Fairy-tale Finish Fits Notre Dame Prep Fine

June 18, 2016

By Chip Mundy

Special for Second Half

EAST LANSING – Pontiac Notre Dame Prep senior midfielder Rosella LoChirco called her team’s victory Saturday in the MHSAA Division 2 girls soccer championship game “a Cinderella story.”

It’s doubtful that Cinderella would put up any sort of dispute.

Notre Dame Prep won its first MHSAA girls soccer championship with a 2-1 victory in an amazing eight-shot shootout with Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern at DeMartin Stadium on the campus of Michigan State University.

A team doesn’t normally win an MHSAA Finals championship by having a player score her first goal of the season to tie the game with less than a minute to go in regulation. If that is not enough of a “Cinderella story,” the best is yet to come.

Notre Dame Prep went to a sweeper to use as the goalkeeper in the shootout, a player who had not played in goal at any level in two years.

Junior Eileen Haig made two saves and two other Forest Hills Northern shots were off-target. Then, the winning goal in the eighth round of the shootout came from LoChirco, who buried the ball into the left side of the net to give her team a deciding 5-4 edge and set off a wild celebration.

After 100 minutes of game action and seven rounds of a shootout, a banged-up LoChirco ran to her spot in front of the net to take the shot.

“After we went back and forth so much, I was just ready to get it in the net and end the game,” LoChirco said. “I was a little apprehensive because I felt some muscle pulls during the game, so I was kind of nervous, but I saw a big, open spot in the net, and once it went in, it was craziness, jumping around and being happy.”

Forest Hills Northern had a chance to win it in the seventh shootout round, but senior Morgan O’Neill kept her team alive by beating the Forest Hills Northern goalkeeper to the left side.

As Payton Williams, Olivia Mears, Stephanie Maniaci, O’Neill and LoChirco were scoring for the Fighting Irish, Haig was doing her best in net against the Huskies. She made a save on the first shot of the shootout, and she said that helped her feel comfortable.

“It was amazing,” Haig said. “I could tell which way she was going, and I got some tips before I went in.”

Notre Dame Prep (21-1-3) used Haley Williams in goal during regulation and the two 10-minute overtime sessions. However, the plan all along was to pull her in the event of a shootout, a situation that coach Jim Stachura did not want.

“We didn’t want to get to that point,” he said. “We were pressing with three and four and only two in the back to press in the second overtime. We did everything we needed to do except put the ball in the back of the net more consistently. Their keeper had a whole lot to do with that.”

The original plan was to play freshman Morgan Verheyen in the net, but she was in Florida for an AAU volleyball tournament. That left Stachura and his staff guessing what to do in the shootout. He did not want to use Williams in goal because of a lack of experience in such situations.

“Eileen plays a high level in club soccer, and I think that settles the nerves,” Stachura said. “This is Haley’s first year as a starter, and sometimes you have to go with an instinct, and our gut instinct was to put Eileen in for that.”

Goalkeeper coach Ryan Tadajewski told Haig about the potential move at the end of regulation.

“He put the idea in my head, and it went out of my head in overtime,” Haig said. “I used to play in goal for my club team but stopped a couple of years ago. I knew I had to do it, and once I got in there it was complete calm.”

“I knew I could save some of them even though I hadn’t been in net in a while. I’m good at jumping and guessing.”

The shootout would not have happened without the late heroics of Payton Williams, a junior defender who scored her first goal of the season on a free kick with 41 seconds left in regulation and the Fighting Irish trailing 1-0. The free kick was set up by a hand ball by the Huskies.

As Williams prepared to take her shot from the far right spot near the top of the box, the left side of the goal was left open. Williams spotted it and drilled it into the open net.

“Payton stepped in and, with ice in her veins, she buried it,” Stachura said. “It was a great strike. As long as she had it on frame, I thought she’d have a good shot at it, and she absolutely buried it. It was a phenomenal strike, and it was nice to see it bulge in the back of the net.”

For Williams, the moment was something she never could have imagined.

“It was a great feeling, especially considering that it was my first goal and it came in the state championship game,” she said. “I saw that side was open, so I just kind of went for it. It was amazing to know that as time was winding down that we came back and did it.”

Notre Dame Prep controlled the play for the most part, but junior Natalie Belsito gave Forest Hills Northern a 1-0 lead in the 46th minute when she was able to control a bouncing ball in front of the net and direct it into the goal.

The Fighting Irish had a 16-8 edge in shots and a 12-2 advantage on corner kicks, but if not for that late free kick by Payton Williams, the Huskies might have won their first MHSAA championship. And they would have had their own “Cinderella story” as they only had one senior, were unranked and did not win their conference.

“I’m proud of them,” said Forest Hills Northern coach Daniel Siminski, whose team finished 16-4-4. “It’s a really big field, and it was really hot, and Notre Dame carried most of the play. We did a good job of keeping it tight. It was 41 seconds, so what can you say? It’s soccer.

“You can’t blame anyone. Not everybody gets to be here, and you flip a coin in a shootout. If I had a chance to do it again, I’d do it again. It’s difficult to get here, and we were unranked all season, so for the girls to get here is amazing. Nobody would have gambled on us.”

Junior Amanda Young, the Forest Hills Northern goalkeeper, kept her team in the game with seven saves, and a few of them were sensational.

“Two saves really stand out,” Stachura said. “On one of them, Celia Gaynor got in six yards out, and Young made a kick save with her foot. Another one was one that squirted out from eight yards out, and she got her hand on it and kept it out.

