by BRYAN EVERSON
If Tuesday night was any indication of what lies ahead, Utica could be in store for another solid season on the pitch this spring.
On a chilly evening in Rochester, the Chieftains were able to get some field time against a more-than-quality opponent, Stoney Creek. The Cougars took down Eisenhower — MAC Red Champions and a top five team in the state — en route to a Division 1 state title, and bring back a majority of their players as upperclassmen in 2017.
So while it doesn’t count in the standings, a victory for Utica in the scrimmage still felt good.
“I’m really excited,” Utica coach David Moran said. “If you’re going to have a measuring stick, why not measure it up against the state champs from last year and see how you do? I know they graduated some strong players, too, but for us to come out, play strong and get a 3-1 win…I know it’s a scrimmage, but it’s kind of uplifting for our team.”
The Chieftains have had a few ho-hum seasons, but the past several years for the program were solid ones. After finishing third in the MAC White in 2015, Moran’s team improved on that last year, going 6-3- 1, and 12-7-2 overall, bowing out in the playoffs to Ike, whose only loss came to Stoney in a district championship.
Nine seniors are gone from that team, including midfielders Valentina Giambanco (Saginaw Valley State) and Lauren Chaney (Madonna), as well as defender Julia Gielniak (Spring Hill), but there’s still a good core leadership-wise lacing up the studs. Of the seven seniors on the team, a handful were at least semi-regular starters in 2016, and spread throughout the lineup. That includes Liz Balaj up top, Mady Motloch on the outside, Danielle Kaschalk in the interior midfield, and Haley Weber in the back.
Moran had a chance to look at that quartet, as well as other returners, some of the players added from last year’s JV team who proved deserving, and two freshman who’ve made the varsity team. Furthermore, freshman Madison Barch also got some time in net, but it figures to be senior Kaley Brenizer who should set most of the time between the sticks this season.
“Brooke [Chmiel] came off the bench for us last year, but she’s showing really well,” Moran said. “She’s picking up right where she left off last year, strong, tenacious. Alana Valiere also started outside today for us and played strong. Kayla [O’Kray] was playing strong in the center for us.”
Throughout the scrimmage, passage of play was strong on the right flank for Utica, who also displayed some incisive passing on several counter-attacks. The goal that the Chieftains allowed was of high quality, and to close the night well, they drew a penalty on the final play of the game and converted it to cap things off.
Unlike last year, Utica will get a different group of opponent in its district this year at Troy Athens, but again, it won’t be a cakewalk.
“It’s an easier district than last year, but definitely not easy when you have to deal with Ford, Athens, Stevenson,” Moran said. “You just take it one game at a time.”
Things officially got underway Thursday when the Chieftains opened up with a quality opponent on the road against Rochester Adams.
“If there’s one thing I knew coming into the season, if you’re going to beat the best, you’ve got to play against them,” Moran said. “We get Adams [first], and when we come back from break, we get Ike right away and then Anchor Bay after that. If we’re not ready for league [play] after that, I don’t know what we’ll be.”