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9-time U.P. champs

MARQUETTE – Winning never gets old for the Marquette Senior High School boys soccer team.

Not during the season, and certainly not after being able to call themselves Upper Peninsula champions at the tournament of the same name held at the Kaufman Sports Complex on Saturday afternoon.

The Redmen took their ninth title in the nine times the U.P. Championship event has been held after they whitewashed Kingsford 4-0 on an unseasonably warm but rather windy day on the pitch.

“This tournament was our last games for our seniors,” said first-year head coach Dan Menze, whose players wrapped up the season with a 19-3-1 record after winning all three of their games on Saturday.

The seniors accounted for three of the four goals and all three assists in the finale.

“The level of play here was just another jump up from what we saw in the regular season. Everyone, from the starters to the guys who don’t see a whole lot of action, everyone picked up their level of play today.”

His Redmen started the season rather slowly at a tournament outside the U.P. where they traditionally face their toughest opposition, then never lost a game in regulation the rest of the season.

“The guys knew me from being here before, but we did change our formations a little bit this fall,” said Menze, who previously was an MSHS assistant coach and before that played for the Redmen.

“We still stress communication, ball control and (player) movement. I like to design the game to what our team’s strengths are. Once we figured out everything by midseason, it really came together and we saw a great improvement in our play.”

The finale was a rematch from last year’s championship match that Marquette also won, though only 1-0. Back then, the Redmen were looking to avenge two regular-season losses to the Flivvers. This time around, it was a chance to prove their dominance after a pair of three-goal victories earlier over Kingsford during the season.

Marquette had the wind at its back for the first half and it seemed to affect the game, with play tilting toward the Kingsford end for at least three-quarters, if not more, of the first 30 minutes.

“When it’s windy, you just have to try and keep the ball on the ground,” said MSHS senior Lehomm Pickard, who scored a goal in each game Saturday, including an unassisted backbreaker in the game’s eighth minute.

His team already leading 1-0, Pickard pressured KHS sophomore netminder Ian Driscoll when the latter took a pass from a teammate, meaning to boot the ball to near midfield in the stiff wind.

But Pickard rushed the goalie without any resistance and when Driscoll tried to aim his kick away from the MSHS player, his weak clearing kick was intercepted by Pickard and he knocked the ball into the wide-open net.

Three minutes earlier, senior Luke Pap stationed himself even with the left edge of the net and took a pass from Tanner Carriere on the right side, redirecting the ball into the net with a header.

The Redmen had several other good chances that went for naught later in the half, but when the teams switched ends for the second half, Kingsford put together several good rushes in the early going.

None proved to turn into tough saves for MSHS sophomore goalie Ben Noble, however. He faced the most pressure in the game’s waning minutes when Kingsford had several thrown-ins from at least 50 yards out that Noble was forced to stop on the fly, one on a leap into his outstretched hands and the other with a quick move to his right as he hit the ground.

Before that, however, MSHS added two more insurance goals with 8:44 and 4:11 left. The first was an all-Pickard goal with Lehomm setting up sophomore Eli, who was able to measure up his shot with no defenders even close.

The second came off the foot of senior Jacob Darner, who came in from a wide angle for a shot in front of the net off a pass by senior Joe Weber.

Marquette opened the day with a narrow 2-1 victory over Escanaba Bayside as Lehomm Pickard and senior Preston Marchant scored for the winners.

The Redmen added an 8-1 win over Iron Mountain to clinch their spot in the championship. Weber and Eli Pickard each had two goals, while Weber, Darner, Lehomm Pickard and Collin Shinners had one apiece. Pap had a pair of assists, while John Salo and Bradley Seaborg were among those with one assist each.

Kingsford also won both its preliminary games, defeating the Marquette JV 4-0 and Sault Ste. Marie 5-0.

In Game 1, Kameron Benjamin had two first-half goals with Zac Stankevich and Geno Bianco adding markers. Against the Soo, Benjamin and Bianco each had two goals and Kelby Olson the other, all before halftime.

In other preliminary round games, Escanaba and IM played to a 1-1 tie as did the Marquette JV and the Soo. Scores from the third- and fifth-place games weren’t available.

Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is sbrownlee@miningjournal.net.