By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — This week Jeff Lhamon can see the fruits of labor from 10 years of coaching youth soccer.
Players from Traverse City West, Bellaire, Traverse City Christian and Leland are gearing up for the MHSAA soccer regionals, which begin today across the state, but before they were able to help lift their teams to this point in the postseason, they were honing their skills under the tutelage of Lhamon in Traverse City.
Lhamon coached a number of the players who have keyed their teams’ runs to district championships, starting with the TBAYS program and then with the North Storm 96 travel team.
“A lot of those boys, some of them I had since they were 8 years old,” said Lhamon. “We played rec league and then I went and got my official (coaching) license. Then we moved on and started playing North Storm Premier League. I coached my son, obviously he was on there. I knew some of the boys. I first started when they were little. I’m very competitive and I felt they could use a little bit more of a boost toward the competitive side of the game. I just stuck with it. The (TBAYS) director of coaching at that time wanted me to do it so I took it on and had some fun with it.”
They had some success, too.
Starting with the bottom Classic Series Division, the North Storm squad quickly advanced through every division it was in until it reached the Premier 1 Division last year. Along the way it captured the championships of many of those divisions as well as eight different tournaments. At one point the team was even ranked among the best travel teams in the state.
“It’s taught me everything I know about soccer,” sad Jack Lhamon, Jeff’s son and a senior midfielder for Traverse City West. “The way I play now is the way my dad’s taught me to play and how all the assistant coaches I’ve had through TBAYS and other coaches I’ve had through TBAYS. I’ve taken little bits and pieces from everyone there. It definitely prepared me for where I am now.”
Bellaire senior midfielder Drew Emery was playing with a Bellaire indoor soccer team in Traverse City one year when his dad, Jim, met Jeff Lhamon. Drew joined Lhamon’s North Storm team soon after, with Emery’s dad serving as the team’s business manager. Bellaire teammates Hunter Rowe, Denny Hall and Adam Underwood also joined on.
“I joined (coach Lhamon’s) travel team one year and I fell in love with the team ever since,” Drew Emery said. “It just became easy for me to mesh with those guys.
“It’s been a great experience. It’s allowed me to get to know other people outside of Bellaire. I’ve made a lot of friends. It creates great teamwork and reflects in, not just that team but in high school, just a leadership role as well. He pushed me hard when I was young, taught me what’s right from wrong, gave me a good attitude. He’s always very positive and he wanted to make sure I knew to be a good sport before being competitive. I guess I could say he’s someone I looked up to.”
Jeff Lhamon said he’s proud of the fact that players he coached have been instrumental for teams that are still alive in the state tournament. West, which has as many as 10 players coached by Lhamon, faces Walled Lake Central in a Division I regional semifinal in Midland and TC Christian plays Ludington in Division III action in Big Rapids. In Muskegon, Bellaire takes on Big Rapids Crossroads and Leland meets Muskegon Catholic Central in a pair of Division IV regional semifinals.
“It feels pretty good,” said Jeff Lhamon. “The boys worked hard for where they’re at. It was their dedication that put them where they’re at. It’s fun to watch them.”
The travel squad teammates formed a bond that has continued on, even though some of them play for different high school teams, as they keep track of how their old teammates are doing.
“I was looking through the newspaper the other day and saw my teammates from TC Christian and Bellaire both won their districts and are moving on to regionals,” said Jack Lhamon. “Everyone from North Storm 96 on my team (at TC West) is really excited about that. I think it’s pretty cool that almost everyone from our team is a district champion and in regionals now.”