BUCKLEY – The Buckley boys soccer program enters uncharted territory this week as it embarks on its first state semifinal.
Fresh off their first regional championship, the eighth-ranked Bears (20-1-3) will face fourth-ranked Kalamazoo Hackett at East Kentwood on Wednesday. The winner will take on either No. 5 Ann Arbor Greenhills or No. 14 Burton Genesee Christian on Saturday for the Division 4 state championship.
Buckley rolled through its district, picking up wins over McBain Northern Christian (3-0), Pine River (8-0) and Walkerville (8-0) before handing No. 3 Muskegon Western Michigan Christian (1-0) and No. 2 Leland (1-0) losses in shootouts.
Defense has been the name of the game for the Buckley, and that starts with goalkeeper Joey Weber. Though five tournament games, Weber has yet to surrender a goal.
“Joe Weber – he’s definitely big for us for momentum,” coach John Vermilya said. “Our game plan is basically play really strong defense. So we’re just playing for a clean sheet. If we can get a goal, we’re going to get a goal. But we know if we go into overtime, other teams are going to start wondering, they start wondering ‘why can’t we break them down, why can’t we break this keeper down?’ So then we know if we get into a shootout, we’ve got a shot with Joey Weber.”
Weber made 25 saves in last week’s 1-0 win over Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
“I just try to say as composed as possible,” Weber said. “Take a deep breath when you get a little bit nervous to get your nerves out. Try to be as calm as possible.”
Like Buckley, Hackett (19-1-3) had made quick work of its postseason foes, outscoring 31-2, with the two goals allowed in a 6-2 win over Kalamazoo Christian in a district final. The Irish have beaten Kalamazoo Lakeside (8-0), Potterville (8-0), Kalamazoo Christian (6-2), Marcellus Howardsville Christian (8-0) and Hartford (1-0 OT) during the postseason run.
Hackett has a strong tradition, winning the Class C-D state titles in 1991, 1992 and 1994 as well as a Class C title in 1995. The Irish also finished runner-up in the 2015 Division 4 finals.
Wednesday’s semifinal is slated for a 6 p.m. start.