Utica Ford celebrates its 2-1 district championship win over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley on Oct. 18 at Anchor Bay High School.

Utica Ford celebrates its 2-1 district championship win over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley on Oct. 18 at Anchor Bay High School.

Photo provided by Sylvia Korkis

Utica Ford soccer overcomes obstacles, finishes season with district title

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | C&G Newspapers | Published November 8, 2023


STERLING HEIGHTS — The talent of Utica Ford II soccer was never in question going into the season, but when the Falcons jumped out to an early 2-5 start this season, it became a matter of the guys finding a way to work together.

Ford had a mixed bag of returning players, junior varsity call-ups from the year prior and club guys who decided to join in on the excitement that Ford soccer generated last year when it won the Macomb Area Conference White league championship.

But as talented as the group was, the learning curve of team chemistry took some time for Ford to figure out.

“At the beginning of the season, I think we were confident because we had a strong group,” junior center back Tarik Skokic said. “The problem is that we were confident, but most of our team hadn’t played with each other before. It took time to connect and build with each other. We kind of knew we would tie it together at some point because we’re all strong players and we had a great team, but it just took time to work together and figure it out.”

Once Ford figured it out, the team finished the year on a 7-2-1 streak and carried some momentum into the Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 State Tournament.

Ford ran through the gauntlet of the state tournament with wins over MAC Red opponents Macomb Dakota, New Baltimore Anchor Bay, and Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, outscoring opponents 7-2. Chippewa Valley had eliminated Ford a year prior in the district finals.

Ford’s win over Chippewa Valley on Oct. 18 at Anchor Bay High School brought the school its first district title since 2018, and Skokic said it was the win over Co-MAC Red champion Anchor Bay that gave the team confidence the rest of the way in districts.

“Once we beat them, we went into the Chipp (Chippewa) game knowing that we were an entirely different team,” Skokic said.

Injuries would catch up to Ford on Oct. 26 in a 3-1 regional finals loss to the eventual 2023 Division 1 State Champions, Troy Athens, but Ford’s 2023 season was nothing short of successful.

Ford had battled health injuries all season with senior Drew Graves missing a month and senior Nathan Barry missing a few weeks, but the health issues only got worse during the state tournament.

Senior Jacob McGill’s season would come to an end with a broken leg, and during Utica Ford’s district finals win over Clinton Township Chippewa Valley, Skokic, a key part of Ford’s back line, would tear a muscle in his hip, leaving him sidelined for the remainder of the tournament.

“There’s a couple of pieces you just can’t be without, and we could absorb certain things, but that one (Skokic) hurt,” Ford coach Christopher Alston said. “We had to move our best player, Spencer Krause, who also plays in the back. We moved him higher. We had to move him back into the back line, so our back line was still strong but it created holes in other areas during our district run.”

Graves, who returned for Ford’s district run, played a vital role in the offensive attack during the state tournament, scoring four goals in five games, but it was senior Dylan Korkis who carried the weight of the offensive attack throughout the season alongside Krause.

Korkis played his first year on varsity this season after competing for the Vardar Development Academy, an MLS Next Club, and really came into his own the second half of the season and showed what he was capable of.

Skokic led the Ford back line during the regular season alongside junior Solomon Gambone, junior Johnpaul Hanna and senior Ansu Fofana. Junior Arman Turkanovic, who was a first-year varsity player, was dominant in net this year for Ford.

Turkanovic had six shutouts in net this season while Ford allowed just over one goal per game this season.

With a team of 13 seniors and six juniors, the senior class made a lasting impression on the next batch of Ford seniors.

“With them leaving, I think we have some big shoes to fill, but I think we’ll still be able to fill them and be as strong as ever,” Skokic said. “The seniors leaving, emotionally, was really hard because they’re one of the biggest reasons that we connected, because there was such a big group of them.”

Although they are losing a number of seniors, Alston and the Ford coaching staff have created a culture that intends to bring the best out of its group each year.

“I think the things that sets us apart is the coaching staff and our relationship with these kids,” Alston said. “When these kids really start to see that it’s more than just soccer and they buy into you, they know your family, and they just believe in you as a person, then they’re more open to being coached and more open to getting better. They know they can call us at any point of the year; it’s not just a three-month job.”

Ford will look to build off its district-winning season next year when it returns a core of six seniors and some other added pieces along the way.

Similar to the MAC White title generating interest from club players to join the varsity team this season, Alston said he believes the district title will play a key factor in the team’s momentum going into the 2024 season.

“The important part is that you bring up some of the JV kids to come see it, and not only am I watching my kids play and enjoy it, but you see the younger ones enjoying it,” Alston said. “Now, the fire inside of them is like, ‘OK, I can’t wait to be back next year; I want this now.’ It’s two-fold because you get a couple kids returning that played, you get some kids back that got to sit on the bench that got pulled up, and hopefully you parlay that into the next season and keep it going in the right direction.”