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Young, hungry, talented Wildcats set to contend in rugged KLAA West

 Young, hungry, talented Wildcats set to contend in rugged KLAA West

Pictured (from left) are Plymouth soccer players Abby Knauf, Grace Cheetam, Kendall Elmy, Emma Johnson and Zaynab Saab.

A perfect blend of experience and youth has second-year Plymouth girls soccer Head Coach Victor Plasse excited about the battles that await in the relentlessly powerful KLAA West Division, which is quite possibly the most talent-heavy grouping in the state.

“I compare the West Division to the English Premier League,” said Plasse, grinning at the analogy. “It’s a league filled with physical, excellent programs.

“We’ll have to work hard every night — and figure out the proper way to rest and rejuvenate our players so they’re ready for the biggest matches — because the league’s talent level is so high.”

One reason Plasse, a native of Ghana and full-time soccer coach who also mentors players at the University of Michigan-Dearborn in the fall and Saline FC in the summer, is smiling these days because of his roster’s balance of talent.

Featuring more freshmen (9) than seniors (8), the Wildcats promise not to back down to anyone, regardless of where their opponents are stacked in the state rankings.

“We have very good young talent, so we’re basically the underdogs, but we’re always going to show up and work,” said senior captain Kendall Elmy, who is set to play collegiate soccer beginning in the fall at Purdue University Northwest.

“We can play with everybody in our division. Our games against the other two Park teams (Canton and Salem) are always competitive because every player on both teams get up for those games.”

Ready to bounce back

Plymouth’s season kicked off in heartbreaking style on April 2 when a 1-0 lead late in the second half evaporated into a 2-1 setback to Brighton.

Kendall Elmy in action last season PHOTO COURTESY OF VASILNEK IMAGES
Kendall Elmy in action last season PHOTO COURTESY OF VASILNEK IMAGES

“I think we did a really good job defensively of stepping to the ball in terms of our center back and outside backs,” said senior Zaynab Saab.

“We also had good opportunities to score, and (senior goal-keeper) Grace (Cheetam) did a really good job of communicating and telling us when to shift and stop.”

Bring it on

Senior Abby Knauf embraces the no-cupcakes schedule her  team faces.

“I like the challenge,” said Knauf. “We have the potential to beat all the teams we face because we work well together.”

Friendships are temporarily halted during the 80 minutes the P-CEP teams square off against one another, the upper-class Wildcats revealed.

“We have friends on all the teams, so it’s fun seeing them in the hallways the day of the Salem and Canton games,” said Cheetham. “I’m in a zone during the Park games so I don’t really acknowledge my friends on the field, but once the games are over, we’re as friendly to one another as ever.”

Elite leaders

Elmy and Cheetam were voted captains for the 2024 season, with Knauf and Saab serving the important roles of vice-captains.

Plasse delivered high praise for all four players and some underclassmen — sophomore Emma Johnson and freshman Abigail Tiplady, in particular.

“Grace brings a competitive edge to every game; she never wants to miss a shot,” Plasse said. “She dedicates herself to soccer at the expense of other things in her life outside of soccer. The younger players see this and benefit from it, I believe.

“Kendall is not only an outstanding soccer player, but her personality uplifts the team. She’s the player who, when things are down, will say, ‘Let’s go! We can do this!’ She pushes herself 100% of the time, too.

“As far as our vice-captains, Abby never backs down from anyone or anything. She makes things happen. And as far as ‘Z’ goes, what a great soul to have on a team. She does so much for us.”

Grace Cheetham snags a shot out of midair during a game against Salem last year.
Grace Cheetam snags a shot out of midair during a game against Novi last year PHOTO COURTESY OF VASILNEK IMAGES

Plasse said Johnson’s understanding of soccer and athleticism will make her one of the Wildcats’ top scoring threats, “and she’ll no doubt lead us in assists. She’s a playmaker and a game-changer.”

Fabulous freshman

Tiplady is one of those rare ninth-graders who isn’t intimidated to be playing with and against players three years older than her, Plasse added.

Joining Elmy, Cheetham and Saab in Plymouth’s solid senior class are Kady Knauf, Isabella Fabrizio, Gracie Milliken and Chloe Deptula.

“My expectations this season are that we’ll get better every game and improve our team environment compared to last year,” Plasse said.

Time to gel

“Once our camaraderie develops and everybody sticks together, everything will start to click.”

The Wildcats host Salem Thursday, April 4, at 7 p.m. on the P-CEP east turf field.

Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or edwright@socialhousenews.com.

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Ed Wright

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