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.)

Performance of the Week: Northville's Helena McLellan

June 2, 2023

Helena McLellanHelena McLellan ♦ Northville
Junior ♦ Soccer

McLellan, a standout midfielder, scored twice in Northville's 3-0 win over Belleville on May 22 to clinch the overall Kensington Lakes Activities Association championship. The Mustangs earned the opportunity to play in that game by claiming the KLAA West title with an 11-0-3 record, and they're 15-0-4 heading into Saturday's Division 1 District Final against Livonia Stevenson. 

An accomplished club soccer player, McLellan chose to compete for her high school team this spring for the first time and helped Northville to a No. 2 ranking at the end of the regular season after the Mustangs finished Division 1 runner-up a year ago. Belleville was ranked No. 8 in the final coaches association poll, and McLellan followed up her goals against the Tigers with another in Northville's 3-1 District Semifinal win over Farmington Hills Mercy on Wednesday. 

@mhsaasports ⚽️POW: Helena McLellan #performanceoftheweek #soccer #goals #scored #northville #mustangs #conferencechampions #MHSAA #highschoolsports #tiktalk #interview #TikTok#mistudentaid #fyp ♬ Beat Automotivo Tan Tan Tan Viral - WZ Beat

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2022-23 Honorees

May 25: Mitchel Luck, Linden lacrosse - Report
May 18:
Ahava Le Febre, Holland tennis - Report
May 11:
Gracie Maloney, Macomb Dakota softball - Report
May 4:
Braxton Brann, Ann Arbor Huron track & field - Report
April 27:
Owen Patton, Vestaburg track & field - Report
April 20:
Lilly Damm, Millington softball - Report
April 13:
Larissa Huffman, Mackinaw City track & field - Report
April 6:
Darius Acuff, Detroit Cass Tech basketball - Report
March 23:
Regan Finkbeiner, Hemlock basketball - Report
March 16:
Alaina Yaney, Grand Ledge gymnastics - Report
March 9:
Braeden Davis, Dundee wrestling - Report
March 2:
Gabriel Sanchez-Burks, Ann Arbor Pioneer swimming - Report
Feb. 23:
Grace Sobczak, Marquette swimming - Report
Feb. 16:
Kaitlynn Demers, Gibraltar Carlson competitive cheer - Report
Feb. 9:
Indya Davis, West Bloomfield basketball - Report
Feb. 2:
Braydon Sorenson, Onekama skiing - Report
Jan. 26:
Shayna Hruska, Iron Mountain wrestling - Report
Jan. 19:
Kayla Tafanelli, Warren Woods-Tower bowling - Report
Dec. 20:
Brenden Paden, Riverview Gabriel Richard hockey - Report
Dec. 16:
Tuff Scott, Holton bowling - Report
Dec. 9:
Macey Fegan, Standish-Sterling basketball - Report
Dec. 2:
Treyton Siegert, Gladwin football - Report
Nov. 24:
Lily Witte, Dexter diving - Report
Nov. 17:
Navea Gauthier, Shelby volleyball - Report
Nov. 10:
Derek Huisman, Holland Christian soccer - Report
Nov. 3:
Thomas Westphal, New Baltimore Anchor Bay cross country - Report
Oct. 27:
Justin Wickey, Colon football - Report
Oct. 20:
Owen DeMuth, Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood tennis - Report
Oct. 13:
Mia Melendez, Ann Arbor Greenhills golf - Report
Oct. 6:
Shawn Foster, Grand Ledge football - Report
Sept. 30:
Hannah Smith, Temperance Bedford swimming - Report
Sept. 22:
Helen Sachs, Holland West Ottawa cross country - Report
Sept. 15:
Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8:
Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1:
Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25:
Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report

PHOTO Northville's Helena McLellan steps into a kick during a May 9 draw with Hartland. (Photo by Chris Mudd/National Photo Scout.)