FREELAND – The Ovid-Elsie and Ithaca boys soccer teams play each other at least twice a season as members of the Tri-Valley Conference, and often again during the postseason. Usually those games are meaningful – both regularly are among the best in their league as well as district title contenders.
But a gesture brought on by Wednesday’s seemingly statewide downpour likely will become one of the most memorable moments of this rivalry.
Ovid-Elsie jumped to 6-0 lead by halftime of the team’s Division 3 district semifinal at Freeland. With winds blowing rain sideways and 30-40 mph, chances of an Ithaca comeback were slim.
The Yellowjackets had another bad turn when one of their defenders was injured running down an Ovid-Elsie breakaway early in the second half. Play stopped, and the Marauders’ defenders stood together to block each other from the rain and wind.
Soon, they were joined by two Ithaca forwards. Then midfielders from both sides joined. Eventually, all 21 players still on the field, aside from the one who was injured, formed a tight huddle near Ovid-Elsie’s net. The huddle was completed when Marauders goalkeeper Thomas Powers slid in among the mass of legs and emerged in the middle of the group.
“One of my players told me they were just playing rock, paper, scissors in there,” Ovid-Elsie coach Craig Thelen said.
“Both teams respect each other, play hard against each other. We split this season, and we split wins almost every season.”
Separated by 25 miles, the Ovid-Elsie and Ithaca players know each other only through soccer, Thelen said. But the rivalry, while physical, is friendly. That mutual respect likely grew Thursday.
As the person who submitted this photo wrote, “Like they say, ‘It's not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game.’ This is how we should play a little more often.”
Ovid-Elsie eventually won 8-2, and faces Alma in the district final at 6 p.m. Saturday, also in Freeland.
Join Robby Elliott as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Boys Soccer Finals.