Troy Athens celebrates its 2-1 overtime win over Brighton at the MHSAA Division 1 State Finals Nov. 4 at Grand Ledge High School.

Troy Athens celebrates its 2-1 overtime win over Brighton at the MHSAA Division 1 State Finals Nov. 4 at Grand Ledge High School.

Photo provided by the MHSAA/Hockey Weekly Action Photos

Athens boys soccer adds to winning culture, brings home D1 State Title

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Troy Times | Published November 17, 2023

 Troy Athens senior midfielder Nik Lulgjuraj controls the ball during the state finals.

Troy Athens senior midfielder Nik Lulgjuraj controls the ball during the state finals.

Photo provided by the MHSAA/Hockey Weekly Action Photos


TROY — You think you have them right where you want them, but really you’re just playing into one of the biggest strengths Troy Athens boys soccer possesses.

Athens worked all season through a grueling Oakland Activities Association Red league schedule and Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 State Tournament bracket to finally take center stage at the Division 1 state finals game Nov. 4 at Grand Ledge High School.

Athens (20-3-2) last won the state title in 2019, was runner-up in 2016, and made it to the state semifinals in 2020, so the program as a whole was accustomed to the state tournament spotlight.

“We have a long, long history, over 40 years of history, of boys soccer success — and girls soccer success, too, to be fair,” Athens coach Todd Heugh said. “We have a lot of banners hanging up in our gym and some trophies in our trophy cases, and the kids know that. They look at it and they want to be a part of it. They want to be a part of continuing it and being a part of leaving their mark in the program.”

The 2023 Athens team on the other hand, was accustomed to a different type of spotlight, playing behind in the biggest games of the year.

Trailing in four of their six tournament games up until the state finals, Athens understood the pressure of playing with a one-goal deficit.

As Brighton took a 1-0 lead with just over nine minutes in regulation, Athens knew the type of mentality they’d have to have in order to be state champions.

“When they scored, a little bit of panic set in,” senior defender Brody Fahnestock said. “With this team, we have some experience being down early in games, and I just knew I had to get my team going. We had a lot of other chances on a couple corners and buzzing around up top, so I knew we were going to get one.”

Fahnestock, who tallied 10 goals this season for Athens, had played hero multiple times already in the state tournament with game-winning scores against Rochester Adams in the regional semifinals and Northville in the state semifinals, and he wasn’t going to miss an opportunity in the state finals.

With just under two minutes left in regulation, Fahnestock rifled a shot from 30 yards out past the Brighton keeper to tie the game at 1-1, sending the game into overtime.

From there, it was all Troy Athens as they outshot Brighton 8-0 on net in overtime before senior midfielder Manny Aigbedo delivered the final blow, cleaning up a loose ball off an Athens corner kick to send Athens home as state champions.

For the fifth time in seven state tournament games, Athens played from behind, and for the final time, it paid off with a state finals title.

“I think what made us dangerous was our resilience,” Heugh said. “We never felt like we were down or out of something. Our league and our schedule prepares us for tournament runs. We just play a lot of competitive teams, being in the OAA Red. We had seen a lot of it in the regular season. I know we went on a bit of a win streak, but we also went on a bit of a losing streak early where we were close in a lot of those games. I think once it happens once, you learn a lesson that, ‘Oh, it’s not over if we just keep playing till the end.’”

Senior goalkeeper Adam Ethridge, who earned first team all-State honors this year, was a saving grace in the state finals, stopping 13 shots in the win. Ethridge plans to continue his soccer career at Colgate University.

“He’s got experience in high level games,” Heugh said. “He’s going off to play in college next year, so we were confident and comfortable with him back there. It was a good senior rock to have back there.”

Athens had about as difficult of a journey to the state finals as a team can have, facing both Berkley (No. 1 D1) and Northville (No.2 D1) en route to the state finals.

Berkley, an OAA Red rival, had gotten the better end of Troy Athens in their recent matchups, including a 2-0 win for Berkley earlier in the year.

When Athens had another chance at them in the playoffs, they made sure they gave it everything they had.

“The Berkley game, they beat us last year in the regular season, and we had another shot in the tournament, and they beat us,” Heugh said. “After the tournament last year, we had talked a lot about learning our lessons and trying to play them this year. We went there to play at Berkley, and we lost again. There’s a time where you think a team might have your number a little bit, and it might’ve been them for us. To jump with the early start and the two early goals in that game, I do think it gave our team a lot of confidence.”

Athens would end up winning the matchup 5-2, which was a major confidence boost for the squad before beating Troy, Rochester Adams, Utica Ford, Northville and Brighton in the state finals.

Senior midfielder Adriano Shauya, who tallied 18 goals this season, earned first team all-State honors; senior defender Alex Marine and junior Marc Delikat both earned second team all-State; and sophomore Daniel Kadiu wrapped up the all-State awards with an honorable mention. Delikat tallied 10 goals and six assists this season.

The success Athens posted this season can lie on the shoulders of just about anyone who touched the field for the Redhawks this season. Defensively, they were as dominant as it comes with 12 shutouts on the year. Offensively, three or more goals in five of their seven state tournament games tells the story of all you need to know about the attacking unit.

Combine all that with a group of 16 seniors knowing it was their last shot at a title, and what you have is a team worthy of hoisting the Division 1 title.

While it’ll be interesting to see how the Redhawks retool in 2024, the feeling is still surreal around the boys soccer program.

“There’s always that weight of winning that state championship, because it’s been done before, and how’s this team going to do,” Fahnestock said. “That’s always in the back of our minds. Winning the whole thing this year, that’s a great thing to hold on our shoulders.”