New era finds Chieftains soccer competing with conference’s elite

By: Jon Malavolti | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 3, 2012

 Utica High’s Matt Wilkie battles for the ball during a game earlier this season. The Chieftains are playing in the MAC Red this season for the first time since 1999.

Utica High’s Matt Wilkie battles for the ball during a game earlier this season. The Chieftains are playing in the MAC Red this season for the first time since 1999.

Photo by David Schreiber

UTICA — The last time Utica High’s boys soccer team competed in the Macomb Area Conference Red Division, members of the current squad were probably learning to kick a ball for the first time.

It was 1999, and the Chieftains finished in sixth place — last — with a 1-7-1 division record. They’ve played in the MAC White Division ever since and have dominated in recent years, winning four league titles in the past five seasons.

So, Utica is back in the Red.

And while plenty has changed in the world in the last 13 years, the high level of play in the MAC’s top division hasn’t.

“Anytime you get to the MAC Red, all these teams are so good,” first-year Chieftains coach Carl Territo Jr. said. “We understand the MAC Red is super hard. I spent 13 years coaching in it with the girls at (Utica Henry) Ford. It’s always competitive. It’s always tight. They just have to get used to it.”

At press time, Utica was 1-5-0 in the division, but was showing progress. The Chieftains dropped their first MAC Red game of the season 4-0 to Utica Stevenson back on Sept. 10. In the squads’ second meeting, Stevenson clipped Utica 1-0 Sept. 26.

“We’re just trying to take it the next game, be positive and go where we can go,” Territo said.

Senior Evan Barnett echoed his coach.

“We just need to stay positive and keep our heads up,” he said.

Junior Noah Brenizer mentioned a key difference between the MAC White and Red divisions.

“In the MAC Red, the games are a lot closer, a lot more competitive,” he said.

Territo noted that Utica has been in most of its games, just coming up shy in close games.

“We’ve just been on the wrong side of the results so far,” the coach said. “We’ve just got to keep going forward.”

Actually, the coach wouldn’t mind going backward a little bit. He’d like to see the team regain the swagger it displayed at the start of the season, as Utica started the season 6-1-1 overall.

“At the beginning of the year, we played really well. We’re just trying to get back on track from where we were in the beginning,” he said. “It’s not major adjustments, just some small things. The little things you have to do better because everybody is improving. If you don’t do the small things good, you’re going to get stuck.”

Territo highlighted the play of Brenizer, the team’s leading scorer at press time, along with senior goalkeeper Troy Walters, junior Austin Perry, and sophomores Logan Young and Joe Zaremski as leading the team so far.

The coach said the key for the team’s success is to “play together as a unit and remain positive,” while avoiding adversity, getting down and playing “too individual.”

“I’m trying to really stress that,” he said. “In MAC Red games, there’s constant adversity, because the kids know each other. They’re friends; they play against each other their whole lives, so these games are all big.

“So you’ve got to be able to handle that,” the coach continued. “And the teams that can handle that and step above it are the ones that typically win. It’s not necessarily the most talented team that’s going to win; it’s going to be the one that plays together, works together — works hard for a full 80 minutes. That’s the difference.”

Playing against such neighbors and friends as Stevenson, Ford and Utica Eisenhower in the MAC Red — which also includes Chippewa Valley and Anchor Bay — is a big deal to the Chieftains.

“Knowing a lot more of the people just makes it that much more of a rivalry game every game,” Brenizer said. “Because you just want to beat your friends so badly, because you play with them in the offseason. And if you lose, you lose the bragging rights.”

“New” seems to be the theme of the season for Utica, playing in a new division with a new coach and a mostly new starting lineup. Thirteen seniors, including some very good players, graduated from the squad last year.

“With that in mind, we’re still doing OK,” Territo said. “When you look at the bigger picture, this group, playing together — and for the majority of them they get a whole another year to play together — should be good.”