Boys varsity soccer ends a 10-10-1 season with first district championship since 2015


After finishing its previous season with a riddling record of 4-10, the boys varsity soccer team looked to bounce back after an off-year. With a near-upset loss against Holt fresh in the mind of most of the players on the returning team, the boys looked to grind out their first real season in two years.

“This season was about taking this group and having them learn to play together,” head coach Paul Kramer said. “We really wanted them to build upon the Holt loss last year in the opening round of districts.”

The season started early for the Rangers with its opening game being against the Falcons of East Kentwood. The Falcons are a powerhouse team known for beating down on their opponents. The matchup was a close one for a while, but eventually, the Falcons pulled away for a 2-0 win and left FHC on a sour note to start the season.

“The message to the team after that tough stretch to start the season was to keep our heads up,” senior Sam Kelly said. “We adopted a new formation and switched some guys around. It helped us out a lot.”

After another loss at Mona Shores, the 0-2 Ranger squad bounced back in its home opener at the new and improved Ranger Stadium. Grand Ledge came in and looked to beat the Rangers, but was no match. Sam and fellow senior Ben Taylor led the charge by each scoring a goal in the 4-0 rout. Quickly, the boys picked up steam and moved to a 2-2 record with a win over Forest Hills Eastern two days later; it was time to finally go into the gauntlet of their schedule.

The first opponent in this gauntlet was Reeths-Puffer, and coming off of back-to-back wins, the boys were bound to make something happen. In a back and forth rubber match, it was Reeths-Puffer that got the win 2-1 in a series of goals by the Rockets to propel them ahead late. A bounce-back win over Greenville to open up conference play was just what the Ranger needed, though, as they bounced back after the loss.

The tough conference schedule proved itself in the next game when FHC was handed a 6-2 loss by courtesy of the Grand Rapids Christian Eagles. With a tie in the next game against East Grand Rapids and a subsequent win over West Catholic, the boys were in prime territory to hop over .500 for the first time all season.

Going against the best team in the conference, the Rangers faced a huge uphill battle against the Northview Wildcats. The first half was close, with junior Henry Kostbade scoring an early goal to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead; however, the wheels fell off quickly. The Wildcats picked up steam in the second half and ran away with a 5-1 win.

The end of the regular season was approaching fast, and with playoff chances dwindling quickly, the Rangers prevailed. Playing six games in a 12-day stretch to end the season, FHC put together a 2-1 win just two days removed from the Northview loss but ended up losing to Portage Northern 3-1. The final two games of the season were crucial for the Rangers with Forest Hills Northern and South Christian being in their way of a postseason berth.

The first game on the plate was the cross-town rival of Forest Hills Northern. Both teams were on their respective A-game coming in, and it showed with a back-and-forth battle all game. Ben Taylor led the way again while junior Myles Shoham helped him; they both scored a goal apiece in a huge 2-0 win with a lot of conference implications on the line.  

Now that regular-season conference play was behind the Rangers, it was a crucial and quick turnaround. South Christian, one of the best teams in division 3, was the opponent for the final regular-season game of the year for the Rangers. The boys stuck with them for the first 55 minutes of the game, but the Sailors pulled away late, giving the Rangers a 6-3 loss to end the regular season.

The conference tournament was next for the boys, starting off with a rematch against Forest Hills Northern. The Huskies got the best of them with a 2-1 win, sending the Rangers to the losers-bracket side of the conference. After a quick 8-0 mercy win over Greenville, another rematch settled against the Bulldogs of Byron Center. Again, another close first half was the main story of the game, but the Bulldogs got the best of the Rangers yet again in a 2-1 loss for FHC.

The first game of the postseason was against the Red Hawks of Cedar Springs, but even with the 40-minute drive north, the Rangers weren’t affected. The boys cruised along all night long with junior Tyler Poth scoring his first goal of the season en route to a 3-0 opening-round win. 

The next opponent was a very familiar one, one that gave the Rangers problems all season long; that team was the Lowell Red Arrows. Suffering a 2-1 loss to Lowell earlier in the season, FHC was out for revenge, and more importantly, a district championship berth.

Both teams came into Forest Hills Eastern hungry and it showed quite early. Both defenses played back and forth, trading save after save with a couple of close calls. Junior Kyle Webb was able to break the ice with a goal in the first half, and when Myles added a goal in the second, the Rangers found themselves in a stable spot and closed out a close 2-1 win.

The final game to decide the district was yet another in-conference team, but this time, against one that the Rangers lost to by four goals. The Northview Wildcats were a hot team coming into the district championship game and looked to roll over the Rangers yet again in their second matchup this season.

From the start of the game, it yet again was postseason soccer with great defense being played. The senior captains of Ryan Fitzgerald and Jayden Savin stole the show, denying every chance Northview had and creating more opportunities for the Ranger attack. Ben had a circus goal while Kyle added a runaway score of his own to give the Rangers their first district championship since 2015.

“We felt really proud of each other and it [the district title] motivated us to go as far as we could in the postseason,” Kyle said. 

Although the postseason run was a huge cinderella story in a long soccer season in Michigan, all good things must come to an end.

In the regional semifinals against Petoskey, the Rangers put up a great second-half fight and eventually forced the game into overtime. After two overtime periods, both teams went into penalty kicks but Petoskey took the spotlight. The Northmen made their first three PK’s and the Rangers only scored two. This ended the season for the Rangers in a 3-2 loss.

“I’m so immensely proud of this group, especially those four seniors I’ve had since day one of being the FHC head coach,” Kramer exclaimed. “The future for this program is bright thanks to these seniors for giving them the example to follow.”