NORTH BRANCH — The North Branch girls’ soccer team soared to new heights this year.
And a big part of the success was Tori Kirkwood’s ability to put the ball in the net.
The junior scored a team-high 30 goals for the upstart Broncos, a feat which led to her being named The Advertiser girls’ soccer player of the year.
“She’s a great kid, a great leader,” said North Branch coach Rick Skelton. “She would be an outstanding part of anybody’s team.”
The Broncos finished with an 13-8-1 record this spring, and challenged Birch Run, the No. 8 team in Division 3, in each of their two Tri-Valley Conference East clashes. North Branch was 8-2 in league play, which included a pair of wins over conference power Frankenmuth — the first two in program history.
“I started this program in 1997 and since then my dream was to beat Frakenmuth,” Skelton said. “I told my team after we won ‘If I died today I would die a happy man.’ Then we beat them again and that was just icing on the cake.”
A lot of what was accomplished this year could be attributed to Kirkwood’s right foot.
“She loves soccer, she’s one of the fastest kids in the league,” Skelton said. “They’re marking her with two people all the time, so to still score 30 goals was an outstanding feat. Plus, she’ll be back next year.”
Along with Kirkwood, most of the Broncos’ breakthrough squad will return in 2017. Just two seniors — Erin Dickenson and Kate Huffman — from North Branch’s regular rotation will graduate.
“I’m already starting to figure out how we’re going to replace them,” Skelton said. “Huffman and Dickenson are big losses, but we’re going to keep our team pretty much in tact, and we should have another great year.”
Kirkwood’s scoring total was the fifth-highest in team history. The top four spots are taken by the same girl — Skelton’s daughter Dana Skelton.
“Dana’s lowest scoring scoring year was 32 goals, so Tori was close,” Skelton said. “(Kirkwood) really has that scoring mindset, she wants to go higher on that all-time scoring list.’
Kirkwood was first team all-TVC East and first team all-district this year.
All-Advertiser girls’ soccer team
Player: Tori Kirkwood
School: North Branch
2016 highlights: Led second-place team in Tri-Valley Conference East with 30 goals; first team all-TVC East; first team all-district.
Coach Rick Skelton: “Great kid, loves soccer — she’s one of the fastest kids in the league. They were marking her with two people all year so to still score 30 goals was an outstanding feat.”
Player: Kayla Kueffner
2016 highlights: Honorable mention Division 3 all-state; all-Tri-Valley East Conference first team; first team all-district and all-regional; scored five goals.
Coach Paul Stenglein: “Her athleticism and just her mental toughness make her a very strong defensive midfielder. She is by far the best defender in the air that we have. We use her offensively on corner kicks because she is the most aggressive player we have to head a ball from an athletic standpoint.”
Player: Alyssa Bradeen
2016 highlights: Third on team with nine goals; Greater Thumb East first-team all-conference; first team all-district; honorable mention Division 4 all-state.
Coach Tiffany Roberts: “(Alyssa) had a strong season. She had a total of nine goals and seven assists this season with big goals against Millington (in a 1-0 win), Memphis and Harbor Beach.”
Player: Sam Fifield
School: North Branch
2016 highlights: Led Broncos with 73 defensive stops; first team all-Tri-Valley Conference East; all-district first team.
Coach Rick Skelton: “She’s not as fast as (Player of the Year Tori Kirkwood) but what she lacks in that little bit of speed, she makes up for with her willingness to train and willingness to succeed. She’s also the first one to finish when we do our runs, she’s always the one that trains the hardest and she’s a big, big part of out team.”
Player: Jennifer Gutierrez
2016 highlights: Averaged 26 saves per game; first team all-Tri-Valley Conference East; unofficial state record holder with 51 saves in a single game, against Millington.
Coach Jillian Riley: “Not only did she lead the team in the net as a captain, she also played in the field and excelled there as well. I’m going to miss her a lot next year, she came out with confidence and wore her jersey proudly.”
Player: Lillian Schmidt
2016 highlights: Led Eagles with 18 goals; honorable mention Division 3 all-state; first team all-Tri-Valley Conference East, all-district and all-regional.
Coach Paul Stenglein: “Lillian is probably our most talented soccer player, she has great foot skills, outstanding speed, she has the ability to create a lot of difficulties for our opposing defenses. She’s just a talented soccer player.”
Player: Elizabeth Selich
2016 highlights: Led Cardinals in points (eight goals, 21 assists); first team Tri-Valley Conference East; first team all-district.
Coach Andrew Yelich: “Elizabeth is so valuable on the field. She’s always around the ball and we use her to deflect a lot of the passes from the middle to our playmakers up front. The forwards started to finish for us this year, so the assists started piling up for Elizabeth. She also is unafraid to crash the net, and she gets a lot of her goals in traffic. She is tall and strong and deceptively fast.”
Player: Erin Dickenson
School: North Branch
2016 highlights: First team Tri-Valley Conference East selection; first team all-district; second on squad with 53 defensive stops.
Coach Rick Skelton: “She really came on this year, she turned out to be a great, great force in our defense and she really shined. It shows with the number of stops she made — and she played really smart.”
Player: Abby Struble
2016 highlights: First team all-Tri-Valley Conference East selection; all-district first teamer
Coach Paul Stenglein: “She’s one of our captains, actually a junior captain, we don’t have that happen very often, typically we only have senior captains. She’s a very smart, methodical player, very rarely does she get beat. Typically when we got beat this year it was not through her, it was through other portions of the team that may have had a breakdown.”
Player: Caitlyn McNary
2016 highlights: First team all-Greater Thumb West; 11 shutouts; keeper on team that went 8-0 in league play.
Coach Tiffany Roberts: “Had an outstanding year as a freshman keeper. Caitlin recorded 11 shutouts out of our 16 game schedule. She had 68 overall saves with 11 against Millington and nine each against Dryden, Memphis and Harbor Beach. She only allowed 10 goals against all season.”
Second team all-Advertiser
Savannah Orlando, Jr. Forward North Branch
Kate Huffman, Sr. Forward North Branch
Mackenzie McMullin, Jr. Defense North Branch
Mackenzie Trishler, Jr. Midfield USA
Kyra Jammer, So. Halfback Frankenmuth
Laurin Keyes, So. Halfback Frankenmuth
Zoe Neirink, Fr. Keeper Frankenmuth
Makayla Bremer, So. Midfield Millington
Jenna Meacham, Jr. Keeper Millington
Cassy Lee, Jr. Midfield Millington
Scottlynn Breezee, Jr. Defense Marlette
Julia Hohman, Jr. Defense Marlette