HISTORIC ECLIPSE SELECT, MICHIGAN HAWKS RIVALRY BECOMES GREAT LAKES DERBY
Eclipse Select SC and Michigan Hawks have been around since the beginning. Founding members of the ECNL, both have spent years as two of the top clubs in the Midwest Conference and the league as a whole.
Their histories are intertwined with each other, reinforced with multiple conference clashes and postseason battles – many with championships decided by the result.
This weekend will write another chapter in these two clubs’ stories when Eclipse Select heads to Michigan Hawks for the first installation of the Great Lakes Derby.
“Historically, in the Midwest, Eclipse Select and Michigan Hawks have been two of the top clubs going back the last 20, 25 years,” said Mike Nesci, ECNL Girls Director of Coaching for Eclipse Select. “We inspire each other to be better, because we’re always looking at what the other is doing. It’s a healthy competition between two of the top clubs that have been in the ECNL since the beginning. These games push both clubs to be better and it inspires our kids and inspires our coaching staff to be able to be as competitive as possible.”
There may be no better indication of this rivalry than at the 2019 ECNL Girls National Playoffs. Both Michigan Hawks and Eclipse Select qualified for Champions League at the U16 level, and eventually won their groups, setting up a quarterfinal matchup between the clubs. That game was a back-and-forth affair with big saves and big goals. Knotted at 3-3, the game seemed destined for extra time, but then Hawks converted on a last-second chance to secure the win and move on to the National Finals, where the team finished as the U16 National Runner-Up.
To Doug Landefeld, that game was a microcosm of the history and rivalry between Eclipse Select and Michigan Hawks; tight games with great soccer and a very narrow margin of victory for one side.
“There will be great players, there will be great goalkeeping, there’ll be great goals,” said Landefeld, Michigan Hawks’ Executive Director. “Our two clubs really do a good job of preparing, motivating, and explaining the expectations to the kids. You know, there are games, and then there are games. This is the game. Everybody wants to be involved in this game, this fixture.”
During the 2020-21 campaign, Eclipse Select was once again highly successful in the postseason, with the U18/19 team winning a National Championship and the U13 team finishing second. Eclipse had an additional three teams qualify for the ECNL Girls National Playoffs and ultimately finished as the No. 6 club in the overall club rankings.
Michigan Hawks also saw success last season, as the organization culminated the season as the No. 18 club in the overall club rankings. Hawks saw four teams head to the ECNL Girls National Playoffs, including three as participants in the Champions League.
Both clubs have managed to continue that success into results this year. Eclipse Select and Michigan Hawks find themselves in the top third of the Midwest Conference in all age groups, and across the U15-U18/19 age groups, which will be facing off against each other this weekend, Eclipse Select sports a 23-6-2 record, while Michigan Hawks has a 19-6-2 record.
“We come into every year with the same expectations, even when things change,” said Michele Krzisnik, Director of Coaching for Michigan Hawks. “So even when the personnel changes and the players change, one thing that doesn’t change is that the expectations are set high. At the end of the day, that’s what makes us who we are.”
“We’ve been more consistent this year,” Nesci added. “Each team has to have their own identity, and they’ve all found different ways to develop that identity this year. All while keeping the culture of the club, at the forefront of their minds. We lost a key age group when the U18/19s aged out, who won the ECNL National Championship last season, but that consistency has helped us be competitive this year.”
Those past successes have helped fuel not only the clubs today, but also the rivalry. Krzisnik said for Michigan Hawks, the rivalry between her club and Eclipse Select has been passed down from age group to age group with stories of past contests and what to expect from the future.
“The girls are aware of the rivalry, through social media, videos that have been posted, and stories of past games,” Krzisnik said. “Those past games, that’s a little bit of motivation for them, to make their own moments. With these games and these age groups, a win puts them in a really good spot in the standings, and these kids are looking at that stuff on a daily basis, as are the parents. So that’s usually enough.”
It’s not limited to just the players, either. Both coaching staffs have mutual respect for each other through the years and years of meeting at the sidelines.
“There’s a camaraderie, a friendship, banter and a back and forth between the staff too,” Krzisnik added. “I’ve known them my whole journey through coaching, which is 20-plus years, and it’s the same for Doug too. We have a good friendship with them and a healthy competition with them. We all take our jobs seriously and we want to win the game, but there’s also that camaraderie, that respect, that friendship that exists between both coaching staffs, which I think is apparent to everyone, and I think that’s a part of it too.”
“As we’ve grown and this rivalry has grown, there’s a huge amount of respect between our coaches and our staff,” Nesci added. “There is that respect, but of course, each club wants to be a conference champion and finish as high as they can in the table. But as we’ve gotten older, we’ve definitely become friends. I call those guys friends. But even though they’re your friends, you always want to beat your friends, right?”
The Great Lakes Derby is one filled with mutual respect and a long history that keeps the rivalry moving forward. But come this weekend, both Michigan Hawks and Eclipse Select will be aiming to add another “w” to the win column and strengthen their case for a Champions League bid.