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Skyline Men's Soccer: A Season to Remember by loey jones-perpich, photos courtesy of evelynne crumm

Standing at the top of Sleeping Bear Dunes on a hot August day, looking down onto the shining water of Lake Michigan, the Skyline men’s varsity soccer team felt nothing but excitement. One by one, they started barrelling down the dunes, running and falling faster than their legs could carry them. They sprinted into the cold water and started swimming until the entire team was floating in Lake Michigan, unable to touch the bottom. The players screamed nonsensical shouts of joy, well aware of how ridiculous they sounded. Through the distorted screams, co-captain Omar Hassan heard one specific call:

“We’re not going to win one trophy; we’re not going to win two; we’re going to win three trophies this year, boys!”

In Novi three months later, the same 26 players hoisted their third trophy into the air as they screamed, cried, laughed and jumped with joy: Skyline men’s varsity soccer had just become state champions for the first time since 2013.

Their season began on that trip up to Traverse City, where they practiced, played games and bonded as a team. Between returning from the trip and the beginning of playoffs in October, the team played 17 games; two out of four of their regular season losses were to Saline, the team’s biggest rival.

“In the regular season we tell the boys that these are scrimmages,” said coach Chris Morgan. “I mean, the two games that we played against [Saline] were 2-1 and 1-0, we knew we were right in those matches.”

The team lost several players to serious injuries during the regular season, including Gustav Bottin, the team’s only exchange student.

“It was during a game against Saline,” Bottin said about his concussion. “And I was running to the ball. And somebody came running into me and my feet. I lost my balance and fell on my head.”

It took him almost five weeks to be able to play again, and he was unable to play in any of the playoff games. He said he still felt proud to be on the team, however, and helped motivate the team at practice and games.

Their first playoff game was against Huron, where Skyline won after a goal made by junior Oskar Shiomi Jensen. A few days later, the team found themselves in a familiar situation: ready to go head-to-head against Saline for the district title.

Sophomore Gabe Kellman heads the ball during the district final against Saline.

“It's very difficult to beat a team three times and they've done that to us,” Morgan added. “We beat them twice one year, and they beat us the third time in the districts. [These guys] never bought into all the hoopla, the hype about Saline. When it really came down to it, I think we wanted it just a little bit more.”

In the 70th minute of the district championship, Skyline junior Bryce Schaner scored the game’s only goal on a free kick, earning the team’s in-district redemption, securing the team their first trophy of the season and guaranteeing a spot in the regional semifinals.

LEFT: Junior Jamie Palms passes the ball forward during the district final against Saline. "They were an amazing opponent," Palms said. "But it was it was awesome to win that game." RIGHT: Omar Hassan clears the ball during the district final against Saline. Hassan plays right back, a defensive position. "I think there's a sense of fulfillment and not letting them get even close to the goal," Hassan said. "No matter what the goal is, but especially with Kyri [our keeper], I protect him at all costs."

“I’ve got to say, it was a great feeling,” Hassan said. “There's been the big rivalry with Saline for a few years. I was on the team two years ago, when the reverse had happened, where we beat them two times in the regular season and they beat us in district finals. And to be able to have that a little bit of payback, it did feel good.”

As they continued to play playoff games of increasing importance, Morgan and the other coaches looked for creative ways to break the tension and help settle the players’ nerves. At the regional semifinal, they found themselves listening to opera in the locker room.

“It's just, think good positive thoughts, boys we're going to relax, because I knew they were nervous,” Morgan said. “I mean, we had 12 first-year letter winners. So they haven't really experienced this. Then we played ‘Wonderwall Remix,’ and so then we got hyped.”

LEFT: Bryce Schaner and Chris Emerson watch the ball. MIDDLE: Keeper Kyri Wixom prepares for a save. RIGHT: Bryce Schaner dribbles the ball towards the goal.

Skyline beat Canton 1-0 in that game, and moved on to regional semifinals, where they triumphed over Dearborn after scoring two goals in the first half: The second trophy was theirs.

They moved on, practicing meticulously to prepare for their state semifinal game on October 31. According to junior Thomas Duda-Cortes, the team listened to ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ by Bobby McFerrin before taking the field.

Senior Marco Althoen scored Skyline’s first goal, but their opponent, Warren DeLaSalle, bounced back and managed to score one goal, sending the game into overtime. With less than three minutes left in the first overtime, senior Kai Jurgle scored on a penalty kick, sealing the win and sending Skyline to state finals.

Junior Jamie Palms heads the ball in the championship game against East Kentwood.

Three days later, the team — some on the bench due to injuries, most exhausted, but all ecstatic — sat in a Novi locker room, waiting anxiously to play their final game of the season against East Kentwood. Their third trophy was so close, they could almost taste it.

Halftime came and went with the score tied at 0-0, but the team didn’t let that get them down. In the 72nd minute of the game, junior Chris Emerson scored the first goal with a bicycle kick into the net. 58 seconds later, Bryce Schaner managed to head the ball into the goal. With no other goals in the game, Skyline emerged victorious over East Kentwood with a score of 2-0.

TOP LEFT: Kyri Wixom makes a save in the championship game. TOP MIDDLE: Oskar Shiomi Jensen passes the ball to Bryce Schaner (not pictured), who heads the ball into the goal, making the score 2-0. TOP RIGHT: Players and coaches celebrate on the sidelines after Skyline scored two goals in one minute. BOTTOM: Players on the field celebrate after Bryce Schaner's goal.

Skyline students that had come to watch the game rushed the field, jumping and screaming along with the soccer players. The team was awarded medals, and then they were finally given their third trophy.

“That is one of the best feelings anyone can ever have,” Hassan said. “To be able to go out with the best soccer family team I've ever been on, with the responsibility of having led that team, is just one of the best feelings ever. It has been a goal for my entire high school career, to win a state championship, and to do it, especially with this group of guys, is the best feeling in the world.”

“That was excellent,” added Skyline’s keeper and co-captain, Kyri Wixom. “What better way to go out, and being only the second team in the program to make it so far was really cool.”

Gratitude was the overarching feeling on the field that evening, and even a week and a half later, at the team’s banquet, many players expressed how lucky and proud they felt to have been on such a wonderful team.

“I'm proud of the work ethic of this team,” Hassan said. “I mean, this team is unbelievable. Every single individual player is so skilled and yet such a great person on and off the field. And I love that about every single one of them. I'm proud to be able to call every single one of them my brothers.”

“These guys, I mean, we had tears and we had injuries, so you guys just got to deal with that and get past it,” Morgan said, a tear in his eye.

“And I think that's the thing that they also taught me was strength, that inner strength, believing in yourself, believe in your team and good things are going to happen for you.”

Now that the historic season is over for Skyline men’s varsity soccer, many players will transition into their club leagues to train for next season, or, for some seniors, their college seasons. None of the players, however, will ever forget their 2018 soccer family.

TOP LEFT: Captains Omar Hassan, Kyri Wixom and Thomas Halloran pose with the championship trophy. TOP RIGHT: Coach Chris Morgan and the team applaud after winning the championship game. BOTTOM: The team rushes toward the fans just seconds after winning the state final.

Credits:

Evelynne Crumm

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