'Soccer School' Cheers Best Football Run

November 16, 2016

By Dean Holzwath
Special for Second Half

HUDSONVILLE – When people mention Hudsonville Unity Christian, the first thing most think about is the unparalleled success the school has experienced in boys and girls soccer.

The two programs have combined to win 14 MHSAA Finals with the girls capturing a remarkable 10 from 2005-2016.

However, another sport at the Ottawa County school is beginning to make a name for itself and gain attention.

The football team collected its first Division 4 Regional title last Friday with a 36-16 victory over Lake Odessa Lakewood.

The Crusaders (10-2) will appear in their first MHSAA Semifinal on Saturday against Grand Rapids Catholic Central (11-1).

This is their Unity Christian’s eighth appearance in the postseason, and their 10 wins thus far is a school record.

“Football is getting more of a notice now,” Unity senior quarterback Mitch Dykstra said. “Soccer has always been good at Unity and always will be, but football is becoming more prominent. It’s good to see.”

Unity’s deepest run in the MHSAA tournament wasn’t necessarily expected, especially after the team dropped two of its last three games to end the regular season.

The Crusaders won a school-record six straight games to open the season, but lost to Zeeland East (12-7) in Week 7 and Ottawa-Kent Conference Green champion Byron Center (40-19) in the regular-season finale.

Unity tied for second in the conference standings.

“We played hard, and in both games we battled,” said the Crusaders’ Craig Tibbe, the only head coach the program has had since its inception in 2003.

“We did some OK things, and took a few positives from that. We played one of the better teams (Byron Center) in the area that last week, but we gave good effort and moved the ball.”  

The postseason started with a 24-6 victory over Three Rivers and a trip to the District Finals, but that’s where most prognosticators thought Unity’s season would end.

The Crusaders clashed with unbeaten Benton Harbor, a team loaded with size, speed and athleticism – and a mismatch in most people’s eyes.

“We were a little nervous about the unknown,” Tibbe said. “How good are they?”

Unity pulled off perhaps one its biggest wins in school history, a 35-34 overtime thriller. The Crusaders were moving on.

“It was a great game, and they were tired when we got home, but what a fun night,” Tibbe said. “They had a lot of skilled athletes, but we hung on and walked out of there with the W. Going forward, that definitely showed them that we could play with these guys. Even though we didn’t have the speed and size, we could go in there and battle.”

Last season, Unity possessed one of its better teams. It advanced to the Regional Finals for the first time before succumbing to eventual Division 4 champion Zeeland West.

The Crusaders lost several key starters from that squad, but found capable replacements. Still, Tibbe was unsure how this season would unfold.

“This season has been very special and a lot of fun,” he said. “You just never know from year to year how it’s going to go and these kids have surprised us, but what’s not surprising is how hard they’ve played week in and week out to survive.

“We look at it as why is it this way this year and not other years? We felt like we had a couple teams in the past that were pretty solid, but we ran into eventual state champs early.”

What hasn’t been mentioned is the Crusaders’ lack of numbers and depth. Throughout the season, they’ve dressed only 22 or 23 on the varsity.

Six starters and eight in all, including Dykstra and running backs Parker Scholten, Alec Headley, Austin Shaban and Luke DeGroot, play both offense and defense.  

“They’ve been thrown into the fire and forced to do that when they start in our program,” Tibbe said. “It carries over, and they learn to take a little pride in the fact that this is what we do and we try to do the best we can with it.”

Unity senior tight end/linebacker Cole DeVries said there were doubts as to whether this team could surpass last year’s win total.

“We lost our whole lines, and not a lot of people believed that we could go as far as last year,” he said. “It’s been a journey, but definitely my favorite year. It’s the farthest we’ve ever been at Unity, and we’re making history. We’re doing a lot of things that Unity hasn’t done, and it’s been a blast for me.”

Added Dykstra: “I can’t describe how amazing this season is. No one believed in us, and it has pushed us to strive for greatness and that’s what we’ve done. We’re always undersized, and other teams have more players and athletes, but we work well together and we want to work hard for each other.”

Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him at[email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Hudsonville Unity Christian players celebrate during a game this season. (Middle) The Crusaders' Alec Headley (5) finds an opening during the playoff win over Benton Harbor. (Photos by Larry Treece Jr./LTpics.com.)

Record-Setting Viney Gained Lifelong Confidence at Marine City

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

July 17, 2024

Olivia Viney didn’t have to look far for inspiration while taking on the challenge of applying to veterinary school.

Made In Michigan and Michigan Army National Guard logosThe 2015 Marine City graduate and record-setting placekicker simply drew from her own experience as a high school athlete.

