By Ron Rop
Special for Second Half
KENTWOOD – Simon Roennecke long will be remembered for the individual effort he turned in Saturday in the MHSAA Division 4 boys soccer championship game.
The high-scoring sophomore scored all four goals as he led Birmingham Roeper to a 4-2 victory over Grand Rapids Covenant Christian on a sunny, cool afternoon at Crestwood Middle School.
Roennecke’s four-goal game not only gave Roeper its first-ever MHSAA Finals title in any sport, but sent Covenant Christian home with its third straight runner-up finish in Division 4.
“I never could have dreamt this,” Roennecke said. “My touch was on today, and I felt it throughout the first few minutes of the game. I had one chance in the first half when I took on a few defenders, and after that I felt I could do that the rest of the game.”
“He’s a competitor; he’s a gamer,” Roughriders coach Ed Sack said of Roennecke. “He’s come up all year for us, as a sophomore, it’s incredible, and to score four in the state final … come on, please. He’s just a wonderful human being and soccer player.”
Roennecke got loose from the pressure of three Chargers defenders and fired a low, 20-yard shot that found the net just inside the goalpost.
However, the Chargers came right back and within seven minutes produced the equalizer. Junior Colin Riemersma knocked down a loose ball, was able to elude Roughriders goalkeeper Calvin Lind and tuck a shot into the open net.
Both teams had other scoring chances during a wide-open first half, but neither could break the 1-all deadlock after 40 minutes of play.
Covenant made some noise in the offensive end in the early minutes of the second half, but came away empty-handed.
Then Roennecke struck a second time. Again, he was able to beat a defender, get into range for a shot and fire a well-placed, low shot inside the far post. That gave the Roughriders a 2-1 lead.
“He’s just an opportunist,” Sack said. “He’s got guts and he’s a competitor.
“I think what a lot of people didn’t recognize is that the Oakland County leading goal scorer, Max Whipple, was playing defense the second half.”
Roennecke completed his hat trick with 11:41 left in the second half when he broke in on the left side and fired a shot that, again, snuck just inside the far post.
Minutes later, the score became 4-1 on another low shot from the left side.
“He played a good game today,” Chargers coach Mike Noorman said. “He was a hard guy to cover.”
Covenant Christian was able to cut the deficit to two goals with 5:32 remaining when senior Jared Minderhoud unleashed a hard shot that Lind could not handle cleanly. The rebound ended up on the foot of Riemersma, and he wasted no time hitting the back of the net.
From there, the Roughriders were able to keep the Chargers’ offense at bay and wrap up the title.
“It’s amazing. I mean, this is the first state championship we’ve ever had,” Roennecke said. “To win it takes a lot of hard work.”
While Roennecke was putting on a show up front, it was the stellar play of senior Michael Matthews in the back that kept the Chargers at bay for much of the afternoon.
“He is our third-best attacker, and the only game we lost was 7-6 in double overtime the third game of the season because I was selfish and had him an attacking mid,” Sack said. “I realized if you score six goals you can still lose a game unless you have a strong defense. He’s the anchor … he’s the rock back there.”
For the Chargers, it was a disappointing finish to another strong season.
Covenant Christian finished the season 21-4-2 and was undefeated in the River Valley Conference, which sent a team to the MHSAA Finals for the ninth straight season and 16th time in the last 17 years.
“I wanted so badly for these guys to be the champion of the year, but the goal that we had at the beginning of the year was to win a different crown, to play as hard as we could to represent our school in the name of Christ,” Noorman said.
“They are a great team,” said Sack, whose team finished 23-1. “What a great league they must play in, but our two leagues must be the two best in the state for D4.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Birmingham Roeper's Simon Roennecke works to get past a group of Grand Rapids Covenant Christian defenders Saturday. (Below) Roeper's Max Whipple battles the Chargers' Brock DeBoer for possession. (Click for all team and action photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Join Robby Elliott as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Boys Soccer Finals.