'Unexpected' Novi Takes Home Title Again

June 15, 2018

By Keith Dunlap
Special for Second Half

WILLIAMSTON – The first unexpected development in the eyes of many was that the game was about to go into overtime. 

The next unexpected development was that it didn’t. 

Finally, the last unexpected development was that the team many figured would take home the runner-up trophy this time emerged as champion once again. 

Such was the story of the 2018 MHSAA Division 1 girls soccer championship game at Williamston High School. 

A heavy favorite to win its first championship after three prior losses in the title game, it instead was more Finals heartbreak for Grand Blanc, which saw perennial power Novi add its sixth girls soccer title trophy since 2005 with a 1-0 victory over the Bobcats.

Sophomore Avery Fenchel was the hero for the Wildcats (19-5-1), as she scored the only goal of the game with 3:29 remaining after she took advantage of a miscommunication by Grand Blanc defenders inside their goal box.

What seemed like a routine ball in front of the goal was botched by the Bobcats, and Fenchel took advantage by firing the ball into the open net to send her team into a wild celebration and Grand Blanc players to the ground in dejection. 

“I was just running after it, and it just went into the back of the goal,” Fenchel said. “I just turned around and ran towards my team. I was so excited.”

With seven players signed or committed to Division I college programs, many felt Grand Blanc would have the game well in hand by the time the waning minutes of regulation rolled around. 

But Novi’s defense was firm throughout, and overtime seemed imminent before Fenchel’s goal signaled a much sooner ending. 

Grand Blanc entered the playoffs after winning the Kensington Lakes Activities Association Gold championship, while Novi finished third in the league. Novi lost to Grand Blanc in their regular-season meeting, 3-1, prompting some adjustments heading into the rematch. 

“We kept having our outside forwards drop down more,” Novi head coach Todd Pheiffer said. “Their forwards never go back, and their defenders never really push up. It was finding that space in between the defense and midfielders.

“One thing we worked on at practice is whenever we are defending, it looks like a 4-5-1 (formation). When we are on the attack, it’s a 4-3-3. Just transitioning between those formations. It’s the first time we’ve ever done it, and we worked on it in practice the past two days. The girls did a great job.” 

Grand Blanc ended up holding a 13-10 edge in shots, but many were wayward of the goal and the Bobcats had trouble in general getting serious scoring chances against Novi’s defense. 

Each team hit a crossbar during the game, but the one miscue by Grand Blanc in the final minutes turned out to be the difference.

“I feel terrible for them,” Grand Blanc head coach Greg Kehler said. “It was just a little miscommunication back there on really a harmless ball between our defenders and goalkeeper. But that is just one play in an 80-minute game. We had our chances, but we didn’t take advantage of them to get that lead and (not) have a situation like that arise.”

Each team is filled with non-senior starters and contributors, so a rematch in next year’s playoffs could be in the forecast. 

But for the present time, Novi relished being in the rare role of underdog.

“The girls had a little chip on their shoulder because the press said the entire week that this trophy was Grand Blanc’s,” Pheiffer said. “It was theirs. Everyone was picking against us, and that’s how this whole season has been. This has been a year of redemption for these girls.”

Click for the full box score.

VIDEO: With just over three minutes to play, Novi's Avery Fenchel picks up a loose ball in front of the goal and scores the only goal of the Division 1 Girls Soccer Final.

PHOTOS: (Top) Novi’s Julia Stadtherr (20) embraces teammate Avery Fenchel after the latter’s goal gave her team the lead in Friday’s Division 1 Final. (Middle) Grand Blanc’s Samantha Lewis (8) gets her head on the ball just above Fenchel.

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.)