“If either of those goals go in, it’s a different game. Give credit to them. Penalty kicks is never a great way to lose, but when you’re on the winning side, it’s a lot of fun.”

Click for the full box score.  

PHOTOS: (Top) Notre Dame Prep players celebrate the game-tying goal by Payton Williams (19). (Middle) Eileen Haig, normally a sweeper for the Fighting Irish, moved into net for the shootout.

Williams Returns as Hudsonville Seeks Next Step in Pursuit of 1st Finals Title

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

April 19, 2024

HUDSONVILLE – It was a long eight months for Hudsonville’s Cadence Williams.

West MichiganThe junior standout tore the ACL in her right knee in October 2022 and was forced to miss last season, including the Eagles’ tournament run that saw them finish Division 1 runners-up.

“Last year was probably one of the hardest things I've been through,” Williams said. “It's hard to see the field through a different perspective and just looking at the different things that go on in your life personally.

“I don’t think I would’ve wanted anyone else by my side during that time as far as my teammates and coaches. I could not have done it without their support.”

Williams was playing in a club game with the Michigan Rangers when the injury occurred. She knew the severity immediately. 

“I was running and I changed direction, and right away I figured I knew what it was because I was the fifth person on my club team to do it,” Williams said. “I knew it was going to be a long road from there, but I could only think of the glass half-full and do what I could to get back.”

Hudsonville coach Holly VanNoord felt badly for Williams, especially after she had an immediate impact on the team as a freshman.

“It was super tough because we had so much momentum going because she had a great freshman year,” VanNoord said. “It's hard to impact the varsity level being a freshman, and I thought the way she started from the way she finished … it was just a compliment to the work she put in. We were excited going into sophomore year, so it was that much harder to hear the news when she tore her ACL.”

As difficult as it was for Williams to watch her teammates achieve success without her being able to contribute, VanNoord said Williams remained positive and continued to support them.

Kendall Aikens (15) maintains possession during last season’s Division 1 Final.“It shows a lot about her character because she constantly put the team in front of her personal emotions amongst her injury and never let it affect the team,” she said. “She continued to pour into others despite what she was going through, and that is what I’m proud of her most.”

The injury took its toll, but Williams took it in stride.

“It was physically demanding, but it was also challenging mentally,” she said. “But when I look back, I wouldn't change a single thing that I did to end up where I am today.”

Williams returned to the field late last summer, rejoining her club team. She’s thrilled to be back playing the game she loves and eager to help this year’s Hudsonville team duplicate last year’s success.

The Eagles advanced to their first Division 1 Final before suffering a disappointing 2-1 loss to Rochester Hills Stoney Creek.

“It feels wonderful (to be back playing),” Williams said. “I’m lucky that I have an opportunity to be on a team like this, and I couldn't wait for this season and to see how far we can go.

“I think we are very motivated, and we’re always looking for things to do to get better. I feel like every game we step on the field we just want to win.” 

It turned out to be a triumphant return for Williams in her first game this high school season. She scored two goals in a win over Plainwell.

“She had a great start, and she’s creating opportunities for us,” VanNoord said. “It’s been a great comeback season for her so far, and she is just a powerhouse. She works super hard, and it’s fun for me to see that her motivation is higher than ever.

“I think having that year off and being on the sidelines was super tough, but I think there are a lot of areas of growth and even just gratefulness. She can appreciate the game so much more, and it's probably easier for her to work hard just because she's motivated and fueled up more than ever.”

Williams is an important piece on a talented Hudsonville team currently ranked No. 1 in the state after a 5-0-1 start.

Other key returnees include seniors Kendall Aikens and Adelyn Raad, both four-year varsity players, senior keeper Reid DeGoede and sophomore Lauren Moylan.

Lauren Moylan steps into a kick last season. The Eagles, who graduated six seniors last spring, tied Forest Hills Central and opened Ottawa-Kent Conference Red play this week with a 4-0 win over Grand Haven.

“We had a tough start to our schedule, and we did that on purpose because we wanted a challenge,” VanNoord said. “We want to be one of the best teams in the state, so we have to compete against the best teams in the state. We’re happy with our wins, and even tying FHC made us a better team.”

Hudsonville finished 19-3-2 a year ago and is using the Finals loss as motivation.

“I think now that we got to the state Finals, the girls know what it takes,” VanNoord said. “I think last year they were excited to just get to the Finals, and I think losing put a bitterness in their mouth. They are more motivated than ever to get there, and they know they are going to have to work twice as hard because the Division 1 level is a constant battle.”

This year’s team is loaded with talent from top to bottom. The Eagles lean on a stout defense while possessing an array of playmakers.

“That’s what is so fun; they are very versatile,” VanNoord said. “From the backline of the goalkeeping all the way to the forwards. We just have so much talent and athleticism, and the girls are so willing to be coached and put their heads down and work.

“They are great kids, on and off the field, and culture is a big thing for us. Their buy-in has played a huge factor in our overall success.”

Williams believes this year’s team has the ability to make another extended postseason run.

“I think we have a lot of potential, and we’re still getting used to things and getting used to everyone on the team,” she said. “We play really well together, and hopefully we can make it just as far and hopefully pull out a win for a championship.”

Dean HolzwarthDean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for five years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS (Top) Hudsonville’s Cadence Williams (21) works to get a foot on the ball during a 2022 game against Byron Center. (Middle) Kendall Aikens (15) maintains possession during last season’s Division 1 Final. (Below) Lauren Moylan steps into a kick last season. (Top photo courtesy of the Hudsonville girls soccer program; middle photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)