GRAND LEDGE — Grand Rapids Christian’s journey to this season’s Division 2 title may have officially begun in August when practice started. But, in essence, the beginning of the season for the Eagles was October 2022.
That’s when Grand Rapids Christian, which won the Division 2 championship in 2021, lost in a District matchup to eventual state champion Holland Christian – and the fire for 2023 was officially lit.
“It was horrible,” Eagles senior Jackson Mindling said. “It was one of the worst feelings ever. I told myself that I didn’t want to feel that again, and I know everybody who was on the team last year felt the same way. We motivated each other.”
The Eagles completed their run at redemption, scoring three second-half goals to pull away for a 3-0 win over Mason on Saturday at Grand Ledge High School.
Grand Rapids Christian (18-5-2) captured its fourth Finals title in school history, joining the 2021, 1998 and 2001 squads as champions.
“These boys have been so scrappy through our run,” Grand Rapids Christian head coach Aric Dershem said. “This is nine games in a row (won) for us. We had to come back from some earlier losses. But they’ve come together so well. Such great heart and such love for each other.”
After a scoreless first half, Grand Rapids Christian took a 1-0 lead with 38:33 remaining on a goal by junior John Cassiday. Mindling fired a hard shot from the left side of the field that bounced off of the arms of Mason’s keeper in the box to Cassiday, who pounced on the rebound and put home a shot underneath the crossbar.
Just 2:45 later, the combination of Mindling and Cassiday struck again.
Mindling beat a defender to the ball near the sideline, dribbled toward the box and fed a pass right in front to Cassiday, who buried the chance into the wide-open net to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead with 35:48 to go.
Grand Rapids Christian put the game away with 5:59 remaining when freshman Liam Jansen was pulled down in the box and a penalty kick was awarded. Cassiday easily put away the chance for a hat trick and a 3-0 lead for the Eagles.
In its run to the title, Grand Rapids Christian didn’t take the easy route. The Eagles defeated No. 4 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central in a District Final (3-1), No. 3 Fruitport in a Regional Final (1-0) and then top-ranked and 2022 Division 3 champion Holland Christian in a Semifinal (2-1).
“We had to respond in the second half,” Dershem said. “We let them take us out of our game a bit in the second half. We were able to start to control possession. That early goal really shifted momentum for us.”
Mason, which was seeking its fifth Finals title overall and first since 2015, finished 13-3-5.
“Grand Rapids Christian is a phenomenal team,” Mason head coach Jacob Derby said. “At all times they had the ability to strike, and to strike quick. Coming out of the half, I think our guys weren’t back in the rhythm of the game, and they were. They came and put in two real quick. That kind of forced our hand to play a different brand of soccer that maybe we hadn’t all year. Credit to them.”
PHOTOS (Top) Grand Rapids Christian celebrates during Saturday’s Division 2 Final at Grand Ledge. (Middle) The Eagles’ Peter Borst gets some air while moving the ball downfield.
Join Robby Elliott as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Boys Soccer Finals.