Surging Boyne City Shining in Spotlight

April 25, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

Boyne City is a force to be reckoned with on the girls soccer pitch.

Katie Harmeling still remembers when that wasn’t the case.

“Our first two years we were struggling a lot,” said the Ramblers’ senior defender. “We got mercied a lot of the time. Just had a lot of trouble as a team.”

The Ramblers won just six games during an inauspicious first two years of Harmeling’s career, but my how things have changed.

Boyne City went undefeated through the regular season last year while winning its first Lake Michigan Conference title and started off this year with an unbeaten streak of seven games. The only game the Ramblers have failed to come out of victorious was a 1-1 draw with league rival Harbor Springs. Otherwise, they have been dominant, winning games by an average of six goals and posting five shutouts along the way.

“We’re continuing to improve each game we play,” said senior keeper Cora Hauger. “Now that we’re getting into the thicker part of our season, we’re starting to figure out what needs to be done and we’re starting to connect more as a team and work together in that sense. We keep improving each game.”

Boyne City received a big boost, and began to see its fortunes turn around, when a large and talented class of freshmen joined the program last season after years of honing their skills at the youth level and on the club circuit. Seven started in their first year, and right from the beginning they showed they were ready to lift the Ramblers to new heights in spite of their youth.

“I knew (we) were going to be getting a good influx of players coming in,” said head coach Ed Fantozzi, who is in his fourth year leading the varsity. “The youth program is excellent. It feeds a lot of kids. It’s building, even on the boys side. It’s a great feeder program.”

Because Boyne City had never experienced success in girls soccer, the common belief was that the Ramblers were catching teams by surprise last year. That’s not the case now, however, as Boyne’s reputation has changed quickly. The Ramblers suddenly have a bulls-eye on their backs.

“Last year we came out of the gate and nobody knew who we were,” said Hauger. “This year we’re battling back from everybody knowing who we are. We kind of have to overcome that in the sense that nothing we do is surprising. Everybody knows about the big throw-ins. Everybody knows who our shooters are. Everybody knows we have a strong midfield. We just have to play our game.”

The light is now shining brightly on the Ramblers, and they are proving capable of handling the added attention they’ve brought upon themselves.

“People are focusing on us more than they might have in the past,” said Fantozzi. “It brings a different dynamic to the season. Winning is awesome, but it’s also one of those things where you have to learn how to deal with it. We have a young team and they’re handling it well. They’re a very mature group.”

Boyne City has a well-rounded squad overall. The Ramblers possess dynamic goal-scoring ability and are backed by a stout defense.

“We don’t look at it like one person is the reason why we are winning. It’s a team effort,” said Fantozzi. “The twins (Jordan and Taylor Noble) are phenomenal forwards, but without the rest of them they’re not going to be phenomenal by themselves. It is all of us who are doing this — from me, to the two assistant coaches that are helping out, to all the girls — we are a team. We work together. We win as a team, we lose as a team and we tie as a team.”

Knowing it could now win games and championships, Boyne City wanted to take the next step and bolstered its schedule this season. The Ramblers already have played, and beaten, much larger schools such as Traverse City Central and Alpena. They also have a match next month against Freeland, the Division 3 runner-up last year.

“That was one of our first steps this season was to get some highly-competitive games that pushed the envelope, that shook things up a little bit,” said Fantozzi. “We can pick up nonconference games and say, ‘Oh, we want to pad our record,’ but we’re really trying to pick up as many games that push us past our limits, put us out of our box of comfort.”

It’s all in an effort to perhaps add more championships to the board on the gymnasium wall; the program finally was able to attain a board detailing the school’s girls soccer titles when it won a league crown. The Ramblers are looking to repeat in the Lake Michigan Conference as well as win postseason hardware. Last year Boyne City saw its season end in heartbreaking fashion with a 2-1 overtime setback to Harbor Springs in the District Final. That loss came after it had beaten the Rams twice during the regular season.

“To be cut short on our season was very hard,” said Harmeling. “We were all very upset. It was really hard all around. That loss has given us something to work toward this year.”

The Ramblers don’t just want to stop at a District title, either. They feel they have what it takes to make noise even longer than that.

It’s quite a contrast from just a few years ago, but it’s also made some of the older members of the team appreciate the prosperity they are now enjoying.

“It’s a phenomenal feeling to go from being on that team where we didn’t play very well and we didn’t have very much talent on our team — we worked hard but we didn’t have much talent — to progressing to being a senior and a leader on this team where we have the potential to go very far,” said Hauger. “It’s just a really cool feeling to see the evolution of the Boyne City soccer program.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Boyne City's Jaelyn Jarema (4) works to maintain possession against Grayling this spring. (Middle) Inanna Hauger (7) finds an opening to move the ball ahead against Kalkaska. (Photos by Sports in Motion.)

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.)