MIDLAND — One win away.
The Petoskey High School boys’ soccer team finds themselves just a game away for playing for a Division II state championship.
First, they must face Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood, who like the Northmen are playing in their first state semifinal since the 2009 season.
Opening kick is scheduled for 6 p.m. today, Wednesday, at Midland High School. The winner will then face either Dexter or Hudsonville Unity Christian in the Division II final on Saturday, Nov. 3.
The Northmen, 16-8-2, and Cranes, 17-2-1, both somewhat flew under the radar through the majority of the regular season, but have both used solid defense and timely goal scoring to advance to the state semis.
Cranbrook-Kingswood is ranked No. 10 in the Division II state coaches poll, while the Northmen are unranked.
“Cranbrook didn’t enter the top 10 until the last week of the season,” Petoskey coach Zach Jonker said. “But I think we have proven that you can’t put much stock in the regular season rankings.”
The Cranes upset the defending Division II state champion and state-ranked Auburn Hills Avondale, 1-0, to win their district and have since won their last three tournament games by 1-0 margins. Cranbrook-Kingswood topped St. Claire Shores Lake Shore in its regional title game to advance to today’s semis, which is a rematch of a 2009 meeting between the Northmen and Cranes on the same field.
“Their results show that they have a really organized backline in front of a solid keeper,” Jonker said. “We will have to be very efficient in front of the goal, as we were against East Lansing, and we are also placing a high priority on dead ball execution.”
Cranbrook-Kingwood’s top attacker is Constantin Kirberger, a sophomore forward who had the game-winner in the regional championship.
“All of their players are very technical on the ball,” Jonker said. “Based on the formation they play I don’t think they will press us as high up the field as East Lansing did, but they will definitely be East Lansing’s equal in terms of possession.”
Jonker added Petoskey’s biggest key will be the ability to keep the ball.
“We need to let the ball do more of our work and force Cranbrook to chase it on defense,” Jonker added.
The Northmen are 13-1-1 in their past 15 games and have allowed just six goals against in that span.
Senior goalkeeper Drew Smith along with the backline of seniors Noah Honaker, Matt Dankert and Trent McCullough along with sophomore Connor Ingleson lead the Northmen defensively, while up front Petoskey is led by senior Louis Lamberti (12 goals, five assists), senior Evan Altman (eight goals, eight assists) and senior AJ Hoffman (10 goals, five assists).
“Once again, because of the schedule we have played this year, our guys will not be intimidated by the stature of our opponent,” Jonker said. “Midland High has also become a home field of sorts which I hope will play to our advantage. We are very comfortable with the speed of their turf and the surroundings down there now.”
Jonker also stressed the importance of his team’s seniors leadership.
“Our senior leadership is the reason we are in the final four and nobody is satisfied yet,” Jonker said. “Nobody has the ‘We’re just happy we made it this far’ attitude. Our training sessions have been really short of late, but they have been some of the most high-tempo practices of the season.”
Jonker added his team approached the two regional games like state championship matches.
“You lose and your season’s over,” Jonker said. “I expect that same attitude from our guys because they are having too much fun to end the run now.”
Altman, one of the nine Northmen seniors, believes Petoskey’s tough early season schedule has benefited the team now.
“We’ve played tough teams in the preseason and that’s what has gotten us through all those early games,” Altman said following the Northmen’s regional title game. “We played some good Division I teams and that’s really built up our fortitude to stay strong against good teams and go the whole distance.”
Follow Steve Foley on Twitter @SteveFoley8.