University Liggett senior midfielder Madisyn Szajenko (16) controls the ball against Wixom St. Catherine of Siena Academy on April 20 at Liggett High School.

University Liggett senior midfielder Madisyn Szajenko (16) controls the ball against Wixom St. Catherine of Siena Academy on April 20 at Liggett High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

Liggett girls soccer is 6-0, showcasing confident look for 2023

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Grosse Pointe Times | Published April 25, 2023

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 Liggett senior forward Olivia Thomas looks to advance the ball.

Liggett senior forward Olivia Thomas looks to advance the ball.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett girls soccer is in unfamiliar territory six games into the season.

This time last season, Liggett was 2-4 and would only collect two more wins on the year before losing in the first round of the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 4 State Tournament.

Just a year later, not only is Liggett 6-0 and in search of its first winning season since the 2017-18 season, it’s doing it in dominant fashion.

“Last year, we were very young, and we kind of knew when everybody was a year older and faster and stronger, we figured we’d be a fair amount stronger by virtue of returning, and we lost one senior last year and she was terrific, the bulk of last year’s team,” Liggett coach David Dwaihy said.

Outscoring opponents 32-6, including five games with five or more goals, Liggett’s offense has been at the forefront of the team’s success.

After not playing for the soccer team from their freshman to junior seasons, seniors Alexandra Karolak (midfield) and Olivia Thomas (forward), both members of the Michigan Hawks club soccer team, decided to finish their senior year on the high school squad.

Thomas, a University of North Carolina commit, and Karolak, a Washington University in St. Louis commit, only added additional firepower to an already established veteran group consisting of senior captain Brooke Summers, senior Luci Boyle and senior Madisyn Szajenko. Sophomore Kerith Short has provided reliable contributions on the offensive end as well.

Summers said the addition of Thomas and Karolak solidified an already strong Liggett group this season.

“I think those two have made a huge difference, but I think everyone else has really developed a lot since last year,” Summers said. “This year, we play really, really well together, and I think everyone has a really good concept of the game and how the game works, and I think everyone has been able to just play it really well.”

While the best defense sometimes can be an imposing offense, Liggett’s backline production has been overlooked due to the team’s scoring. Liggett’s youthful backline has shown that it can hang with the best of them.

Led by sophomores Lydia Fedewa Widick, Elizabeth Dickey, Addie Ancona and Addison Hamilton, Liggett’s backline has held opponents to three goals or fewer in every game, including three shutouts. Junior Gabrielle Szajenko has been stellar in net for Liggett.

“I think our defense has held up just as well (as our offense),” Summers said. “I think there’s a lot of times you would look at our scores and think that our defense didn’t do anything, but that’s not true.”

While it’s been all smiles since the start of the season, Liggett felt a heavy blow early on as junior all-state forward Sofie Ancona, a team captain, was ruled out for the rest of the season due to injury.

Ancona, the older sister of Addie, was an all-state honorable mention selection in 2022 and was slated to be a key part of an already dominant offense.

Although her injury was a downside on the field, Ancona’s impressive soccer IQ made for a significant bonus from the coaching side of things or Liggett.

Dwaihy said Ancona’s perspective of the game has become a vital part of the team’s success.

“She had her surgery already, so she’s pretty mobile,” Dwaihy said. “Obviously she can’t play or run, but she can warm up the goalie, and she’s done a great job of helping Gabby, our keeper, grow as a player, mentally especially. She’s kind of become a de facto assistant coach for us. She knows the game. When we have a halftime talk, she’s one of the three or four people I ask to speak because she’s such an astute observer of the game.”

Like Ancona’s switch to the sidelines, early-season success is unfamiliar territory for this particular Liggett soccer team, but that doesn’t mean this group can’t win the state title.

There’s some similarities between the 2023 Liggett squad and the 2016 Liggett team that won the MHSAA Division 4 State Championship, as both teams started 6-0 behind a strong offensive effort. The main difference is this Liggett team bested Grosse Pointe North.

“It’s crazy because, and I was only here for one year so far, but we lost last year, we won this year, but I know from the past that we’ve lost,” Short said. “We finally beat (Grosse Pointe) North, like, for the first time ever, and then it’s amazing because we’re out there. We’re putting ourselves out there.”

For a team that has taken the bumps and bruises like this group has in years past, there’s no reason to curb the excitement that this team is feeling right now.

With a perfect start to the season and the team’s confidence at an all-time high, there’s a strong possibility that Liggett will be a force to be reckoned with when the state tournament comes around.

A senior class once only accustomed to losing is now feeling a taste of success, and they’re hungry for the whole thing.

“The thrill is absolutely unreal,” Madisyn Szajenko said. “Coming from losing almost every game last year and being undefeated this season is extremely exciting, and us girls are hungry for a state title. Our team chemistry is unmatched, so hopefully we can pull through and work hard because it just fuels us even more.”