Kalamazoo Christian Building on Lessons Learned during 2022 Finals Run

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

May 16, 2023

KALAMAZOO — During her freshman year, Elizabeth Netz was settling in on the Kalamazoo Christian junior varsity soccer team as a defender, gelling with her teammates with thoughts of one day playing on varsity.

Southwest CorridorThose days came sooner than the now-junior expected.

“When she was a freshman, we had no goalkeeper,” varsity head coach Jay Allen said. “JV had no goalkeeper either and would rotate kids in goal. One day I watched her in net and asked her if she would like to be the varsity goalkeeper.

“Elizabeth is very quiet and she probably, deep down inside, said ‘No.’ Since she didn’t outwardly say ‘No,’ I drafted her and she has been the varsity goalkeeper since her freshman year and has grown and kept us in games.”

Each game was a learning experience for Netz, who had no real experience in goal.

“I was very, very nervous,” she said of that first year. “I’m a very quiet, introverted person, but on the field I’m more confident to say ‘Hey, do this, do that’ and yell through the whole game.

“I definitely got better at yelling.”

After falling just short in the Division 4 championship game last season, a 1-0 heartbreaker to Royal Oak Shrine Catholic, Netz and her teammates are learning from that experience.

The Comets have allowed just 13 goals so far this year and take a 12-4 record into the final weeks of the regular season.

Senior Taylor Leonard, the team’s leading scorer with 25 goals, said a key is team cohesiveness.

“The team isn’t going to thrive off of one person,” she said. “Everybody has a super pivotal role, even if they don’t get in a lot, as long as they’re on the bench and encouraging.

“That’s huge for the overall success of the team.”

Allen said Leonard, who hopes to play soccer at Hope College, leads by example.

Taylor Leonard leads the Comets’ charge upfield. “When there’s an issue on or off the field, you see her leading the way,” he said. “She’s a little reserved, but for those of us who know her, she’s a go-getter.”

Sophomore Jordyn Bonnema sets up many of Leonard’s goals.

“Jordyn’s talent is she can see things happening before they even happen,” Allen said.

“When the ball’s played to her, Jordyn’s already seen where that ball’s going to be three plays later. She may get rid of the ball, but three plays later the ball’s back at her feet.”

Bonnema has come a long way from the days when her parents signed her up for youth soccer.

“I think I was really bad when I was young,” she said. “My parents said I usually just stood and watched the ball.”

She has blossomed since then, not only becoming a force in soccer, but earning first-team all-state honors this year in both golf and basketball.

One thing she said the team learned from last season’s run to the Final is “the work you put in at the beginning of the season is really something that really pays off at the end.

“We all push each other and have the integrity to hold each other accountable – to be able to know we’re all working toward the same goal. At the end of the day, you’re working for the people that are next to you.”

Netz said that encouragement is a big motivator.

“Letting people know it’s ok to make mistakes. We just need to turn around and give everything into it,” she said. “We play for the glory of the team and for the glory of God.”

Tough competition always pays off

Allen always sets a competitive schedule to get the players prepared for postseason play.

“We play a tough out-of-conference schedule,” he said. “We take (a few lumps). We’ve played against some stronger Division 3 teams that, although the score doesn’t reflect it, we played really well.

“Having a very young back line and lineup, it shows our weaknesses, which then we can then tweak.”

Kalamazoo Christian girls soccer coach Jay Allen.In spite of the “lumps,” Leonard said the team never gives up.

“In those games, we’re known to be relentless, even though we’re playing in these super competitive games with these strong teams,” she said.

“Everybody gives 110-percent effort. That also contributes at how well we do at the end of the season because we had to face many tough games throughout the season.”

The Comets have a three-pronged attack in Leonard, Bonnema and senior Chloe Lehman.

“When the three of them work together, it forces the rest of the team to fall into different spots,” Allen said. “We have some very good players like (senior) Annika Sytsma, (junior) Mackenzie Ling, (freshman) Izzy Suloff, (sophomore) Maysen Steensma, who all raise their level of play when the energy is high for the other three.

“This is truly a team. You can say Taylor, Jordyn and Chloe are the backbone, but the others are the muscle. They are what truly allows the other three to have the kind of success they have.”

Other seniors on the team are Maggie de Jong, Rylan Smith, Lillian Klooster and Halee Taylor.

Juniors are Sophia Nash, Phoebe Zeyl and Kate Watson.

The young team also includes sophomores Hannah Hoeksema, Annelise de Jong, Alaina Klooster, Rachel Miller and Kailey Triemstra plus freshmen Aubrie Lehman and Emilee Dyk.

Good fun, great lessons

All of Allen’s assistants are former K-Christian players and no doubt had a hand in some of the traditional pranks the girls play on him.

“It actually started with Jordyn’s mom (Candace Bonnema) when she Saran-wrapped my car and  covered it in flour 28 years ago,” Allen laughed.

“She leads the school in yellow cards in a season with nine, and she started everything. Every year since, somebody has done something to me.”

Jordyn Bonnema (7) navigates among Hackett defenders.The coach takes it all in good fun.

“Either they make a T-shirt of me with a funny face or they put raccoons in my car, and I’m deathly afraid of raccoons. I don’t know what they’re planning to do this year.”

Allen, who is a self-confessed Army brat, grew up in Madrid, Spain, and came to the United States when he was 18 to attend Western Michigan University.

He became an assistant to Comets coach Ron Smilanich 28 years ago, then took over the head coaching job 10 years ago.

He began coaching the boys team in 2010 and still keeps in touch with many former players.

“I average about three weddings and a baptism a year,” he said. “The impact I get to have on both the young ladies and men in this environment is fantastic.

Included in that group are current assistants Sarah Onderlinde, Emma Bertrand, Jenna Blackwell, Maegan Kilgus and Lauryn Mohney.

“One of the big things I like to do is teach them teamwork, teach them responsibility, being on time, working to those positions, how to deal with different personalities,” Allen said.

“One day, your boss is going to be ‘me,’ my generation, and you’re going to have to know how to deal with ‘me.’ How do you resolve a conflict on the team, how do you work together? We provide them with different tools.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Kalamazoo Christian keeper Elizabeth Netz puts the ball back in play during a game against Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep. (2) Taylor Leonard leads the Comets’ charge upfield. (3) Kalamazoo Christian girls soccer coach Jay Allen. (4) Jordyn Bonnema (7) navigates among Hackett defenders. (Action photos by Dan Cooke; head shot by Pam Shebest.)

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.)