Saginaw Valley State University had yet another successful season as NCAA Tournament trips are quickly becoming the standard for the Cardinals. The fifth straight tournament trip for SVSU included the first trip to the NCAA Division II Sweet 16 since 2014 and just three losses on the season were the fewest since the NCAA Runners-Up team in 2012. The Mighty Oak were very well represented on the team and some key components on this past season’s AFC Ann Arbor side played a similar role for the Cardinals.
Azaad Liadi is known by Ann Arbor fans simply as ‘AZ’, but nickname or no, his production speaks for itself. Liadi wore the number nine for SVSU and produced a team-high 22 points (in the NCAA, a goal counts as two ‘points’ and an assist counts for one) along with nine goals, another team-high. Liadi’s work was good enough to be named to the All-GLIAC First-Team as well as the D2CCA All-Midwest Regional Team. He hit peak form as the season went on with five goals in his final six games played. Just a junior, he has another year to play an essential role for the Cardinals. His form could easily be summed up by a quote from teammate Michael Shaikly, who said happily, “AZ went off this year. It was absolutely mental.” Ever the humble player, Liadi shared the credit as he talked about the AFC coaching staff, “I made a lot of strides in my game starting with the quality of coaching. Being around guys like Eric Rudland, Rod [Asllani], Boyzzz [Khumalo], and [Jeff] Shuk; with the time they all commit to the team it’s hard not to become a better player.” It was a brilliant season for Liadi, who enters his senior season next year, and while he calls it “mind blowing” that he is a soon-to-be senior, he’s excited to help the team with “whatever [they] need from me.”
Another integral part of the SVSU side was Michael Shaikly. With four goals for AFC this past summer, fans knew of his ability to find the net from the midfield. He did the same in Saginaw three times and chipped in another two assists. Shaikly joined Liadi on the All-GLIAC First Team and D2CCA All-Midwest Regional Team. The Englishman continued to produce for the Cardinals as his collegiate career comes to its conclusion. His teammates spoke glowingly of his season, Rosen saying, “Shakes this summer also was a huge player for this team: playing the majority of the minutes in the midfield for the club, scoring some big goals, and then also doing the same for us in the college season and captaining the team to the Sweet 16.” He said the AFCAA season aided greatly in his personal conditioning as well. “It was definitely the most fit I’ve been, from a physical perspective. Eric had us all in tip-top condition.” The hard work paid off well for Shaikly, who had an incredibly positive senior season for college and club.
Jake Rosen played another key role with his senior leadership, but his season was unfortunately cut short with an injury after nine matches played. Once a transfer from Schoolcraft, he embedded himself in the Cardinals match plans quickly. Rosen was able to play a role also in team leadership, as he said, “I honestly enjoy having younger teammates and helping them on and off the field. I believe it’s just what I owe to the game.” It’s a testament to the ‘team first’ attitude that Rosen has, and what has made him such a valuable component to the AFC sides he has played for over the past few seasons.
The final member of The Mighty Oak was Liam Travers. The man from Hartlepool played an essential role in providing an attacking spark off the bench. Travers played in all 20 matches for the Cardinals and provided four goals, three of those goals coming in matches he appeared in as a sub. It was a productive season for the Englishman, who had to deal with some adjustments in coming over to the States. “I remember when I first got to Ann Arbor and my first practice session [was] probably about 80 degrees. I was like, ‘wow,’ I was sweating buckets. And then, later on in the college season, we travelled to Northern Michigan and I don’t think I’ve ever played in colder weather in my life.” Despite the fluctuating weather patterns, ones that Michigan natives are all-too-familiar with, Travers said about his time, “I thoroughly enjoyed my summer in Ann Arbor, I met some great people and made some great memories.”
The common thread among all the players is the enjoyment they each had spending their summer in Ann Arbor. Rosen, a returning man with AFC, also had similarly high praise as he said, “The owners and staff always create a very good culture in the beginning of the season that make it easy for the players to buy into on and off the field.” Liadi gave a profound quote when talking about how much the club means to him, saying, “My experience was unparalleled, I would encourage any player with the opportunity to play there to take that chance and they won’t regret it; not only are you playing at a high level that will help you make strides as a player but it’s truly a big family across the board.”