HUDSONVILLE – Randy Heethuis has cut his coaching workload in half.
The longtime and successful Unity Christian soccer coach announced last month that he’ll be stepping down from the boys program after 28 years at the helm.
Heethuis is still coaching the girls squad this spring, however, after a health scare last fall altered his priorities.
Heethuis suffered a small stroke following the boys season in October and underwent heart surgery in November to close a hole in his heart.
“When something like that occurs in your life, it causes you to take a step back and reflect a little bit and reprioritize things,” said Heethuis, who guided the boys to five state championships and seven Finals appearances during his tenure.
“As far as I know it’s all good and I’m feeling great, but it’s one of those medical experiences that at my age causes you to reevaluate.”
Heethuis, who turns 60 in a couple months, said he also felt the desire to spend more time with his growing family.
His fifth grandchild was recently born, with another one on the way this fall.
“Just being more accessible to spend time with them and be able to help out with them and go to their games,” Heethuis said. “That was also a big piece of the equation, and as long as I’ve been doing this it gets tougher and tougher. I just felt like all things considered, and at my age, that it was becoming increasingly more difficult for me to give 100 percent to both programs.”
“It was an extremely difficult decision, but I just really felt that this is what I was being led to and it’s been a great run,” Heethuis said. “I’ve enjoyed 28 years doing that, and over the years I’ve really been blessed to have some fine families and awesome siblings to coach.
“It was a real blessing for me to coach that long, but I just felt like someone a little younger and with more energy might have an opportunity to put their stamp on the program and to carry the torch moving forward.”
Heethuis has been asked why he decided to keep coaching the girls and not the boys.
There wasn’t any strong reasoning behind it other than he began his career coaching the girls at Unity 33 years ago.
“I coached the girls for five years before taking on the boys, and this is a nice way to bookend a coaching career,” Heethuis said. “I’m not sure how long the good Lord will bless me to continue (with) the girls, but for the foreseeable future I would like to continue in that respect. Only time will tell.”
Heethuis (502-90-52) ranks among the winningest coaches in MHSAA boys soccer history and tops the list for girls coaches (579-102-38) having also led the Crusaders girls to 10 Finals championships.
The girls opened this season with a tough 1-0 loss to a talented Hudsonville squad, but are unbeaten since.
“I was pleased with how hard our girls competed and played hard and battled, but unfortunately, we came up one goal short,” Heethuis said. “Those are the types of games, as a coach, you hope will make you better moving forward.”
Unity, which is led by returning players Morgan Scholten (goalkeeper), Brianna Rose, Jessie Postma, Jenna Schreiber, Laura Moberg, Jade Taylor, Kyah VanKoevering and Molly Vollink, reached the Division 3 Semifinals last season before losing to Boyne City in a shootout.
“Last year this group snuck up on some people and had a great year,” Heethuis said. “The only game we lost was in the state Semifinal and we were two or three minutes away from making it to the Finals.
“I think we have to try and build on that and hopefully the girls have a hunger for getting back there and wanting to do that again and take it a step further.”
Rose, a junior, believes this year's team can replicate last year's success.
"We have a lot of potential," she said. "We have great additions and returning girls on the team. So far, you can see the motivation in everyone from last season’s tough loss. Everyone on the team shows up and works hard not only for themselves, but more importantly for each other.
"We want to win another state title. Who wouldn’t? And hopefully we can make the season last as long as it can. What I think sets our team apart from the rest is the bond and hard work we do for ourselves and each other with the main goal of honoring our Lord."
The Crusaders have a balanced mix of returning players and newcomers who will attempt to keep the program’s commitment to excellence intact.
“It’s early, but the chemistry on this team is really good and it’s a fun group to be around,” Heethuis said. “We will hopefully take it one game at a time and get better as the season goes on, because there’s real potential there to get it all put together by the end of the year. We hope to do it sooner than later.”
Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four 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) Unity Christian soccer coach Randy Heethuis and his boys team prepare for the kickoff of the 2018 Division 3 Final. (Middle) Heethuis accepts the Division 3 championship trophy with his girls team in 2016. (Click for more from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
For Sebi Roy, there’s definitely been no place like home.
Just as last season started, Roy moved back to his hometown of Clarkston to play high school soccer after spending roughly 1½ years training with Major League Soccer’s Cincinnati FC as part of the MLS Next program.
Going from training with a professional organization to high school soccer might seem like a major downgrade to the average soccer follower, but it hasn’t been the case at all for Roy.
“It’s great to go from a super high skill ceiling where every touch matters, to something a little bit more free,” he said. “I know a lot more people and it’s a great way to get confidence. I didn’t get a whole lot of training in Cincy, and back here I get so much more individual training in general. Getting the touches and getting development was crucial.”
Ever since Roy came back to Clarkston last year, opponents have certainly wished he stayed in Cincinnati.
It’s especially been the case this year, as Roy, a center forward, has been just about unstoppable.
The 6-foot-3 Roy entered Thursday with 15 goals and five assists over 11 games despite being the constant focal point of opposing defenses and playing in arguably the state’s toughest league, the Oakland Activities Association Red.
Against 2022 Division 1 champion Rochester Adams, Roy scored five goals in a 7-3 win.
Clarkston head coach Ian Jones said he hadn’t even met Roy before last year, then heard rumors from others on that team he was coming back in town.
Still, Roy showed up after tryouts had ended, so Jones had Roy go through a personal two-day tryout.
It obviously didn’t take long for Jones to realize Roy was too good to not have on the team, and that was reinforced during the first game last year when he scored a goal on his first touch of the game. Roy went on to make the Division 1 all-state first team as Clarkston finished 16-5-2 and reached the Regional Finals.
Jones, who has professional experience playing in England and has coached for more than 20 years in the United States, said Roy definitely has the tools to be a professional player.
“I’ve never seen anything like him,” he said. “He’s got unbelievable touch. He’s left-footed and right-footed. He’s got vision and strength. It’s fun to watch him, forget coaching him. You find yourself watching him in games because he’s so good.”
Roy’s father is Travis Roy, who in 1991 won the state's Mr. Soccer Award playing for Livonia Stevenson before going on to play in college at Wisconsin.
Also on the Clarkston team this year is Roy’s brother, Fagan, who is a freshman.
Sebi Roy said his dad started him in soccer “as soon as he could walk,” and he has loved it so much that he hasn’t dabbled in any other sport.
Despite already getting a small taste of what professional soccer would be like, Roy said he prefers to play in college and is still in the process of determining the best spot.
Asked if there’s any top professional player he likes to emulate, the answer was a hard no.
“I want to be my own person,” he said.
Thanks to Roy’s production and a core of other talented players who could be playing at the next level, Clarkston earlier this month achieved a program first – the No. 1 ranking in Division 1.
Clarkston (9-1-1) is down to No. 4 this week after losing its first game last Thursday, a 2-1 decision at now-No. 2 Oxford.
There could soon be a rematch, as Clarkston and Oxford are in the same District in the upcoming Division 1 tournament.
If the teams meet again, Oxford will know the main player to stop – and Clarkston will know the main player to ride as it pursues what would be a first state title in boys soccer. (The Wolves were Division 1 runners-up in 2007).
“He’s the most dangerous player we’ve seen by far,” Oxford coach Adam Bican said. “His size, his athleticism, and his IQ is off the chart. He’s so dangerous, and he has one of the better shots I’ve seen. He’s a pure finisher.”
Keith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties
(Photos by Keith Dunlap.)