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SOCCER: New Haven prepares for Saginaw Nouvel

Rockets reach regionals for first time

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When Lance Whitney took over the boys soccer program at New Haven he wanted to do just that … build a program.

Whitney is clearly on the way to doing just that and in the process making people think of the school for more than just its boys basketball team.

After winning their first soccer district title in school history, the Rockets will face another perennial basketball power, Saginaw Nouvel, in a Division 4 regional semifinal Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Saginaw Valley Lutheran.

“We’ve got kids that play on club teams now,” Whitney said. “They come in knowing how to play. Kids started to come out when we started to win a couple years ago.

“It’s awesome,” Whitney continued. “My goal coming in was to build a program, not just have a good team every few years. I want to sustain something so when the next person that comes in and just keep it going.”

The program has seen three coaches in its short five-year history, with Whitney being there the last three seasons.

He was also able to start a junior varsity program this year.

“I just kept calling kids and told them if they weren’t playing football come out for soccer,” said Whitney, who’s a teacher in Richmond.

New Haven lost in a shootout in a district title game to Memphis last season and has eight of its starting 11 back, including junior center midfielder Dolan Bonkowski (27 goals, 11 assists) and junior keeper Brandyn Gonzales, who has made 123 saves this season.

Junior Marquis Perkins (eight goals, seven assists), senior center back Connor Baumann, junior midfield Tristan Castiglione and senior defender Altin Shuti also return.

“The core of our team are juniors,” said Whitney, who led New Haven to the MAC Silver Division title this year.

The Rockets (11-7-2) reached the regional round after downing Dryden, 2-0.

Bonkowski had a goal and an assist and Mike Kincaid added the other tally. Gonzales made three saves and Shuti added an assist.

The game was called with 20 minutes left to play after Dryden’s coach pulled him team off the field after he received a red card.

Saginaw Nouvel (7-11-1) has yet to be scored on in the state tournament in three matches, reaching a regional semifinal for the first time in six years.

The Panthers upset third-ranked Saginaw Valley Lutheran in a district quarterfinal 1-0, despite being outshot by a large margin.

“No matter who you face soccer is a weird game,” Whitney said. “You score one goal and that could be it.

“The way we look at it it’s a very winnable game,” continued Whitney, who played soccer and wrestled at Richmond. “Our goal this season was to make it to a regional final. The kids are pumped up about it.”

Harbor Beach and Lansing Christian play in the other semifinal at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

The final is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Last Updated: 10/21/2013 9:13:25 PM EST