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April 28, 2014

Eagles and Chieftains aiming high

MAC soccer season heating up

By Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writer

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Utica Eisenhower junior Paige Duda attempts to dribble through the Utica Ford defense during an Eisenhower victory on April 23.

UTICA — The Eisenhower Eagles are taking a new approach to this spring’s soccer season.

For the last four seasons, Eisenhower has dominated the MAC Red by losing just one game in league play since 2010.

That regular-season success hasn’t translated to postseason success, however, and Eisenhower coach Mehrdad Nekoogar hopes to change that this year.

“We have a different goal this year. Every year, we try to win our division, and the last two years, we’ve been undefeated. But unfortunately, we lost in the first game of the district. This year, our goal right from the get-go is to concentrate for districts and further out; it’s much more of a long-range goal,” Nekoogar said.

Eisenhower will be experimenting with different formations this regular season to see which one fits the talents of this year’s team best. Nekoogar said that finding the right continuity on the field at the end of the regular season is a goal for his new philosophy.

“The most important thing is getting the chemistry together, and not only trying to win the games, but trying to look at different formations throughout the year and see which one is going to fit us the best when we get to playoff time,” Nekoogar said. 

Despite falling to Sterling Heights Stevenson in an early MAC Red contest, Nekoogar remained comfortable with the progress that the Eagles are making.

“We lost one game already this year, but with that loss, we tried different things and different formations, because we’re still trying to figure out what’s going to fit this team the best in the long-range, not just right now in the short-term,” Nekoogar said.

“It’s a new approach. I don’t know if it’s going to work or not yet, but for four years, we have won (the MAC Red), but we are really not getting anywhere, so we thought to try something different.”

Seniors Caitlin Carroll and Jillian Doss, along with junior Paige Duda, are serving as Eisenhower’s captains.

“They want to win the state championship, so they’re doing everything they can to get us there,” Nekoogar said. “They know that we have a team that can go a long way. They have taken the leadership, especially when we lost a couple of weeks ago. I know that didn’t sit well with them.”

Junior Isabella Palazzolo, and sophomores Shannon Casey and Morgan Mooty are also key contributors.

Eisenhower entered the third week of MAC Red play with a 2-1 mark in league play, tied for first with Stevenson with six points. The result of Eisenhower’s April 28 game against Anchor Bay was not known at press time. The Eagles will host Grosse Pointe North on April 30.

Chieftains young, but talented
This spring has provided a glimpse into what Utica soccer could look like the next few seasons.

With 14 underclassmen out of 19 varsity players, the Chieftains are out to a 4-4 start, with a 2-3 mark in MAC White play. Two of those three losses came in the final moments of games against Anchor Bay and Fraser, two of the MAC White’s top teams.

After graduating 11 seniors from last year’s team, Utica coach Dave Moran said he expected to rebuild this year, but the youthful talent in Utica’s program has allowed him to keep the program moving forward to its goal of making a regional final this season.

“We call it a challenge, but it’s almost a blessing because we’re getting them at a young age,” Moran said.

“We had a really good freshman class last year and another good freshman class this year. Quite a few of them are major contributors on the field right now. A lot of them are starting or contributing right off the bench, so it bodes well for the future.”

Senior Elena Simopoulos leads Utica as the team captain. Sophomores Amy Misze (center midfielder), and defenders Summer Watkins and Sophia Simopoulos are three of Utica’s key contributors.

The Chieftains are also battling to replace the services of talented sophomore Lauren Chaney to an ACL tear, but Moran is hoping to develop a few offensive threats this spring.

“Our main challenge this season is going to be manufacturing goals. We don’t have a fully natural goal scorer like some of the other teams, so we have to build the girls up to make them into that and then spread the scoring around,” Moran said.

Moran also explained that the maturity of the underclassmen has helped them to make positive strides early this season.

“Overall, we’re really impressed with the maturity of the team from the standpoint of it being a new system for a lot of them,” Moran said. “They’re picking it up and asking questions, so when they don’t understand, they figure it out, either through their teammates or through us as coaches.”

Utica began its third week of MAC White competition with a game at L’Anse Creuse North on April 28. The result of that game was not known at press time. The Chieftains will visit first-place Anchor Bay on April 30.

You can reach C & G Sports Writer Thomas Franz at tfranz@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1040.