Top Saline Hornets Sports Teams of 2022
2022 was a banner year for the Saline High School athletics programs thanks to one of the strongest fall sports seasons in recent memory.
As we look back at the top Saline Hornets teams of 2022, the success of the fall sports teams hits as hard as a biting Christmas Eve wind gust. Your Saline Hornets turned in a remarkable performance.
We picked seven teams to profile in this feature. Five of them participated in the fall sports season. Those fall sports teams won three regional championships, two district championships and three SEC Red championships.
We enjoyed covering your Saline Hornets in 2022, and anticipate another triumphant year in 2023.
New head coach Darien Bandel led the Hornets all the way to the state semifinal game - where the Hornets lost in 5 sets. It was the deepest run for Saline volleyball in decades. And Bandel and the Hornets accomplished this amazing feat despite the mid-season loss of Mallory Bohl, the most heavily recruited player the volleyball program has had in my 12 years of covering Saline Athletics. The Hornets did it with a great mix of experienced veterans and emerging youth. Senior Beth Ann Ford and sophomore Addison Ashley took turns picking up the slack in the middle. Senior Anna Hesse and sophomore Marie Laurio led from the outside hitter position. Junior Catherine Flaherty has a big hitter and blocker on the other side. The offense went through skilled setter Laney Burns. Cazzie Smith and Olivia Behen fiercely protected the back row floor. In the end, the Hornets won the SEC Red and the district and regional championships. Up and down the bench, the girls believed in Bandel's messages about positivity and family - and the Saline girls' went on the most exciting Hornet post-season run of the year.
Saline Boys' Soccer
The 2022 Saline boys' soccer team was made for primetime TV. When they won, they did so with entertaining swagger. They won their district in the most entertaining fashion possible - winning the shootout with their goalie Riley Behrman making save after save - and then lining up to kick the game- winning, trophy-clinching goal.
That's just how this team rolled. The Hornets were led by senior Christian Rossi - who smashed Hornet scoring records. He finished his senior year with a record 39 goals. He finished his Hornet career with 39 goals. He did so ruthlessly despite every opponent knowing who they had to stop. Seniors like Luke Allen protected their keeper. Senior Drew Barker was Rossi's chief set up man. Junior Connor Mitzel ruled at midfield. This was a team that thought they'd go undefeated in the SEC Red - and then suffered a tough loss but went on to win the conference anyway. They avenged that loss to Pioneer in the most dramatic way possible - playing much of the second half and two overtime periods while shorthanded - and then besting Pioneer on penalties. Even when they lost in the final moments of the regional championship, with co-captain Luke Allen somehow playing on one leg, they looked like they'd tied the game with seconds to play - only to have the goal called off.
This team was all-out, all the time. And if you don't love that, you don't love sports.
Saline Girls Swim & Dive
It's almost a given. Coach Todd Brunty's Saline swim and dive teams expect to finish on the podium posing with a big trophy. And Brunty's teams typically meet expectations.
Brunty might not have admitted it this year, but you could forgive him if he had lower expectations for his girls in the fall season. On top of the usual graduating seniors, the swim and dive team lost three other all-state-caliber athletes. That's not the type of loss a team can sustain and still win a team trophy. Yet, that's exactly what the Hornets did.
On the first day of the state meet at Oakland University, Brunty noticed a couple of the other high-profile teams suffered setbacks in relays.
"Coach Brunty told us that opened a door for us," captain Sam Bullard said. "All we had to do is walk in."
Did they ever.
First, the Hornets had a ridiculously good group of divers. Senior Alice English won the state championship while Lindi Jenkins (5th) and Ava Turner (6th) also won all-state honors - and much-needed points.
And the swimmers took care of the rest. In virtually every event Sam Bullard, Angelina Sanna, Ellerie Brunty, Ana Sirbu, Megan Socha and Joann Oyemba bettered their places on championship day. Saline not only finished top four to win a trophy - they moved all the way up to third to finish with 174 points.
Perhaps no team in 2022 ended a season on a happier note.
Saline Boys Track & Field
The last time the Saline boys' track and field team didn't win the regional meet, 2022 grads like Larry Robinson, Andrew Stern, Josh Rush, James Harrison and Caden Winston were in kindergarten. You could say the same thing about the SEC Red meet.
