Blue Devils soccer standing ground in race for MAC White title

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 7, 2024

 Grosse Pointe South senior team captain Eleni Melhem controls the ball.

Grosse Pointe South senior team captain Eleni Melhem controls the ball.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

 Grosse Pointe South senior Isabella Deveroux takes a shot during a matchup with Berkley on April 30 at Grosse Pointe North High School.

Grosse Pointe South senior Isabella Deveroux takes a shot during a matchup with Berkley on April 30 at Grosse Pointe North High School.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — All things considered, the Macomb Area Conference White hasn’t been kind to Grosse Pointe South girls soccer since its move down from the MAC Red.

Hovering around .500 during its two-year tenure in the league, the Blue Devils have seen the MAC White for what it is — a brutal conference where the majority of the teams have a puncher’s chance in the race.

The knockout shot has been delivered by Utica Ford in back-to-back seasons since the Falcons joined the MAC White with the Blue Devils in 2021, but the 2024 campaign is showcasing an array of teams with tougher chins than usual, including South.

It only takes one game to serve as motivation for an entire season, and for South, a 3-0 district semifinals loss last year to Dearborn, whom South beat for the district championship in 2022, was everything South head coach Chris Bolio’s squad would need to get back into the ring. Now, the rest of the MAC White is paying for it.

“Last year, it was a little bit of heartbreak in the district,” Bolio said. “I think we were one of, if not, the best team in the district, and we kind of crapped the bed against Dearborn in the first round. The girls know that and I think they’re ready for a little bit of a revenge tour.”

Currently first in the league with a two-point advantage over Ford, South’s redemption has been courtesy of an impressive display of attack by the spine of the team.

South, who had last beat Ford on May 8, 2019, got the better of their league rival this season with a 1-0 victory on April 22.

It was arguably the Blue Devils’ most impactful win of the season so far, keeping the team right at the top with Ford in the league, and Bolio said he credits his team’s play through the middle, which he feels separates South from the rest of the league.

“We play really well through the middle of the field, and it kind of depends on where we can find space in the other team’s back line,” Bolio said. “We have enough talent to where we can break it down in multiple different ways. I definitely think our strength is through the middle.”

Junior Savannah Spangler leads the South offensive attack alongside freshman Brooke Hepner, senior Elaina Morgan, and senior Isabella Deveroux.

The South offense struggled to get things going early with only one goal in the first two games — both losses — and injuries, but Hepner has been dominant since returning to the field as a primary goal scorer with Morgan and Spangler, who is playing her first year on varsity as opposed to club soccer.

While Spangler’s commitment to high school soccer shored up the offensive end, junior Lila Brundage made a similar choice this season.

Playing her first year on varsity, Brundage has been an anchor to the Blue Devils attack on both sides of the field.

“She’s (Brundage) been a huge, huge piece of the puzzle for us,” Bolio said. “She ended up deciding to play high school soccer this year instead of academy, and having her as kind of our centerpiece has been awesome.”

Brundage has been in the mix for a South back line headlined by juniors Ava Pappas and Sarah Cook with senior Elsa Bachert in net.

Bachert has three shutouts so far, but similar to the entirety of the team, she had some struggles early on that called for an adjustment.

South allowed nine goals in its season opener against the MAC Red’s Utica Eisenhower, which could shut down just about anybody’s confidence early on.

Not Bachert, who has allowed two or more goals in only four contests since the opening loss. It’s a testament to her resiliency and mental toughness, and Bolio said he was impressed with how she responded.

“She (Bachert) went through a little bit of a funk in the Eisenhower game,” Bolio said. “She felt that she underperformed, and to be completely honest, I think that was one of her more bad games. She had a bad day. For her to bounce back after that was pretty resilient. I’m glad she got back into her own self.”

Senior Eleni Melhem, senior Christina Fett, senior Lauren McDonald, and sophomore Sydney Hoffman have all been consistent contributors for the Blue Devils this season.

The team has bounced back since its 0-2 start, going 7-2-1 since and only trending upward as the prominent league matchups approach.

Beating Ford was a huge step, but the two will match up again on May 13 as South will be the visitors. To cap off the season, South will host Utica High School, whom the Blue Devils lost to earlier this season, on May 15 as Utica is currently third in the league.

It will be a dogfight in the MAC White until the very end, but Bolio said he wants his squad to continue to progress as the state tournament nears.

“We didn’t really have much time to train before the start of the season because of how our spring break fell and things like that,” Bolio said. “It did click in the girls’ brains that, ‘Hey, we haven’t trained much together.’” It’s early, and they’ve always had this mentality of taking it game by game. I always tell them that as long as we peak in the state tournament, I’m happy. I don’t want to peak two games into the season and then have it fall from there. I want you guys to get better each game going into the state tournament so we can make a little bit of a run.”

South will need all the momentum it can get when the state tournament arrives, as the road to East Lansing holds many Division 1 ranked opponents.

The district isn’t shaping up to be as brutal, but regionals will feature four ranked opponents in Canton (No. 11), Salem (No. 13), Saline (No. 5), and Ann Arbor Skyline (No. 2).

“Our region is very tough,” Bolio said. “When we make it out of our district, and I want to say when we make it out of our district, the region is going to be a huge, huge feat. I think we have two of the top-10 teams in the state in our region.”