tanner Hodgson, Evan Linsley, two-year captain Tommy Stackpoole, three-year varsity starter Kiet Thammavangsa, Johnny Newlin, Teddy Labaz, Casey Grammens and Sean Halanski.

More: Michigan boys high school soccer: Experienced Clarkston in midst of impressive season

Thammavangsa and Stackpoole, both starters since their sophomore year, have been recognized as the leaders.

“They bring the experience,” Williams said. “They set the tone and demand from their teammates.”

Williams said while his team doesn’t have the dynamic talent, there’s one main aspect his team excels at that can’t be measured.

“It’s the chemistry,” Williams said. “They’re all friends, especially the seniors that have been together, and they like to have fun.”

The bond has translated into an offense that supplies four goals per game and has scored more than three in all but six contests.

“They’re on the same wavelength,” Williams said. “They have that sixth-sense that they know what their teammates are doing.”

Alongside the experienced attackers, sophomore Garrett Pouget stepped up when his name was called.

“He started at junior varsity this season, but quarantine happened and he was performing really well, so we brought him up,” Williams said. “He’s going to have a bright future here.”

Allowing only one goal per game, the defensive unit has been equally dominant allowing two or more goals in only six games this season.

Goalkeeper Evan Linsley has six shutouts this season.

As Anchor Bay prepares to face off against Troy, Williams said his team continues to focus on each opponent.

“They’re in a business-like mentality,” Williams said. “They’ve never backed down from a challenge.”

While Anchor Bay remains focused at a shot at the state finals, Williams said he’s emphasized a more important matter to his guys.

“They’re doing great things on the field, but it’s the memories they’re creating,” Williams said.

Grosse Pointe North’s big turnaround

From the outside looking in, Grosse Pointe North was going nowhere, starting the season 0-8-1.

For North coach Brad VandeVorde, there wasn’t any level of concern.

“Every year I sit down with my coaches and we discuss who we want to play and who we have coming back,” VandeVorde said. “I always like playing the best.”

North (9-10-1) did just that facing off against Anchor Bay, Grosse Pointe South, Detroit Catholic Central, Troy Athens and Berkley in five of their first nine matches.

“You’ll take your chops and your licks, but you’ll play the best,” VandeVorde said.

Returning 10 starters and 15 seniors, VandeVorde sports an experienced group that has come together, heading into regional play.

“They are  battle-tested with the schedule we had last year,” VandeVorde. “They’ve felt every emotion possible.”

North collected its first win of the season against Warren Cousino and from there the momentum carried.

North won seven of its last nine games to finish the season and won its first two playoff games by a combined score of 14-0.

“It’s a huge factor to us now because we’ve literally seen everything,” VandeVorde said. “Being able to play against them not only makes us better, but also prepares us for whoever we play and however far we take it.”

VandeVorde said his team has adopted the underdog role.

“They kept believing and I kept telling them all it takes is one,” VandeVorde said. “Cousino was the one that really showed our boys that all it takes is one. That really got the ball rolling.”

North’s offense scored nine goals in the first nine games of the season, but since then has tallied 40 goals.

The offense is fueled by team captain Tom Sheffield, James Streberger, Jimmy Valice and Tommy Harris.

The defense has four shutouts, including two in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

“That’s where we really focus as a group is our defensive work,” VandeVorde said. “We put an extreme amount of effort into it at practice.”

North will play Birmingham Brother Rice on Thursday.

“We’re on cruise control and we don’t want the momentum to stop,” VandeVorde said. “It’s been fun that’s for sure.”

Groves gets it done

Birmingham Groves was able to achieve something they hadn’t been able to do since 2016.

Groves saw its season come to an end Tuesday in a 1-0 loss against Clarkston in the regional semifinals. But the team was able to win its first division championship in the Oakland Activities Association White this year.

Coach Greg Perkins, in his second year at Groves, continued to wear down opponents defensively as his team matched its shutout total of eight last season.

“The way we try to defend is up front,” Perkins said.

Led by goalkeeper Nick Lurz, who stands at 6-foot-7, the defensive unit allowed just over a goal a game.

Centerback and senior team captain Ben Roman was voted top player in the district this year for Groves.

Senior team captains Chadwick Cole and Cameron McIntosh led the offensive effort.

While the end result wasn’t what Groves had hoped for, Perkins said the team was able to achieve something off the field as well.

“We’re creating a culture that’s more inclusive,” Perkins said. “Everyone is pulling for each other at the school whether it’s the junior varsity guys watching the varsity team or vice versa.”

With 15 seniors departing and only five juniors returning, Groves will look to continue its success behind the strength of its underclassmen.

“We’re going to lose a lot of guys next year, but we do have some really good sophomore and junior talent,” Perkins said.

Jonathan Szczepaniak is a freelance writer.