Marian Continues D2 Dominance with 4th-Straight Title

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

June 18, 2021

EAST LANSING – Olivia DeConinck had a feeling Friday after she strode from her defensive position to join the Bloomfield Hills Marian attack on a corner kick. 

The Mustangs senior and Bucknell soccer signee didn’t make the run she typically would for a header, and that left her in perfect position to score the goal that put her team on track for a fourth-straight MHSAA Division 2 Girls Soccer Finals title. 

“I guess it was just instinct,” she said. “I’m not really sure, my body just kind of took over. I knew someone needed to be there, so I got there.” 

Marian’s 3-0 victory gave the program its ninth title overall, as its hold on Division 2 soccer in the state has lasted since 2017 and even spanned a canceled season. This year’s team finished 13-3-1 and did not allow a goal throughout the postseason, outscoring its opponents 26-0 over six matches. 

“We win because we have really good players,” Marian coach Barry Brodsky said. “They’re smart. They’re in the classroom very smart, and that makes coaching a pleasure.” 

DeConinck’s instinctive play didn’t lead to the winning goal, nor did it come late enough in the game to be considered a game-sealer. But in making the score 2-0 early in the second half, it may have been the goal that took the most wind out of a Spring Lake team that felt very in the game up until that point.  

When Marian freshman Elle Ervin extended the lead to 3-0 just 2 minutes, 30 seconds later, that became even more clear. 

“I think the 1-0 lead, it still kind of got in their heads that they were just one goal away, one opportunity away from tying it up and getting back in the game,” DeConinck said. “I think once we put that second in there, we kind of proved our dominance and it lifted our spirits up.” 

Spring Lake soccer

The goal came on what DeConinck described as a shot, but one she hoped one of her teammates could finish. She floated the ball to the opposite post, and it made its way into the net on its own. The official and the linesman conferred after the goal to make sure an offside Marian player had not had an impact on the play, and decided the goal stood. 

“She’s been a full-time player since her freshman year, she’s going to Bucknell to play – she's a stud,” Brodsky said. “You get some studs on your team and you’re going to have a good team, and she’s one of them. She won’t like me saying it, but her two sisters before her were the same. I’ve had a DeConinck on the team since 2014, and this was the last one. They’re special. She’s a stud player, and a stud athlete, and a stud student, and a stud person.” 

Ervin opened the scoring less than five minutes into the game, finishing after a goalmouth scramble. She had another chance midway through the first half, as she was left alone in the box for a header, but Spring Lake keeper Jessica Stewart was there to make the save. 

Ervin, a freshman, was the team’s leading scorer on the season with 24 goals, and she’s one of 17 players who could return next season. So, while the Mustangs will graduate seven senior starters, there’s plenty of firepower remaining. 

“Coming in at the very beginning, I did not know what to expect,” Ervin said. “I just knew we had a lot of people coming back with these seniors who had won two championships already, and I didn’t know what role I was going to play. Right when I came in, all of them were so accepting, and I was like, ‘Whoa, I am totally part of this team.’ We had our first couple games, and I realized I had to play a big role. I had to step up, even as a freshman.” 

Spring Lake (15-4-2), which was making its first Finals appearance, had its own opportunities in the half, mostly off the foot of junior forward Meah Bajt. She powered one off the crossbar not long after Ervin’s goal and created her own breakaway chance near the midpoint of the half, but her shot spun wide of the Marian net. 

The second half, however, was all Marian, as Mustangs keeper Izabel Toma had to make just one save in the game, and it came in the first half. Spring Lake’s Stewart, meanwhile, made eight stops. 

“It was a crazy, crazy ride,” Spring Lake coach Becky May said. “I just threw a bunch of kids out there – they were in middle school last year – and now they’re playing on this big stage. You could just tell they were young, and there were mistakes made that were young mistakes, and we’ll work on them. But they have a ton of heart, and we got farther than anybody ever thought we would.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Marian's Emily Rassel (17) considers her next move Friday while Spring Lake's Ryann Gilchrist defends. (Middle) The Mustangs' Elle Ervin (10) winds up for a shot with the Lakers' Kate Lewkowski (17) in pursuit.

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

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for

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.)