WARREN, Mich. - Each new year presents its challenges, and this year's De La Salle Collegiate soccer team has done a fine job navigating through any challenges it has come its way.
A year after traversing their way through the state playoffs, making it all the way to the Division 1 semifinals before falling to eventual state champion Ann Arbor Skyline in overtime, the Pilots are ready to make another deep playoff run as the district tournament begins for the team tonight against Sterling Heights.
"Throughout my career at De La Salle, we have always called playoff time as 'De La Salle Time,' " coach Thaier Mukhtar said. "This is where our team in the past has shined. We have had more success in the MHSAA playoffs than any other team in Division 1. The boys are pretty fired up. We keep reminding them of the heartbreak loss they suffered in the final four last year."
During last year's playoff-push, De La Salle was tested throughout, winning three straight 2-1 decisions over Chippewa Valley in a district final and Berkley and Eisenhower in regional play. The Pilots (9-7-4) have played a tough schedule this fall which should help the team be prepared for anything it may run into.
"They feel confident and ready to make a run again this year," Mukhtar said. "Our record doesn't indicate how talented these young men truly are. We have had numerous misfortunes throughout the season. The boys know it's one game at a time and it's the playoffs, one game and it's the season. The coaching staff is getting them to embrace this time of year and not to fear it."
The team lost seven starters off last year's squad, so a number of players have had to step it up this season. The Pilots also lost senior Scott Larson to injury this year.
"The boys have rallied around him and are working hard to get him championships," said the coach, whose teams have won five state championships at DLS. "They love their teammate and are feeling his pain. We are practicing well and are ready to make a long run."
Tonight's game against Sterling Heights (3-12-2) will be played at Cousino High School, beginning at 5 p.m. The host Patriots will face Lakeview in the night's second game. The winners will play for the district championship on Friday (5 p.m.)