The Hornets just keep on rolling. It's easy to take a perennial champion for granted - and you never should. It's easy to treat championships like they're automatic - and you never should. It denies all the hard work and passion that the current group puts into their performance.
Saline won the regional with depth. Junior Jason Whitton won the 800 for Saline's lone individual win.
Saline's other victory came in the 4x100 relay. Ethan Nelson, Joshua Rus, Caden Winston and Larry Robinson II won in 43.38 seconds - .11 seconds faster than the second-place Huron team.
All four Saline relays qualified for the state meet and picked up points as Saline finished with 118 points to second-place Dexter's 89.5 points.
Longtime coach Al Leslie, a retired teacher, pointed out that he won a league title as a high schooler and it took nearly 30 years for that school to win again.
In Saline, the motto is "tradition never graduates." And a lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into maintaining that tradition.
"So it's special. They need to understand that it's not a given, but it is expected," Leslie said.
Saline Girls Basketball
The Saline Hornets didn't win their third straight district (coming up three points in the district championship game). Nor did they repeat as SEC Red Champions. But what they did during their 17-6 2021-22 season is continue to play elite, fierce basketball after the graduation of star Ella Stemmer. 2022 grad Sophie Canen was a big part of that, turning in a star performance in her own right.
Now Canen is gone - and the Hornets keep rolling. They started the 22-23 season with a 7-0 record. Junior Kate Stemmer is turning in big-point performances. Freshman Keira Roehm is consistently among the team's leading scorers. Anna Hesse and Beth Ann Ford have been strong in the post. Taylor Kangas has been a great all-around player. Sophomore Kadyn Maida, at times, looks ready to put the team on her shoulders. Griffin Hadley is scoring points and playing strong defense.
And after every game, in post-game interviews, the girls come out and talk about how much fun they're having playing for each other and sharing the ball.
Coach Leigh Ann Roehm has built something impressive.
Saline Girls Cross Country
The Saline girls cross country team won its first regional championship since the days when legendary coach Mike Smith steered the team.
Coach Eileen Creutz, who starred for Smith when she ran for Saline, had been emphasizing the team's depth all year as the Hornets took second Pioneer in three straight meets. But that the regional, the Hornets had just a 44-second spread between first and fifth. Senior Mia Rogan, who went on to earn an all-state medal, finished second in the race. Laney Alig, Abby Roth, Corynn Gady and Sienna Snyder rounded out the scoring five. Grace Roth and MacKenzie Sellenraad werent' far behind.
Creutz was reflective after Saline won its first regional since the days when the late Smith coached the girls.
"I'm just proud. Obviously, I wish he could be here, because he loved these days. Post-season cross country was his life. He loved it so much," Creutz said. "He can't be here, but we can run in his honor and think about him on a day like this and put forth a great effort knowing that he's responsible for a lot of what Saline cross country is, and what it means to our life."
The girls went on to a strong fourth-place finish at the state meet. Rogan finished 21st in 18:51.21 to earn her all-state honors.
Saline Boys Cross Country
The Saline boys' cross country team won its first SEC Red championship since 2019. And they followed that up by winning their second straight regional championship.
"We have rock-solid, coachable kids who want to do it right for the program and right for their teammates," said long-time coach Carl Spina after the team won the SEC Red meet.
The Hornets took second to Chelsea in the opening SEC Red/White jamboree. They followed that up by taking second to Skyline in the SEC Red second jamboree.
Saline then clinched the conference championship by winning the third SEC Red jamboree with 48 points - 12 better than Pioneer. Senior Sam Jackson finished second in 15:43.79 and junior Truman Johnson was third in 15:44. Jason Whitton, Andrew McNally and Shane Pitcher also finished in the scoring for Saline.
The regional was on a foggy Oct. 29 morning at Milan High School. When the fog lifted, Jackson emerged as a true high school cross country star.
Jackson, who went out for cross country after getting cut from the soccer team as a junior, dedicated himself to the sport. He won the the regional in 15:29.38 seconds - more than 30 seconds faster than the second-place finisher. Johnson, Whitton, McNally and Landon Wissink also finished in the scoring for Saline as the Hornets won the regional meet by 21 points over second-place Pioneer.
Things didn't go as well as planned at the state meet, where Saline finished seventh. But Jackson finished 13th in 15:54.11 to cap his incredible season with all-state honors.