Shelby Township, UticaJune 18, 2014
Eisenhower falls to Northville in state final
By Thomas Franz
C & G Sports Writer
WILLIAMSTON — Coming into the MHSAA Division 1 state championship game on June 14, something had to give.
Utica Eisenhower came into the contest riding an 18-game winning streak, while Northville came into the game ranked No. 1 in the state with a 22-0 mark.
Northville’s dynamic duo of Megan Buckingham and Jamie Cheslik, a pair of forwards who combined for 54 goals during the season, proved to be the difference, as Northville defeated Eisenhower 2-1 to complete an undefeated season.
“It was a good game today, but mistakes are going to cost you. You can’t make mistakes against a great team,” Eisenhower coach Mehrdad Nekoogar said.
Buckingham, a University of North Carolina recruit, struck first on a give-and-go attack, as she passed to Cheslik, whose initial shot was blocked, but Buckingham corralled the rebound and scored her 23rd goal of the season with 31:16 left in the first half.
“They’re an incredible duo,” Northville coach Eric Brucker said. “To watch them play at the next level is going to be a pleasure for me to just be a spectator for them.”
Cheslik, a Michigan State University recruit, joined Buckingham in the scoring column 16:22 into the second half, as she took advantage of a ball bounced off an Eisenhower defender in the attacking zone that allowed Cheslik to accelerate past the Eagles’ defense and score on an open net.
“I knew I had to place it,” Cheslik said. “I knew that if I just dribbled it in that I couldn’t miss.”
Eisenhower fought back after Cheslik’s goal, as Paige Duda received a pass from Caitlin Carroll just inside the box before burying a shot in the top right corner of the net with 8:02 left.
Eisenhower had one more shot attempt in the closing moments, but Northville was able to control the ball as the final seconds ticked down.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Brucker said of Northville’s first state title since 2004. “It’s a great feeling. I’m so proud of these kids. With all of the work they’ve done, they earned it. Every single minute, with everything they’ve done, they’ve earned it.”
Northville surrendered four goals all season coming into the final, but Nekoogar said that wasn’t his top worry with facing Northville.
“We are an offensive team, so scoring a goal was not an issue for us,” Nekoogar said. “How to stop those two players on the top was the issue, and you had to play mistake free, and unfortunately for us, we made two huge mistakes, and they took advantage of it.”
Sophomore goalie Bianca Koupparis made eight saves for Eisenhower, including one at point-blank range with nine minutes left that kept Eisenhower in the game.
Koupparis will be a part of a large group of returning starters next year for the Eagles that will also include their top three strikers.
“We are losing one or two starters — that’s it — so I know this was a huge experience playing against a great team,” Nekoogar said. “They got a lot of confidence, and that should be good enough for next year.”
Eisenhower closed the season at 18-2-2, and the Eagles remain the only school from Macomb County to appear in a Division 1 soccer state final, with their previous appearance coming in 2009. Nekoogar was confident that his program will be back in the final next year.
“I told them there’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Nekoogar said. “I told them to keep their heads up and they’ll be back again.”