By BRYAN EVERSON
Soccer teams, especially in certain regions of Michigan, are facing even more challenges than in the past these days.
Troy has had an extremely rich history in the sport, and not just on the girls’ side.
Just this fall, Athens’ boys squad made the state finals. It was the second time they’ve been runner-up, but the Red Hawks have been Division 1 champions once, and Class A champions before that three times under Tim Storch. Carlos Wheatley’s team lifted the Division 1 trophy in 2003, and the Colts made the title game several years before that.
The two schools have combined for seven state titles on the girls’ side, and made the title game another four times. Only a select few communities — Livonia, Plymouth, Novi — can claim that kind of success.
It is a remarkable testament to the coaching and talent that begins its development at much lower levels than varsity.
Today, graduation is just one of the obstacles coaches in Troy, and nearby communities, are facing in maintaining long-term successes. Rather than just trying to replace seniors, players and families are being presented alternatives with club soccer. These alternatives will continue to grow even larger next year; The U.S. Soccer Development Academy will be launching the inaugural season for girls’ teams, just over a decade following the curation for the opposite gender.
The 10-month, four-day per-week yearly slate is a steep commitment. Whereas high school players previously competed for club teams during off-seasons, these clubs will force the hand and make kids choose between school and club. Currently, 69 academies are listed, with three awarded in Michigan — that means over 200 of the state’s talented players could be absent next season.
Until then, Troy, as it has always done, thrived this season.
The Red Hawks graduated a majority of its players in the back, but after experiencing some growing pains against some of the state’s better Division 1 teams early, they settled in and scored significant wins, including over their cross-town rivals.
Athens racked up six goals in a district semifinal before being knocked out on their home field by Utica Ford, who went on to reach the Division 1 state semifinal. Senior Ashley Leonard, who committed early last year to Western Kentucky, was named to the MIHSSCA’s Dream Team XI for the second time. Her sister Alli, a freshman, was named third team all-state as well.
The Colts, with their own rich history, were dealing with retooling after transitioning to second-year head coach Dan Troccoli, who succeeded Brian Zawislak. In his first year in charge, there were struggles.
“We would have liked to have been more successful, but it was a transition year for not just me, but the kids as well,” Troccoli said. “They had to get used to a new coach and a new style.”
The team ceded a number of goals early in the year, but evolved late in the season. Troccoli praised his experienced players, but stressed even before games got underway way that there “just isn’t drop-off in talent” on the roster.
It proved to be true. Troccoli utilized underclassmen who came up with crucial goals late in the season in the playoffs, and Troy went on to claim its first district title since 2013 when it lifted its last Division 1 title.
Troy also fell at the hands of Ford, ousted by just one kick in a 5-4 shootout after playing to an even 2-2 through 100 minutes of regular and extra time.
Sophomore defender Lauren Miller was named a Division 1 honorable mention, and the Colts will send multiple players on to play at the collegiate level.
“They should walk out of here very proud of themselves and the way they played,” Troccoli said following the loss to Ford. “They did every thing they could to keep themselves in this game, to come back from behind and tie it up twice and put it into overtime. I just felt very proud.”
“If you watched us in the beginning of the season, then watched us now, you would say it’s two different teams. They were thinking and looking what they needed to do on the field ahead of where the ball was. They changed themselves. I think it showed from winning the district and taking one of the best teams in the state, if not the best team, to penalties.”
Attrition will be a problem that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon, but history says both programs will be just fine.