Clinton Township, FraserApril 1, 2014
Fraser, Chippewa Valley soccer teams gearing up for MAC play
By Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writer
FRASER/CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Despite losing two-time All-State soccer player Rachel DeLuca to graduation, Fraser head coach Thaier Mukhtar believes that his team will be more dangerous entering the 2014 season.
Coming off of a 16-5-1 campaign last year, Mukhtar has high expectations for the Ramblers this spring.
“The girls believe they’re one of the best teams in the state, and they’re going to go out every day to try and prove it,” Mukhtar said. “We lost some very talented players from last year, but sometimes when that happens, people may think we’ll be down, but it just gives the other girls a chance to come up.”
Key players stepping up this year for Fraser are senior captains Jesse Van Gampelaere at midfield, Emily Bondy at forward and Rachael Williams on defense.
Other expected key contributors are Nicole Thompson, a four year varsity player at midfield, sophomore defender Tyler Ledford, junior midfielder Casey Denys, freshman forward Riley McCleese and junior goalie Julia Stewart.
“The other thing that makes us more dangerous is that we don’t rely just on one player anymore,” Mukhtar said. “We realistically have on offense a three-headed monster with Jesse (Van Gampelaere), Emily (Bondy) and Riley (McCleese), and then you have two of the best athletes playing outside midfield with Nicole Thompson and Casey Denys.”
“I think, offensively, we’re a lot more balanced, and we could actually be a lot more better than last year.”
Mukhtar said that the weak point of Fraser this year would be on defense, with just one starter returning in Williams, but that back line surrendered just one goal in four scrimmage victories against Grosse Pointe North, Ann Arbor Huron, Grand Ledge and Traverse City Central.
“Defensively, we’ll get it squared out, but so far, we’ve only given up one goal in four games, so we’ll get it straightened out. … I think we have girls that work hard on defense,” Mukhtar said. “From what we’ve played in the scrimmages, we definitely look like we’re greatly improved from last year and ahead of last year’s pace.”
After going 12-0 in the MAC White two years ago, Fraser finished third last season with a 7-4-1 mark. Fraser bowed out in the district semifinals to Troy Athens in a game that went to penalty kicks, and Athens lost to eventual state champion Troy in the district final, also on penalty kicks.
With all of that in mind, Mukhtar knows that the MAC’s top two divisions will be strong once again.
“Anchor Bay, in my opinion, is one of the top two teams talentwise with Eisenhower in all of Macomb County,” Mukhtar said. “In the White, it shapes up very well because us or Anchor Bay could beat any team in the Red on any given day. Last year, we were undefeated against the Red.”
Big Reds laying a foundation for the future
In the first week of the regular season, Chippewa Valley coach Gerry Haggarty saw what he had expected coming into the 2014 campaign.
After a 5-0 loss to Macomb Dakota in its season opener, Chippewa defeated Port Huron 8-0.
With just one senior and two juniors starting, Chippewa is a young team that will look to become more consistent this year.
“Again, we’re very young — extremely young, actually,” Haggarty said. “I think there’s going to be times when we take our lumps and other times when we look pretty good. We probably just have to work on consistency this year in getting better every game. We’re going to make mistakes that young teams make, so we just have to be patient, take our lumps and get better as we go.”
Key contributors this year for Chippewa will be sophomore midfielder Gabby Dedvukaj, senior defender Morgan Dushaj and sophomore forward Sarah Shippy.
Sophomore forward Allison Shaw, who scored four goals in the Port Huron game, was also noted by Haggarty as a key player for this season.
“She (Shaw) can hit it and score from outside because she has a strong shot. She’s only a sophomore and she didn’t play last year because she tore her ACL, but I think she’s going to be pretty good,” Haggarty said.
Junior forward Amber Jannaro, a three-year varsity player, will join Dushaj as Chippewa’s pair of captains this season.
Despite having such a young team this spring, Haggarty remains optimistic that Chippewa could take a step forward in the MAC Red.
“I hope so — the Red is always tough. Eisenhower is going to be really good, and Ford is pretty good. The competition is always tough, and if you’re playing with as young of a team as we are, it makes it even tougher,” Haggarty said.
Haggarty explained that improving his players’ mental game will be especially important as they prepare for future success.
“A year or two with the girls makes more mentally a difference than physically, so we’ll try to mature as the year goes on and get better every game,” Haggarty said. “We’re playing for the future more than we are for the present, and just trying to get better. And that’s our goal this year to get better every time we step on the field.”