St. Joseph brings back experienced team

St. Joseph’s Casey Miller battles for a header against Lakeshore’s Tom Bitzer during the first half of a game last October.

St. Joseph’s boys soccer team has a lot of the same players from last season’s team, but will enter this season with a new mindset.

The Division 2 No. 6-rated Bears didn’t graduate a single senior from last season’s team, and as a result will feature an experienced roster this fall.

St. Joseph is 6-1 so far this season, with its only loss coming in a 2-1 match against Grand Rapids South Christian.

Bears coach John Brown said fielding a team with no seniors doesn’t happen often.

“That’s super rare,” Brown said. “Tryouts were a little weird last year. But we graduated no one, and everyone came back but two guys. We’ve filled them in. Christian Shannon made this team as a freshman, he’s played a lot of minutes and has done a fantastic job since day one.

“We’ve been working extremely hard all offseason, weight training, putting in the work. The biggest thing is building on the culture that we’re trying to build here. They’re taking it in stride and building on it.”

Shannon, the only freshman on the varsity roster for St. Joseph, plays defense for the Bears. Joining him in the back are juniors Cameron Drilam and Lars Razor.

Brown said he expects the Bears to be a productive team on both sides of the field.

They’ll return a goal-scoring threat in senior forward Isaac Filippo. Filippo scored 12 goals and had two assists last fall despite missing a handful of games.

Also at forward are seniors Tyler Burnette (six goals, 11 assists last season) and Casey Miller (five goals, six assists). Miller has also spent some time playing center back this season.

Senior Brendan Nolte will anchor the midfield, with sophomore Seth Walters also playing a key role.

Brown also listed sophomore forward Jacob Scouler, who scored five goals last season, as another key guy.

The Bears are also versatile in net. Keeper Nick Menke returns for his senior season. He posted eight shutouts last season. The Bears will work in Preston Nichols, a sophomore in his first season playing soccer.

“We’re fortunate to have Preston come out,” Brown said. “He played football last year as a freshman. I had my eye on him last year to come out.”

One of the Bears’ strengths is the ability for the players to play more than one spot on the field. Brown said multiple guys have been seeing time in different spots.

“You can plug pretty much anybody in and the level doesn’t drop off,” he said. “These guys accept their role that they’ve been given for the game. As a coach, you couldn’t be more happy with that.”

The Bears finished 12-9-1 last season, falling in the district semifinal to eventual district champion Lakeshore.

The Lancers will have a few new faces on the field after graduating some key talent.

“We have 11 seniors this year,” Lancers coach Brian Samuel said. “(We have) older guys. I don’t know if we’re overly experienced from that, but we really set the tone that we want those guys to be leaders, even if they’re reserves.

“It’s critical that they lead the team and let these younger guys understand what the program is about and what the expectations are.”

Returning for the Lancers is junior midfielder Mikey Tibbits. Tibbits missed some offseason training after suffering an ACL injury, but is back and healthy for Lakeshore.

Tony Testini will also be a key player, said Samuel. Testini will join Tibbits in the midfield for his senior season.

“He’s going to be our leader this year,” Samuel said of Testini.

Tom Bitzer, also a senior, will play forward. Jonathan Worsham and Carlos Ramirez are also senior forwards.

Eamon Conner and Marshall Rescoe are both senior defenders, and Samuel said he expects them to be contributors.

Oli Carmody will be the starting keeper, but Samuel said they’ll also work in senior Ethan Benedict.

“We’ll see how that shakes out,” Samuel said. “Oli has won the spot right now. We’re looking to get him on the field. He’s a big target at forward on the field that we’re looking to work in there, and Ethan is going to get his reps and be ready to go.”

Samuel said he expects the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference to be extremely tough, listing Gull Lake as the favorites.

“We’re up for it. It’s fun soccer,” Samuel said. “You’re definitely prepared for the end of the season, playing the teams that we do in the SMAC.”

Samuel also said St. Joseph and Mattawan should be strong as well, but believes a good group of old and young players could prove to be a positive for Lakeshore.

“It’s a good mix,” said Samuel. “I’ve got young guys that are ready to fight to impress the players and coaches, and that older group that’s just going to build.

“It’s been great camaraderie. It’s great group of kids. We laugh every practice.”

Watervliet will have a boys soccer team for the first time in the school’s history.

The school approved the idea to field a boys team in May, leaving coach Doug Bornas with the summer to put together a squad.

Bornas said he believes the team has started off solid at 2-2-1, and thinks Watervliet has the opportunity to continue building the boys program for years to come.

“We have about three or four fairly high-level players that have played throughout the state from our area,” Bornas said. “They’re all either freshmen or sophomores, so we have some skilled kids, but we’ve just got to learn how to play as a team. That’s going to be our biggest challenge.”

The Panthers have a good-sized team in their inaugural season, with 21 players coming out. Six of those players are freshmen and 11 are sophomores.

