BY DAN STICKRADT
MASON — When they were fifth graders, the current seniors on Grand Rapids South Christian’s girls soccer team made pacts to someday reach the state finals. The Sailors not only lived up to that wish of seven years ago, but depart as state champions.
South Christian, the top-ranked team in the Division 3 coaches’ poll, edged No. 2-ranked Pontiac Notre Dame Prep, 1-0, Saturday in the D-3 state finals at Mason High School for its first state crown.
“We have a great group of leaders. They said as fifth graders when they went to the state championship that they wanted to do it themselves (in high school) and to have it happen is a dream come true,” said sixth-year Grand Rapids South Christian coach Jason Boersma. “There team effort as a whole, the team defense was phenomenal.”
South Christian (22-1-3) watched rival Hudsonville Unity Christian win seven of the last eight D-3 state titles and play in nine state title games in 11 years. This season, the Sailors finally got over the hump to finish on top.
“We finally beat some teams to get here, a (Unity Christian) team that has been so dominant,” noted Boersma. “For us to finally get past them and get here and win the state championship is a testament to how hard these girls have worked to realize this dream.”
In similar fashion, the seniors and juniors at Notre Dame Prep have helped turn the Irish from an average team into a state title contender. Last season, the Irish made their first Final Four since 2000 and this year played in their first state finals match.
Notre Dame Prep came up just short this season, failing to cash in on a few scoring chances in a game where chances were at a premium.
“Last year we finally got past (Birmingham Detroit) Country Day in districts and got to the semifinals and this year we got all the way to the finals. We were hoping for a better result but we just came up short,” sighed Notre Dame Prep goalkeeper Alex Arnoldy. “Our goal was to take it (one step) further this year and play in the state championship game.”
Notre Dame Prep actually held a 10-6 shots edge, including 6-3 edge with shots directly on frame. The Irish simply could not get the ball past South Christian goalkeeper Emily Blankespoor.
Behind six saves, Blanekenspoor notched her team’s 18th shutout of the season. South Christian (22-1-3) only surrendered nine goals all season and did a fine job of shutting down Notre Dame Prep junior Taylor Timko, the state’s top junior who has 89 career goals in three seasons.
Boersma said stopping Timko was a huge port of the state championship puzzle.
“She’s a great player. She hit a couple of rockets, including a point-blank shot from 12 years out,” noted Boersma. “We talked about all day about forcing her to go to her right and she still got three good cracks with her left. We didn’t want that to happen.
“I think we really intimidated her until after we scored,” continued Boersma. “I thought our defense did a great job on them for the most of the game.”
In a closely-contested battle, it was South Christian which scored in the 64th minute. Freshman Cierra Buist beat her mark in the right corner and sent a low cross over to Kayla Diemer. The senior cut it back and laced a left-footed shot that curled into the right corner of the goal from 10 yards out.
The Sailors’ stingy defense made it stand and delivered the school its first state championship in girls soccer.
“Just being here was an amazing adrenaline rush,” smiled Diemer. “Winning the state championship…a dream come true.”
The Fighting Irish (21-3-2) were held scoreless for only the second time this season. Notre Dame Prep outscored the opposition 81-18 this season.
“We left a few goals out on the field. We had some great chances,” said Notre Dame Prep coach Jim Stachura. “We tuck one of those in and it’s a completely different game. Hats off to South Christian, because they are a really good team. They were just bigger and stronger than we were out there and took it to us at times. We were gassed at the end of the game.”
South Christian held an 8-2 advantage on cornerkicks. Arnoldy was active at clearing those crosses and finished with two saves, including a point-blank range shot in the ninth minute that she shove3d above the crossbar.
“We had a great run and our seniors have stepped up all season to lead us here,” said Stachura, who will return 16 of 25 players next season. “We’ll miss them and they’ll be hard to replace, but we’re already talking about next year.
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