Utica Eisenhower senior Ava Dukaj blasts a shot against Macomb Dakota May 15 at Swinehart Stadium.

Utica Eisenhower senior Ava Dukaj blasts a shot against Macomb Dakota May 15 at Swinehart Stadium.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Eisenhower continues dominant reign in MAC Red, prepares for districts

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Shelby-Utica News | Published May 21, 2024

 Utica Eisenhower junior Priti Chahil fights for possession against a Macomb Dakota defender.

Utica Eisenhower junior Priti Chahil fights for possession against a Macomb Dakota defender.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


SHELBY TOWNSHIP — When you think about Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 girls soccer, a few schools probably come to mind.

Most of them probably reside in Oakland County, such as Troy, Novi or the reigning Division 1 state champions in Rochester Hills Stoney Creek. From there, it spreads out to a number of different counties with Wayne and Livingston County seeing the most representation.

You know what county has a reservation for a party of one each year in Division 1? That would be Macomb County, and Utica Eisenhower would be the lonesome riders who have appeared in two Division 1 state championship games, which is the most of any Macomb County school since MHSAA girls soccer split into divisions in 1998.

Back on its own soil, Eisenhower has dominated its surrounding competitions, winning 17 Macomb Area Conference Red league titles in the 21 years that head coach Mehrdad Nekoogar has been at the helm.

When the state tournament rolls around, Eisenhower doesn’t get a typical district alignment with predominantly Macomb County teams.

Eisenhower (11-1-1), currently ranked No. 8 in Division 1 according to the MHSAA, is set to open up against Romeo High School this year for districts, but in order to survive districts, Nekoogar and company will have to make it past Rochester Adams (No. 7 D1); Rochester, an Oakland Activities Association Red team; Rochester Hills Stoney Creek (No. 15 D1), the defending state champions; Utica, or Utica Ford II.

“By the time we get to the district, we have to play the Oakland (County) side, which is very, very strong,” Nekoogar said. “We were the only team who took Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, who won the state championship, to a penalty shootout. We were actually beating them and they tied it with one minute left. The frustration for us is we get beat up pretty good because everyone that we play, for some reason, likes to beat Eisenhower. Maybe it goes back to us being so successful.”

To be the best, you have to beat the best, and Eisenhower hasn’t shied away from anyone this season, as the team has tied Rochester Adams and lost a 2-1 match against Troy, currently ranked No. 3 in Division 1.

Oh, and they ran away with the MAC Red again courtesy of a 1-0 win over second-place Romeo earlier this season and a clean sweep against Macomb Dakota.

Eisenhower faced more injuries than it can count, but the sophomore class and two senior captains in Hadley Farr and Ava Dukaj have kept the team alive and well.

Sophomore Ellera Jakubowski, who led the team in goals last season, has been a one-woman wrecking crew offensively for the Eagles and is arguably the most dominant scorer in the MAC. Jakubowski said she felt more comfortable coming into this season and has evolved as a scorer because of it.

“Compared to last year, I felt like I was more in a slump towards the end of the year because I expected it to be different,” Jakubowski said. “This year, it was helpful to know what was going to happen.”

The Eagles have also received offensive contributions from freshman Maryn Smith, a dynamic goal scorer who will be one to watch in the coming years, and Dukaj.

Jakubowski headlines a star-studded sophomore class that’s made a name for itself this year with sophomores Molly Mellott, Olivia Van Dam, Nicole and Emma Von Zittwitz, Sonja Peterson, and Julia Aniel all making contributions.

When twins Nicole and Emma are on the field at the same time, it is like a house of mirrors at the circus for everyone except their parents, and maybe they even trick their parents from time to time.

“The other day I went to yell at Nicole and I yelled at Emma,” Nekoogar said. “She looked at me and said, ‘Coach, that wasn’t me. I said, ‘Oh, OK.’” I kind of differentiate between the two by looking at their shoes — one is red and one is orange. They look exactly the same.”

Mellott has anchored the goalkeeper spot to the tune of eight shutouts with Peterson and Farr both controlling the back line.

With some of the sophomores earning their stripes on varsity as freshmen, such as Peterson, Jakubowski and Aniel, the Eagles know how to work effectively as a group on the field. Peterson said everything seems to mesh when they’re all on the field together.

“We work together better than everyone else,” Peterson said. “We just flow as an entire unit on the field, and everybody is just so cohesive in the way we move the ball and switch the fields so we can get the ball to our forwards to score. It’s just a whole team effort all the time.”

Eisenhower has all the tools to make a deep run in the state tournament with an explosive offensive unit and stout back line that’s allowed two or more goals only once, against Troy, in 13 games.

Jakubowski said she and the rest of the team know they have a target on their back as the representatives of Macomb County soccer, but said it’s only fuel for the Eagles.

“I feel like everyone always wants to beat us,” Jakubowski said. “It’s motivating. It helps us know that we have to do better.”

Eisenhower will close out its MAC Red schedule with a league matchup against Romeo on May 20, after press time, before facing off against Romeo again just two days later in the opening round of districts at Swinehart Field.

The winner will face off against the winner of Rochester/Rochester Stoney Creek on May 28 at Rochester High School.

The Eagles last played Romeo on May 1 with a 1-0 game decided by a Farr goal, so expect a hard-nosed soccer matchup between the two MAC Red rivals.

“It’s a big rivalry, and there’s always a bunch of people there, and it’s really hyped up,” Aniel said. “I think we’re both pretty similar. They’re a really strong team and so are we, so it’s always a good matchup.”