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.
Those 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.
“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.”
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.”
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 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.)
Be The Referee is a series of short messages designed to help educate people on the rules of different sports, to help them better understand the art of officiating, and to recruit officials.
Below is this week's segment – Soccer Overtime - Listen
Soccer games in the postseason have one big noticeable difference from the regular season. In the postseason, games cannot end in a tie – so games go to overtime and possibly a shootout.
Here’s how that works:
If the game is tied at the end of regulation, it will go to overtime, which is two 10-minute periods played in its entirety. There is no sudden death or golden goal winner. If there is a winner at the end of the 20 minutes, that team wins and advances to the next round. If there’s still a tie, we move to a shootout.
In the shootout, the teams alternate taking five penalty kicks. If it’s still tied after five kicks, they each kick until the tie is broken.
Oct. 17: Tennis Spin - Listen
Oct. 10: Blocked Kick - Listen
Oct. 3: Volleyball Double & Lift - Listen
Sept. 26: Registration Process - Listen
Sept. 20: Animal Interference - Listen
Sept. 13: Feet Rule on Soccer Throw-In - Listen
Sept. 6: Volleyball Jewelry - Listen
Aug. 30: Football Rules Similarities - Listen
Aug. 23: Football Rules Differences - Listen