University Liggett defense nearing historic feat

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 3, 2023

 University Liggett senior Cass Cooley fights  for possession.

University Liggett senior Cass Cooley fights for possession.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Just a year removed from breaking the school record for least number of goals given up in a season (12), Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett is on the fast track to yet another historic season.

If you looked at their schedule and saw 11 shutouts in 12 games, you’d probably want to do a double take to make sure your eyes didn’t deceive you.

They didn’t, for University Liggett’s defense is on pace to be one of the most dominant defensive units in Michigan High School Athletic Association boys soccer history.

“We just play with a ton of energy all around the field,” senior defender John Francis said. “We never give up easy passes, and we’re always on the ball, which takes a bit of pressure off our back line. If it gets through our midfield, we switch onto the back and we’re ready to take care of anything.”

Francis, an all-state honorable mention in 2022, leads an extremely talented back line group with senior Nicholas Greene, junior Alex Wysocki and sophomore Caden Martin that has collected nine consecutive shutouts as of press time.

So, at just how historic of a pace is Liggett’s defensive unit playing? According to the MHSAA record books, the number for most consecutive shutouts in a season is 16, while the most shutouts in a season stands at 22. For fewest goals allowed, the number stands at four goals through the entirety of a season.

Liggett (12-0) allowed three goals in a 4-3 win against Detroit Cristo Rey earlier this season, so the top spot will be a tough hill to climb, but a deep run in the state tournament has the consecutive shutouts still in play.

On top of its impressive record, Liggett’s been doing it with the help of first-year goalkeeper and senior Preston Barr.

Barr, a University of Michigan baseball commit, played midfield for Liggett last season, but asserted himself as the starting goalkeeper this year.

According to Barr, he’s just been along for the ride with the defense.

“Honestly, I just haven’t gotten the ball,” Barr said. “Our defense is just that good. I’ve had some saves here and there, but I put it all to the defense. They make my job easy.”

Along with the defense, Barr credits his success to his partner in crime at the goalkeeper position, senior goalkeeper Ian Flynn.

Barr is more of the starting pitcher while Flynn comes in as the closer to slam the door shut, and Flynn said they’ve cemented themselves as one of the best goalkeeper pairs around.

“Have you seen a backup goalie and starting goalie power duo like us?” Flynn said. “No. Not another duo in the state of Michigan. Probably not the nation. You throw us out there, Ronaldo, Messi, they got nothing on us.”

In all seriousness, Flynn brings the type of energy a winning team needs, and he knows his role and plays it to perfection.

Just as lethal as the back line has been, the offensive attack has countered with nearly four goals per game this season behind first team all-state selection Claudio Cavallo and Cass Cooley.

Both seniors, Cavallo and Cooley are one of the most dynamic one-two punches in Division 4 right now, and their chemistry has been years in the making.

“Claudio and I have been playing for eight-ish years together through different schools and clubs, so there’s that built-in chemistry,” Cooley said.

Along with their slew of senior talent, freshman midfielder Ollie Cooley, freshman forward Brady Ancona and freshman midfielder Landon Wysocki have been consistent contributors for Liggett.

Being undefeated is nothing new for Liggett after the team finished 2022 undefeated, but the state tournament is a different story.

Liggett was eliminated in the opening round of districts last year by Bloomfield Hills Roeper in a 1-0 shootout loss. It was a crushing way to end a season, but Liggett coach David Dwaihy said his guys have drawn from that loss this season.

“Last year was such a bittersweet experience,” Dwaihy said. “We had this amazing regular season where we were undefeated, and then we lost in the first round of districts in a shootout. I think that was the first thing we were able to point to in the preseason — like, ‘Hey, you could have an amazing team and you can do everything right, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way.’ We’ve really emphasized savoring every moment and enjoying every game.”

With how balanced of a squad Liggett has this season, Francis said there’s no excuse for the team to not get the job done come playoff time.

“This is the time now where we really have to make those words true, where we really have to push all-in,” Francis said. “We have the personnel to do it.”