Everest in contention as a state champion in football, soccer and cross country

Everest celebrates its 41-0 victory over Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest in what it hopes will be the first step in the quest for a state championship. The fourth-ranked Mountaineers, though the smallest in enrollment and youngest in program history (eight years), are in serious conversation as a contender for a state Division 8 crown. (Photo courtesy of Joseph Brzezinski)

CLARKSTON — Is this the year the Mountaineers reach the top?

Of course, no one at Everest Collegiate wants to even think about that. Take it one game at a time. It’s a six-week grind to reach the pinnacle on Dec. 4-5.

But Everest is in serious conversation as a state champion candidate. The Associated Press in its final poll ranked Everest No. 4 — even though its gridiron history is in its infancy with a program only eight years old compared with the great-great-grandfather programs of eight of the top 10 teams dating back to 1950, one to 1968.

The boldest speculation of them all: The Detroit News’ high school sports guru, David Goricki, predicts Everest will bring the Division 8 trophy home.

Of 62 Division 8 schools in this autumn’s tournament, all but one has an enrollment larger than the Mountaineers’ 122, but none has played a stronger schedule, according to the Michigan High School Athletic Association.

Five wins of Everest’s 7-0 record were against D8 schools, but it defeated Division 5 Comstock Park, 19-7, and shut out Division 7 Riverview Gabriel Richard, 35-0, for its third consecutive Catholic League Prep Bowl win.

Everest is no stranger to MHSAA football playoff pressure, having qualified eight years in a row, winning five of a dozen appearances, including a district title in 2017.

The Mountaineers began their climb to the top last Saturday afternoon, beating Rochester Hills Lutheran Northwest 41-0.

Before the first quarter was half over, Everest led 14-0 via quarterback Giovanni Mastromatteo’s 15-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Neme and Jimmy Nedwick’s return of a punt 80 yards along the left sideline.

In a span of two minutes early in the second quarter, Everest increased its halftime advantage to 34-0. Joey Thibodeau sprinted 13 yards around right end, Neme raced 33 yards for another score, and Nedwick carried an intercepted pass 36 yards to the end zone.

At about this juncture, coach Mike Pruchnicki sent in his second stringers.

“That was a first,” he laughed.

In the early years of Everest’s football history, Pruchnicki didn’t have a long bench with, maybe, 15 to 20 players in uniform. He has the luxury now of 27 players.

The second team accounted for Everest’s last touchdown late in the fourth quarter when freshman quarterback Matthew Bautel and sophomore Matthew Neme combined on a 24-yard pass play.

One player Pruchnicki is hoping he’ll have back in the lineup is senior Jack Lasceski. He was limping along the sidelines with a sprained right ankle suffered in the Prep Bowl game against Gabriel Richard.

“It’s all up to the doctor,” the coach said.

Lasceski, at 6-feet and 205 pounds, is the Mountaineers’ leading rusher, averaging 150 yards a game, Pruchnicki said,

He’s also a force on defense that has shut out four opponents, including the last eight quarters in a row.

Lasceski is an integral part of defensive coach Tim Schuele’s 4-4 defense. “It’s designed to stop the run,” Schuele said, a scheme he employed when he coached eight years at Detroit Loyola when the Bulldogs won the Division 7 title in 2014 and reached the state semifinals three times.

Hiring Pruchnicki in 2013 when Everest decided to initiate its own football program “was the easy part,” said athletic director Ann Lowney. She was aware of his background as the captain of football, basketball and baseball teams at Flint Powers High and a walk-on quarterback at Michigan State.

Asked how the Everest program has matured to this point of championship contention, Pruchnicki, in an “aw, shucks” manner, replied: “It’s in the Bible. Spirit and truth. Do things the right way with effort and attitude.”

He added: “The secret is to get the kids to believe.”

Everest will take the next step Friday, Nov. 6, hosting Sterling Heights Parkway Christian (4-3). Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Soccer and cross country also seeking the top

Football isn’t the only sport creating excitement at Everest.

The boys soccer team (10-5-2) will play Adrian Lenawee Christian (14-2-1) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4, in a Division 4 semi-final at Troy Athens High School.

Everest slipped past Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett, 2-1, last Friday in the regional final.

Three football players are on the soccer roster, too: juniors Joey Thibodeau and seniors Dominic Cross and Johnny Suran.

Thibodeau scored the winning goal against Liggett, and Suran was outstanding in the net, fighting off 10 shots on goal.

The winner will come against either Granville Calvin Christian or Leland on Saturday, Nov. 7, for the Division 4 championship.

Everest’s girls cross country squad has already reaped honors. The team won its first Catholic League title and won the regionals, too, to qualify for the state Division 4 race on Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

Sophomore Caroline Cross, junior Avery Herrgott, freshman Eve Herrgott, sophomore Alyse Felix and  senior Theresa Waller finished 4-5-6-7-11, respectively, in the regional meet.

Contact Don Horkey at [email protected].