Blue Devils, Norsemen ready for soccer season
GROSSE POINTE WOODS/FARMS — With 11 seniors playing significant roles this season, Grosse Pointe South head soccer coach Gene Harkins is expecting his team to contend for a state championship.
South has made it out of its district the last four years, with its best postseason result coming in 2011 when the it reached the state semifinals, but Harkins believes he now has a team that can go all the way.
“We’re seasoned, and we expect to do very well. We’re looking to win the MAC this year, and hopefully, if we’re really lucky, our major goal is to win states. That’s our major goal. It’s realistic, and we feel like we could do it,” Harkins said.
Up front, seniors Cydney Webb and Dani Manning will be the top offensive threats. Defensively, seniors Dani Ventimiglia, Ellie Zak, Mary Weipert and Dee Dee Burns will control the back half.
“I have two forwards who can put the ball in the back of the net, which is always good in high school,” Harkins said.
“Defensively, I think we’re just very consistent, so I think it’s going to be hard to score on us. That’s going to give us some good opportunities. They’re all seniors in the back, so that’s one of our strong suits.”
Ventimiglia, Webb and midfielder Franny Weber are the senior captains.
South has taken second place in the MAC Red each of the last three seasons, finishing behind Utica Eisenhower each time. This season, Harkins believes that his forwards could be the difference.
“Every game has been a one-goal game and a battle, and it’s gone, unfortunately, against us,” Harkins said. “Their strong suit is that they’ve always had a lot of strong forwards up top, but I feel that we are the ones who have the better forwards this year. We beat them when we won the MAC Red a few years ago, so hopefully, we can get it back.”
Senior midfielders Kathy Collins and Carly Ventimiglia are also expected to contribute for the Blue Devils.
After a March 31 game against Anchor Bay, played after press time, South will host Grosse Pointe North on April 7 at 7:30 p.m.
North retooling, not rebuilding
After graduating 11 seniors off of last years team, Grosse Pointe North coach Skipper Mukhtar emphasized that his team this year will be retooling, not rebuilding.
Mukhtar stated that defense will be the identity of the Norsemen, as all three captains will be featured in the back.
Sophomore goalie Emily McPharlan, along with senior defenders Phoebe Dodge and Andi Helb, have been named captains. Junior forward Justine Lynn, who has already committed to Indiana University, will lead North offensively.
Mukhtar explained that he had no second thoughts in making McPharlan a captain, despite being a sophomore.
“She’s a great leader. You can tell that she has a bright future. Last year she had a great season as a freshman, earning All-District,” Mukhtar said of McPharlan. “She’ll be very important. She’s the coach in the back for us. She controls our back line, and she’s one of the few voices you hear at one of our games besides mine.”
Mukhtar explained that Dodge and Helb have epitomized what captains should be, as they now lead the Norsemen.
“(Dodge has) been more of a captain by example, and she sets a good example every day. She never takes days off, especially in games. She can mark the best player on the field and also score goals in the same game,” Mukhtar said.
“Andi (Helb) is a true example of what a captain should be like. She’s always on time and a good leader who the kids look up to. She’s a good student, and she’s just a good Norseman.”
After spending a year away from the North program to focus on club soccer, Lynn returns to the Norsemen having already committed to Indiana. Mukhtar said that he believes that she is one of the top three players in Michigan.
“(Lynn is) fun to coach. She’s fun to watch and train. She’s fun in the game. She’s a great kid and listens to everything, and is as coachable as they come,” Mukhtar said. “Normally, when you get girls of her talent, they don’t want to be here for extra soccer, but she wants to be here and play with her teammates.”
North travels to Rochester Adams for an April 3 game before visiting Grosse Pointe South on April 7.