BY DAN STICKRADT
WEB AND CONTENT EDITOR
EAST LANSING – Sometimes a team can simply have another team’s number.
Kalamazoo Christian more than had the number for Clarkston Everest Collegiate. The Comets made the Mountaineers’ net a bullseye.
Kalamazoo Christian attempted six shots over the first 29 minutes of play and four were on frame – and each of those four shots found their way to the back of the net.
The seventh-ranked Comets led 4-0 at the half and went on to earn the Division 4 state championship with a 5-0 victory over unranked Clarkston Everest Collegiate at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Stadium.
“To be here five times (in the last decade) and to finally be able to hoist the championship trophy for the first time since 2008 is a great feeling,” smiled Kalamazoo Christian coach Jay Allen, whose squad lost in the state finals last year to Royal Oak Shrien Catholic, 1-0. “We’ve had great support from the Kalamazoo Christian community and Kalamazoo community (in general). It’s fantastic. I don’t really have words to describe. The feeling of happiness we have now.”
Kalamazoo Christian lost in the state finals in four of the last six years (there was no season in 2020) and was making its 12th appearance in the Final Four in school history. The Comets also won state titles in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008 while finishing as the state runner-up in 2002, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
Senior forward Taylor Leonard received a long pass from junior Sophia Nash, turned into empty space and uncorked a shot from 25 yards out that sailed just under the crossbar just 2:12 into the contest. That goal proved to be the eventual game-winner, even though it was only in the third minute.
“That was the game plan. We need to get up (for the game) and get ahead early right away. That was our plan,” said Leonard. “It’s always easier to play with the lead so to get those goals early helped a lot.”
The Comets weren’t done.
Leonard’s cross from the right corner of the field near the flag sailed into the box and an onrushing Nash buried a shot from 12 yards away with 18:23 to go in the half for the 2-0 lead.
Sophomore Jordyn Bonnema got caught in the scoring act with a chip shot in the box following a cornerkick from senior Chloe Lehman with 17:33 still to play.
Kalamazoo Christian added its fourth goal of the half with 14:51 still to play when Leonard scored her second goal of the contest off a long pass from Bonnema.
Early in the second half Leonard, who is headed to NCAA Division III to play soccer, in the fall, capped the scoring with her hattrick. Senior Annika Sytsma broke free along the end line and her cross sailed through traffic over to Leonard, who left no doubt with her 106th and final goal of her high school career.
“It means so much,” said Leonard, holding back tears of joy. “We had our freshmen season cancelled due to Covid and last year we came her and lost. So to come here and win tonight meant the world. We were working so hard all season and we left everything on the field tonight.”
Allen’s Kalamazoo Christian offense outscored the opposition 29-1 in the postseason and 97-23 overall. Of the Comets six losses, only one was to a D-4 school.
“Our offense speaks for itself. We finish very well,” added Allen. “And Taylor Leonard leads us up there. Three more goals today and over 100 for her career. We’re proud of her, mainly for her leadership. The goals are good. You can’t teach the leadership skills that Tyalor has and the drive that she has. She made everyone else buy into what we want to (accomplish).”
Everest Collegiate entered the postseason under five-hundred but made some late-season adjustments and made a Cinderella-type run to the state title game. The Mountaineers never gave up and even held a 13-11 shots advantage, including 10-6 with shots on frame, but several of those attempts came well after the game was decided. Everest also held a 6-5 edge on cornerkicks.
“We played really hard today and we have several girls that play multiple sports so we had kind of turn them into soccer players in order to get to this spot which we did,” offered Everest Collegiate coach Richard Cross. “We play in a really tough league with (Royal Oak) Shrine and (Madison Heights) Bishop Foley and the like and that really helps prepare us.
“Give credit to Kalamazoo Christian. They scored when they had to and they played a great game,” continued Cross. “We had some chances and opportunities, but we just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
Junior Elizabeth played the first 70 minutes and sophomore Kailey Triemstra the final 10 minutes and the two combined for 10 saves for the team’s 15th shutout on the campaign.
“That’s a tribute to Elizabeth Netz and a really tough defense. The freshmen and sophomores we had back there really came through. They really held Everest to minimal shots (in terms from close distance). We were just dominate back there.”
Senior Lilah Chow made two saves for Everest Collegiate (8-8-1), which is a unified team with Bloomfield Hills Sacred Heart Academy.