Stoney soccer standout earns state’s top honor

By: Timothy Pontzer | Rochester Post | Published November 28, 2017

 Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior forward Michael Melaragni, left, controls the ball during a contest earlier this year. Melaragni led the Cougars to a 13-5-4 record, tallying 32 goals on the season.

Rochester Hills Stoney Creek senior forward Michael Melaragni, left, controls the ball during a contest earlier this year. Melaragni led the Cougars to a 13-5-4 record, tallying 32 goals on the season.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

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ROCHESTER HILLS — Annually selected by the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association, the Mr. Soccer award is the most prestigious accolade the sport has to offer.

Michael Melaragni recently became the first player to earn the selection in Rochester Hills Stoney Creek program history. The recognition capped off a remarkable year for the senior forward.

In his fourth year on varsity, Melaragni scored in 17 of the club’s 22 contests, collecting 32 total goals. That mark broke his own single-season school record of 29 that he set last year.

“This means a lot. It proves that I left my mark on Stoney soccer,” Melaragni said, as the Cougars finished at 13-5-4 this past season. “I was happy and excited to share it with my coaches, teammates and family that have helped me achieve all of this over the last four years. I definitely couldn’t have done this alone, but it feels great, and I’m extremely thankful.”

Melaragni’s scoring prowess set him apart from the award’s other candidates, a distinction the senior called humbling.

“I didn’t really believe I could’ve won it, but as the season went on, I knew I was in the mix,” Melaragni said. “I didn’t want it to be a distraction. I cared way more about winning our games instead of an individual award. And scoring a lot of goals is nice, but I like setting up everyone else. It’s more fun to pass it off and help others score.”

That selfless nature impressed coach Doug Steinard, who took over the Cougars this season after four years at Auburn Hills Avondale.

“When I had to coach against him, he was definitely a matchup problem, someone you had to game plan against every single time,” Steinard explained. “Coming here, we talked about how Mr. Soccer was a possibility for him. But he was adamant about wanting to win the league or district instead, and there’s really not a lot kids that would say that in today’s soccer.”

Steinard also serves as the girls coach at Avondale and is an assistant to the women’s team at Lawrence Tech. In his nine years of coaching, he has seen his share of talented players.

“I’ve been around a lot of soccer, and (Melaragni is) the best and most effective I’ve ever had out there,” Steinard said. “He has the total package of finesse and power, but the biggest thing for me is his work rate. He’s good enough to play at only 75 percent and be better than nearly every kid out there, but he never does that — he always is the hardest-working player on the team.”

Steinard also praised Melaragni’s leadership off the field, citing that as his best overall attribute.

“He’s just a really good kid. He mentors guys, helps with tutoring, does a bunch of volunteer work and carries a 4.0 GPA,” Steinard explained. “If you were to build a model student-athlete, it’s Michael. Regardless of his soccer ability, he would’ve been named a captain. I love him for everything he does as a human being, and the soccer skills are just a bonus.”

Melaragni took great pride in serving as a team captain, calling that his career highlight despite the many goals and victories.

“Being able to help the underclassmen and try to preserve a high standard for the Stoney program for the coming years was amazing,” Melaragni said. “It meant a lot to be voted as a captain and be trusted to have that job.”

Melaragni also spent his Friday nights on the same turf field, placing kicks through the uprights. Stoney Creek football coach Bob Lantzy recruited Melaragni’s powerful leg for his unit, praising the soccer star for quickly picking up the gridiron version of his trade.

“I was amazed how he learned the game in a matter of seconds. After a 15-minute lesson, he was putting kicks through,” Lantzy recalled. “As a coach, my biggest fear with new kickers is inconsistency, but he was so calm, collected and confident.”

A veteran on the sidelines, Lantzy boasts 43 combined seasons as the leader of Utica Eisenhower and Stoney Creek. He confidently called Melaragni one of the best he’s had, saying he showed abilities rare for the prep level.

“His ability to place the ball was unbelievable on kickoffs, and he had a range of over 40 yards on field goals,” Lantzy said. “I wish we gave him more opportunities to kick. He was unbelievable at putting punts exactly where we wanted. He picked up the fact that you kick an extra point just like a field goal, straight through and powerful.”

Melaragni also starts on the hardwood for the Cougars, using his 6-foot-4 frame as a power forward. Mr. Soccer credits his time in other sports for helping him succeed on the pitch.

“Basketball helped my footwork and cutting, and obviously the jumping helps with headers,” Melaragni said. “The experience of football was amazing too. I know a lot of people that love going to the academy for soccer, but I couldn’t have had a better time in high school. It is such an incredible experience to represent your community. I think it’s the best thing in the world.”

Steinard praised that decision, saying it helps the overall brand of high school soccer.

“He’s the model kid for playing high school instead of the full-year club route,” Steinard said. “There’s a lot of pressure on these kids to only play club, and we get knocked as high school programs. If he can help break the mold and show kids what an opportunity high school soccer is, that’s great. He can do that by showing how he played here and got to where he wanted.”

That achievement is a spot with Western Michigan University next fall, with Melaragni committing to the Broncos soccer program Oct. 1.

“I’m glad I played at Stoney instead of club,” Melaragni said. “I made memories that will last forever.”

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