“For the school, I think what they have done is opened up an avenue for a lot of kids at this level that are genuinely soccer players,” Bornas said. “They have opened up an avenue to allow kids to play a sport they love and have loved for many years.

“If you met these kids you’d see it, that they just love playing the game of soccer. I think they’ve created a culture here. It’s a big soccer area.”

While the school has never had a team before, there are some experienced players on the Panthers’ roster.

Nathan Isbrecht, Brady Bornas and Abel Villarreal have all played travel soccer. Each will start for the Panthers this fall.

Isbrecht is a sophomore forward for the Panthers. Brady Bornas and Villarreal are both freshmen midfielders.

Other key players for the Panthers include junior Robert Kraklau and sophomore Andrew Chisek on defense.

Sophomore Brennan Bornas also plays on the outside.

Alex Isbrecht, a defender, and Noah Weber, a midfielder, are the two starting seniors for Watervliet.

Playing in net will be freshman Zach Hastings. Bornas said Hastings, though young, has started the season off strong in the goal.

Bornas said wins aren’t necessarily a focus this season, rather he would like the opportunity to continue to build for future Watervliet teams.

“(I want) to bring soccer more to the forefront at Watervliet, bring up the popularity so kids are having fun and they want to come back for year two, year three and beyond,” Bornas said. “We’re not trying to win this year, we’re trying to build a program. That’s our main goal, to start the foundation of a program that hopefully can succeed going forward.

“(Watervliet athletic director) Ken Dietz, we owe a lot to him for getting this program started. We want to give him credit where credit is due.”

The Panthers have wins over Kalamazoo Lakeside Academy and Bridgman. They also tied with Bangor, 6-6, and lost a tough opening contest to New Buffalo, 6-4.

Watervliet’s second loss came at the hands of Hartford, a team that has been consistent at the local level the past few seasons.

The Indians have won Division 4 district championships three of the last four years, including two in a row, and will seek to continue that level of play this season.

Hartford graduated 13 seniors from last year’s 19-4 squad. The Indians do, however, return some talent from that district-winning team.

“We are very young, but our veteran players are very good,” Hartford coach Nick Blackmer said.

Key players for the Indians will include seniors Nick Pultz, a center back, Joel Soto, a midfielder, and Miggy Cardoso, a forward.

Hartford started 3-2 this season, playing a few tough non-conference games to open the year.

The Indians beat Saginaw Valley Lutheran before losing to Lenawee Christian and defending state champion Leland. Hartford also won a pair of games against Bangor and Watervliet.

Sophomore Kaden Johnson will start in goal for the Indians. He is a newcomer to the team this year.

“For somebody who hasn’t played before, he’s been sharp,” Blackmer said. “He’s got the body. He’s probably 6-3, which we don’t have very often. You can combine a good frame and somebody who’s willing to work hard, it’ll do good things for you.”

Blackmer said the Indians hope to continue their postseason success, but will look to push to the regional level.

Berrien Springs is off to a 3-5 start this season, and coach Octavio Latino said he sees a lot of potential in his team.

“The strength of the team is that we can keep possession of the ball real well,” Latino said. “If the ball doesn’t have to get to the goalie, then we are pretty good.

“I believe that if we can find a keeper and find another key player, we could be good.”

The Shamrocks do have some quality talent on its current roster, said Latino.

Enrique Latino, a senior, will be a key player in the midfield for the Shamrocks. Michael Silva, also a senior, is a forward. He has scored six goals so far this season.

Jackson Glanzer will join Latino in the center of the field as a defensive center mid, and sophomore Mario Hernandez plays outside midfield.

Daniel Ramirez is a freshman who will play left mid.

One area Latino would like to see improvement in is at keeper. Latino said the Shamrocks don’t necessarily have a go-to guy in net, but have good defenders to make up for that.

Senior Jacob Herman will lead the Shamrocks’ defense playing center back, and sophomore Griffin Moore plays right back. Noah Mock is also a sophomore defender.

Amoa Osei is a junior forward. Latino said he should be a goal-scoring threat.

Michigan Lutheran will also have some experience, with four seniors and nine juniors listed on the roster.

The Titans finished 8-12-2 last season, finishing third in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph White Division.

Returning from that team will be senior Andrew DeWeerd, the Titans’ most experienced player with three varsity seasons under his belt.

Coach Jeff Lillo also listed Max Plocher, Daniel Graebel and Cameron Guse as key players. All three are seniors.

Andrew Semenak, Shane Elliott and Sam Taylor are juniors returning for their second varsity seasons, and Camden Brooks, Adam Rosenbaum, Joel Roth, Alex Ritter, Abdul Erby and Josh Sphering are juniors returning for a third season.

Only one sophomore, Nick Lockman, has varsity playing experience for Lutheran.

The Titans are 4-2 so far this season.

Contact: bspencer@TheHP.com, 429-1294, @HPBenSpencer