Nick Wheeler had a sense rising up that he and his Gladwin classmates may have some success when it was their time to steer the Flying GS varsity soccer program.
He simply had no concept how a lot.
“I by no means noticed the state championship,” the Gladwin senior quarterback and security stated. “I noticed us profitable the Jack Pine Convention, which was one thing that hadn’t been carried out shortly.”
Wheeler and his teammates have blown previous these expectations and at the moment are one win away from what as soon as felt unimaginable.
Led by a powerful senior class, Gladwin will play in an MHSAA Soccer Closing for the primary time Saturday. In Division 5, the Flying Gs will tackle Frankenmuth, which can also be searching for its first soccer title.
“This has been our dream since we have been in highschool,” senior linebacker and working again Logan Kokotovich stated. “We went down (to Ford Subject) to look at video games my freshman yr, and it was superb. Again earlier than highschool, we had been blowing groups out of the water. Everybody thought we might be good, however we knew we needed to actually work arduous to get there.”
Gladwin soccer was in a a lot completely different place when Wheeler, Kokotovich and their classmates entered highschool. This system had received simply six video games complete over the earlier three seasons, and hadn’t been to the postseason since 2014.
“I bear in mind going to video games after I was younger and we’d all the time lose,” Kokotovich stated. “I might inform my dad, ‘That is not a shock.’”
Because the Class of 2023 entered the highschool, the Flying GS had been getting new management. Marc Jarstfer took over as head coach in 2019 after being an assistant at his alma mater – and Gladwin’s arch rival – Clare.
“I had no concept of what was arising,” Jarstfer stated. “I did not actually take note of the youth packages (at Gladwin) or that kind of factor. I used to be accustomed to the present scenario. I feel in that first yr our employees was right here, we noticed that group had fairly vital potential. They went undefeated on JV with two freshmen enjoying on varsity. We figured in the event that they proceed to work arduous and do the suitable issues, they might be superb.”
Kokotovich and receiver/security Kaden McDonald each performed varsity as freshmen, and 10 members of the Class of 2023 performed varsity as sophomores.
It was throughout that 2020 season that the turnaround began to really feel extra like actuality. Gladwin went 4-4, however its three regular-season losses had been by a mixed 24 factors. It additionally had a win towards Division 2 Dexter, which featured a number of faculty prospects.
“That is after I began noticing it,” Wheeler stated. “We had been in shut video games with groups that we had been by no means shut with earlier than, like Clare and Beaverton. And we had been simply younger sophomores.”
The next yr was a real breakthrough, as Gladwin went 9-0, claiming its first Jack Pine title in 20 years and profitable it outright for the primary time ever. Gladwin received there by defeating Clare for the primary time in 40 years.
Then, within the first spherical of the playoffs, the Flying GS’ season got here to an abrupt halt, with a loss to that very same Clare crew.
It was humbling, but additionally motivating.
“We simply thought we had been the perfect,” Wheeler stated. “That basically put us down and made us work even tougher for subsequent season to attain our objective. The coaches, they put photos proper in entrance of our squat rack of Clare beating us. In order that’s us each time we elevate.”
The motivation labored clearly, as Gladwin repeated its 9-0 common season, profitable a second-straight Jack Pine title. This time, nonetheless, the Flying GS had been much more dominant. They outscored their regular-season opponents by a mixed 444-48, with 27 of these factors allowed coming of their 33-27 win at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.
However nothing Gladwin achieved may evaluate to its 28-21 Semifinal win towards Grand Rapids Catholic Central. The Cougars had received Finals titles in 4 of the previous 5 seasons, together with the previous two Division 5 titles. It was the primary postseason loss for Catholic Central since 2018.
“Everyone doubted us going into that sport,” Wheeler stated. “Grand Rapids Catholic Central, all people thinks they’re simply the perfect, however we simply took it as they had been one other crew. We did not consider them any otherwise. Everyone (on the crew) believed. It was in all probability the perfect feeling of my life.”
The Flying GS at the moment are one win away from an excellent higher feeling. However it doesn’t matter what occurs at Ford Subject on Saturday, they’ve already established themselves because the group that turned this system round.
That is a sense that is made much more particular by the actual fact they have been capable of do it with their lifelong pals.
“It’s undoubtedly going to be one thing I bear in mind for the remainder of my life,” Kokotovich stated. “This group of men is every little thing. We have pushed one another a lot, and it is all simply falling collectively. That is superior.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sports activities author at The Port Huron Occasions Herald from 2006-15, together with three years as lead sports activities author, and previous to that as sports activities editor on the Hillsdale Each day Information from 2005-06. He could be reached at email@example.com with story concepts for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Prime) Gladwin’s Logan Kokotovich (12) holds onto the ball throughout Saturday’s Semifinal win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central. (Center) Senior Lincoln McKinnon works to shed a blocker and get to the GRCC quarterback. (Under) Earl Esiline retains his toes on the icy turf. (Photographs by Mike Kolleth.)