By Teddy Rydquist
Leader Staff Writer
A vital piece in Oxford capturing their first league title in five years in 2020, senior Zach Townsend will graduate as one of the most accomplished soccer players in school history.
Playing three years for the varsity team, he twice earned All-Oakland Activities Association (OAA) and All-Region honors and found the back of the net a whopping 31 times over his junior and senior seasons, resulting in All-State Honorable Mention from the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association (MIHSSCA) in 2019 and first-team recognition in 2020.
Committing to the Horizon League’s Oakland Golden Grizzlies, coached by 12th-year man Eric Pogue, shortly before his final campaign as a Wildcat began, Townsend officially signed his National Letter of Intent (LOI) on November 11, the culmination of a goal he set early on in his high school career.
“My junior year, for my club soccer, we were playing in a showcase down in Indiana,” he shared of how this pairing came to be. “The men’s head soccer coach, Eric Pogue, reached out to my dad because he and my dad were already friends because he takes pictures at the soccer games. So, he started showing some interest and I went to a couple of Oakland soccer camps at the campus.
“I was supposed to go on my official campus visit in March, but that’s right when COVID-19 hit, so I never really ended up going on an official visit.”
Even though he was never able to take his National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-sanctioned official visit, Townsend, who played his club soccer for the Nationals Football Club, is familiar with all the educational and athletic opportunities the Golden Grizzlies offer.
His parents, Skip and Nicole, both played basketball for the school, and his brother, Trey, a 2020 Oxford graduate, is currently a member of Greg Kampe’s program and has twice been recognized as the Horizon League Freshman of the Week thus far.
Fans of just about any Wildcat athletic program have likely seen Skip, who owns TZR Sports Photography, taking action shots at sporting events.
Demonstrating a maturity that will serve him well at the next level, Townsend was a leader by example for Oxford, an asset that gained extra importance in 2020 as the Wildcats underwent a coaching change, with Adam Bican taking over for John Thaler, who stepped down to spend more time with his family and still coaches the Wildcat girls in the spring.
“I did feel like I had to step up and be a leader because I’ve been with the program, I was one of the oldest guys there,” he said. “I felt like I had to show them what it’s all about, how we’re supposed to practice hard, play hard, every minute. I think that I showed the younger guys that so, even when I’m gone, they can carry on the ideals.”
Navigating a coaching change can sometimes be difficult, but Oxford, evidenced by their league championship, seemed to pick up right where they left off with Bican at the helm. Both men assisted Townsend in helping turn his goal of a Division I soccer career into a reality.
“Our old soccer coach, for my sophomore and junior year, John Thaler, we always talked about which colleges because he played at Western Michigan, he was a D-I player, so he knew what it was like and what it took to get to the Division I level,” he shared.
“So, I really listened to him and did what I had to do physically and conditioning-wise. The new coach, Adam Bican, he really helped with the actual recruiting process, talking to the Oakland coach and stuff like that.”
Like at the high school level, collegiate men’s soccer is a fall sport. This year, however, because of COVID-19, the Horizon League postponed their season until the spring. The Golden Grizzlies opened their slate with a 5-0 victory over the Robert Morris Colonials on February 4, and will next be in action on Wednesday, February 10 against the Illinois-Chicago Flames in their first road game of the year at 2 p.m.
Townsend, who will live on-campus, plans to move in at Oakland over the summer, but will likely begin practicing with the team before then to acclimate to the collegiate game as quickly as possible. He is not sure what he plans to study yet, but, as a four-year Honor Roll student at Oxford High School, has shown the ability to succeed in the classroom in whichever field he ends up choosing.
The first commit in the Golden Grizzlies’ four-man 2021 class, Townsend was Pogue’s only in-state recruit – in fact, the only American – in the cycle. His three incoming classmates – Anthony Aromatario, Alessio Carbone, and Kai Garvey – all hail from Ontario, Canada.
“Zach is a local talent out of Oxford High School who was born bleeding Black and Gold as a Pioneer and Golden Grizzly legacy multiple times over,” Pogue said in a November 17 release announcing his signees. “He has huge upside and potential with great intangibles because you can’t teach 6-foot-4, 200 pounds. Zach was an absolute no-brainer signing for us and he will write his own chapter in the Townsend family legacy at Oakland.”
For those who may not know, Oakland’s athletic programs adopted the Golden Grizzlies nickname in 1998-99, when the school was completing their transition to NCAA Division I status. Prior to this, they were known as the Pioneers.
As for the 2021 Wildcats, Townsend is optimistic the returning cast can continue to build on the success he played a major role in creating.
“I’ll think they’ll do great since we had one freshman starting and one freshman coming off the bench and about eight or nine solid sophomores or juniors,” he said.
“Diego Medel and Cooper Caufman, I think they’re really going to take control of the program, they’re great players, even though they’re only freshmen.”
In addition to Caufman and Medel, Bican’s team is projected to return sophomores Jared Cypher, Colton Farwell, and Keegan Upham, and juniors Jack Brown, Dane Knop, and Kade Rushlow.
By Teddy Rydquist