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Shelby Township, Utica

June 9, 2014

Utica Eisenhower cruises to state semifinals

By Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Utica Eisenhower’s Paige Duda tries to dribble past the Walled Lake Northern keeper during a regional semifinal game on June 4 at Rochester High School. Duda scored three goals in Eisenhower’s two regional games.

ROCHESTER HILLS — After a thrilling comeback victory against Rochester Hills Stoney Creek to win a district final, Eisenhower coach Mehrdad Nekoogar warned his team against having an emotional letdown in the regional rounds.

After two convincing 4-1 victories against Walled Lake Northern and Grand Blanc in regional play, it was clear that Nekoogar’s warning worked.

“I was a little worried about that, could there have been a let down, but I think they managed after the first 10 minutes,” Nekoogar said after Eisenhower’s win against Walled Lake Northern on June 4.

The second halves of each game were especially strong for Eisenhower, as the Eagles outscored their opponents by a combined 5-0 after intermission.

“They’re fit; they don’t get tired. We are not making a lot of subs, but they don’t get tired, and because of the offense we have, we are getting teams tired in the second half, and that’s really hurting them a little bit,” Nekoogar said of his team’s strength in the second half.

There were several notable performances in the regional rounds for Eisenhower.

Isabella Palazzolo had three assists in the Walled Lake Northern game before scoring the opening goal against Grand Blanc. Shannon Casey scored twice against Northern, and Paige Duda tallied three second-half goals between the two games.

“They needed time to jell and time to get to know each other, and it takes time. Now, they’re finally starting to click, and hopefully, they continue doing that,” Nekoogar said of his offense coming together in the postseason.

After playing two teams the Eagles weren’t familiar with in regional action, Eisenhower took on Utica Ford in a state semifinal on June 11, after press time, at West Bloomfield.

Eisenhower’s regional final win against Grand Blanc took place before the result of Ford’s win against Grosse Pointe South on June 6, but regardless of the result, Nekoogar knew that the familiar matchup against a fellow MAC Red team would present a major challenge.

“It’s definitely more dangerous than playing this kind of game because they know you. Every time you beat a team twice, they’re going to be ready the third time for you, and that’s going to be a very dangerous game. I just have to hope that they’re focused and they don’t take anything for granted,” Nekoogar said.

The result of the state semifinal game between Ford and Eisenhower was not known at press time, but the winner will advance to play against Northville or Okemos in the MHSAA Division 1 state championship at noon on June 14 at Williamston High School.

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