“It just really taught me that I could do hard things,” Viney said. “I was very involved when I was in school. I did soccer, theater, travel soccer and then football. Especially with football, I learned that if I put my mind to it, I can do it. That helped me to excel in undergrad. When it came time to get accepted to vet school, it was like, ‘This is what I have to do,’ and I did it. That was very confidence-building. It taught me that I really can do hard things.”

Viney, who graduated from Saginaw Valley State University in 2019 and Michigan State Veterinary School in 2023, is now working as an associate veterinarian at Deporre Veterinary Hospital in West Bloomfield. 

Accomplishing her goals is nothing new to Viney, and not at all a surprise to those who watched her come through the Mariners athletic program.

“She was very serious, she was focused and she was dialed in,” said Dave Frendt, who coached Viney in both football and soccer at Marine City. “She knew what she wanted to accomplish, and she set out to do that. She was a fierce competitor and very driven. She was a good leader in that way where she was kind of feisty, but the team would follow that.”

Viney was an all-state soccer player for the Mariners, leading them to a pair of District titles and a Macomb Area Conference Gold title during her four years as a varsity player. It’s the sport she grew up playing, but the one she was most known for after graduation was football. American football.

The 5-foot-1-ish center attacking midfielder found herself in the MHSAA football record book after hitting all seven of her extra point attempts in the Mariners’ 2013 Division 4 Final victory against Grand Rapids South Christian.

“I think it makes sense,” she said. “There were lots of great soccer players, even that I played with. Great players that had gone through school, so I don’t think it’s weird that people remember me for that. When I talk with people, they’ll connect the dots – ‘Oh, you played football.’

“I was more accomplished as a soccer player and had more accolades. But I’m prouder of my football accomplishments, because it was really setting a pathway for girls that wanted to get into that. It’s so much more common now, or accepted. Even though it’s been almost 11 years since we won at Ford Field, I’m so proud of high school Olivia and what she did, the courage she had. She wasn’t scared of anything.”

Viney graduated from MSU’s Veterinary School in 2023. Viney joined Marine City’s football program as a sophomore, playing on the junior varsity squad. While she was there only to kick, she was all in when it came to practicing.

“Coach (Joe) Fregetto made me do tackling drills and drills in the mud – I really did earn my spot on the team,” Viney said. “I think it was mostly because he didn’t know what to do with me, so I guess just do everything that the guys do.”

She handled varsity kicking duties the next two years, setting the school record in 2013 for most extra points made during a single season – a record that still stands. Former Mariners coach Ron Glodich said that Viney actually never missed an extra point that season, as the four failed attempts were never even kicked.

It was her performance in the Division 4 Final that gained her statewide acclaim, as she hit 7 of 7 attempts, tying a record for most extra points made in a Finals game. It stood until a pair of kickers hit eight in 2022.

One record that never will be broken, however, is Viney becoming the first female to score a point at the Finals.

“Everything was so surreal, I was so nervous,” Viney said. “One of my most vivid memories was that day, or maybe the day before, Coach Glodich said, ‘Just so you know, when you get to the field, the goal posts are two feet narrower on each side. But that doesn’t matter if you kick it in the middle.’

“We got there and watched the team before us so we could get used to it, and I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re so narrow.’ … Seeing myself up on the big screen was kind of almost a little embarrassing, because I knew people were talking about me being the girl. But once we were in the game, it was a lot like any other game. I was just waiting for my turn to go on the field and do my job.”

Viney later was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” – ironically, right below current U.S. Women’s National Team forward Mallory Pugh – but she wasn’t looked at any differently by her teammates, and she wouldn’t have wanted to be.

“That team was all about sacrifice for the team,” Frendt said. “For them to realize, ‘None of us can do what she does, so we better embrace it, because no one else can do it.’ They really made her feel like part of the team. They wanted to protect her, too. But she was tough. She wasn’t going to take anything.”

Viney went to SVSU to study biology and played for its club soccer team. During her time there, she volunteered at an animal shelter and made the decision she wanted to help animals in her career. She works in general practice at Deporre, and would eventually like to work in shelter medicine.

She and her husband Matt, who were married in May, live with their three dogs. She’s not far from home, and in the spring of 2023 she visited Frendt’s college and career readiness class to speak with students at her alma mater. Her presentation and the attention to detail and hard work she put into it, Frendt said, blew his students away. Not that it surprised him.

“That’s poured into her life after sports,” he said of her work ethic. “She just kept plugging away. She’s awesome.”

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PHOTOS (Top) Marine City’s Olivia Viney kicks at the 2013 11-Player Football Finals, also during her spring soccer season, and cares for one of her patients as an associate veterinarian. (Middle) Viney graduated from MSU’s Veterinary School in 2023. (Photos courtesy of Olivia Viney.)