GIRLS SOCCER DIVISION 3 FINALS: Relentless Unity Christian dominates in 11th state title win over Grosse Ile
BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
EAST LANSING – Dominating.
Top-ranked Hudsonville Unity Christian wrapped up a postseason where they didn’t allow a goal with another – dominating – effort in a 3-0 shutout of 10th-ranked Grosse Ile in the Division 3 state finals at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Stadium.
It marked the Crusaders’ 19th trip to the Final Four, 15th appearance in the state championship match and 11th state title overall – all second all-time to Madison Heights Bishop Foley.
“It means a lot for these girls because they never won (a title),” said 34th-year head coach Randy Heethuis. “We haven’t won since (2016) and what’s great is for these seniors because they’ve been so close and were able to win it this year. We lost last year in the finals and (two) years ago we lost in the semifinals in a shootout. So it’s nice for them to experience all of this.”
Unity Christian came out of the gate like a swarm of hornets attempting five shots and one on frame before the game was even three minutes old. The Crusaders continued in attack mode for the whole game were able to score one late in the first half and two early in the second half to put the game away.
Unity Christian (21-1-2), which had not lost since April 14 to Division 2 Richland-Gull Lake (1-0), continued to attack the Red Devils goal with relentless swarms and wound up with a 36-1 total shots edge, 16-0 with shots on frame, and 7-1 on cornerkicks.
For the season, Unity Christian outscored its opponents 113-8.
Unity Christian, which lost in the state finals last season to Williamston and in a shootout in the state semifinals in 2021, ended its seven-year drought with its stellar tournament effort where the Crusaders outscored the opposition 35-0.
Grosse Ile became its final victim. Unity Christian held a 20-1 shots edge in the first half and it was the 20th attempt which finally broke the stalemate.
Junior Stella DeSmit volleyed home a chip cross into the box from junior Emily Timmer and scored from six yards out with 2:54 remaining in the half.
The Crusaders scored twice in the first 16 minutes of the second half to distance themselves and iced the 11th state title.
Senior Brianna Rose, pushed up in the attack from the backfield, booted home the second goal from two yards out following a cornerkick from sophomore Ava Lutke with 30:13 remaining in the contest.
Senior forward Jenna Schreiber scored the third goal off a pass from DeSmit.
“We have such a talented senior class and it was nice to see two seniors score two of our three goals,” said Heethuis. “This whole team worked so hard and they play so well together. We are deep and so we get a lot of players into games and I think we really do wear teams down a little bit.”
Unity Christian senior Morgan Scholten and back junior Anna Nehof didn’t have to make a save for the Crusaders’ 16th shutout of the season and help lowering the team goals-against-average down to a final 0.34.
Grosse Ile (17-3-4) only had one scoring attempt on Unity Christian’s defense with 18:24 left in the first half on a free kick from 20 yards out on the right side of the box. The shot sailed off the outside of the goal and the Red Devils struggled to generate much after that point, rarely crossing into the final third of the field.
“We didn’t give them many looks, and that’s a credit to our three defenders back there,” said Hethuis. “When we don’t have the ball we want everyone to defend. I think that’s one of the keys to our success.”
Grosse Ile knew what they were up against in its first state finals appearance – one of state’s overall premier programs over the last quarter century.
“They are a very good team and we knew that coming in,” said Grosse Ile coach Kyle Lesperance. “They are so dangerous with a lot of very good players. And they have a great coaching staff. You don’t make it to the finals (11 times) and not have a great coaching staff.”
Grosse Ile attempted to slow down the Crusaders’ high-powered attack, playing several players in the backfield and not allowing too many close-range scoring opportunities. It worked for nearly a half.
“I thought we did a great job (clogging) up the middle of the field in the first half and forcing them to taking shots a ways from the goal. But it’s unfortunate that we gave up the goal late in the first half,” said Lesperance. “Then they came out and scored two more early in the second half and for us our opportunities were few and far between.
“They just come at you at waves,” continued Lesperance of Unity Christian. “They play possession, direct, they run at you with diagonal runs, they flick the ball, pass well and they keep on subbing players in and out. They are very deep and they just create so many chances.”