Royal Oak soccer seniors lead one last charge in 2023 season

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Royal Oak Review | Published September 20, 2023

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 Royal Oak senior Anthony Antonio heads the ball during the team’s matchup against Farmington on Sept. 12 at Royal Oak High School.

Royal Oak senior Anthony Antonio heads the ball during the team’s matchup against Farmington on Sept. 12 at Royal Oak High School.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


ROYAL OAK — A coaching change can normally go one of two ways when heading into a season.

There’s either a familiarity with the coach that helps the team quickly adjust, or there’s some bumps and bruises in the road through that adjustment period.

For Royal Oak High School boys varsity soccer head coach Joe Shamanski, who previously coached boys junior varsity soccer at Royal Oak High School since 2018, the change involved picking up right where he left off with his guys years prior on junior varsity.

“I really think that it’s just consistency in the program,” Shamanski said. “I was saying earlier that when I transitioned, I had already been coaching those guys. All those guys had come up through the system. We don’t have any academy players that came back to play high school. We’ve just been the same group of guys playing together for four years. We’re just all clicking and on the same page in terms of what our goals are and what our strategy is.”

To make the transition easier, Shamanski had an array of leadership and talent at his disposal this year with 10 seniors returning to the squad.

One of Shamanski’s first orders of business — family Friday night — is the ultimate team-bonding tool for the squad.

Whether it’s Royal Oak football games or Leo’s Coney Island, anyone can find the Royal Oak soccer team together on any given Friday night, and the seniors continue to help bring the team closer together.

“They’re just a really good group,” Shamanski said. “They’re very mature and they understand that it’s more than just soccer, so they’ve done a good job of just trying to create a good team culture.”

On the field, Royal Oak’s team bonding has paid off with an 8-0-2 record as the offensive attack has averaged more than three goals per game while the back line has countered with five shutouts on the year.

Seniors Owen Soper (team captain), Jack Winterburn, Steven Sulaiman, Ian Browning, junior Owen Miller and freshman Baylor Browning lead the offensive attack this year for the Ravens.

Winterburn has been a force to be reckoned with this year on the offensive end, and even his own teammates can’t figure out what’s gotten into him.

“I think striker Jack Winterburn has been playing really well,” Soper said. “He’s found something that we’ve never really seen.”

On the defensive side, it’s been as impressive of a showing as it could be from seniors Anthony Antonio (team captain), Daniel Sullivan, Cody Schneider, Antonio Acevedo and sophomore Cullen Wicka. Senior goalkeepers Griffin McGee and Tony Serraiocco man the net for Royal Oak.

Royal Oak flexed its defensive muscles in a 1-1 tie against Rochester in its first game of the season, an Oakland Activities Association Red team, and carried that momentum into the Paul Bartoshuk Detroit Country Day Invitational two days later.

Not only did Royal Oak sweep the invitational on Aug. 19 with wins against North Farmington, Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard and Detroit Country Day, whom the team lost to in the finale of the invitational last season, but the team did not allow a single goal all weekend, outscoring opponents 8-0.

Following up its standout performances, Royal Oak held its own against an OAA Red team when Acevedo scored a game-tying goal with 0.04 seconds left on the clock to tie Troy Athens 2-2 on Aug. 23.

Between the invitational and its play against the OAA Red, Royal Oak was feeling confident heading into the rest of the season.

“Coming back and tying that one, that was a big thing,” Soper said. “We knew we could do it and we knew we had it in us once we did that.”

Royal Oak will have to continue the season without Acevedo after he suffered a season-ending injury last week, but the guys are rallying around their teammate.

With half the season left, Royal Oak currently sits atop the MAC White with an unbeaten 3-0 record in conference play, and the team is even getting some statewide recognition.

Royal Oak is currently ranked 15th in Division 1, according to the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association, but the team will face a slew of heavy hitters once the state tournament begins.

Sharing a district with Troy, Troy Athens and Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Royal Oak will look to make something happen in order to reach its first district finals game since the 2013 season, and it’s right on track to do it.

“We lost our first game last year to Novi, and that one really set us back,” Antonio said. “This year, we tied Rochester. We kind of set a goal for ourselves to do this and get to this point in the season, and I feel like we’ve done a good job doing it so far.”