Williamston Makes Top Ranking Stand with Historic Championship Win

By Perry A. Farrell
Special for MHSAA.com

June 18, 2022

EAST LANSING – Williamston made its third appearance in an MHSAA Girls Soccer Final on Saturday. And for the third time, the Hornets were seeking their first championship against longtime powerhouse Hudsonville Unity Christian.

Williamston had lost Finals to the Crusaders in overtime in 2008 and 1-0 in 2010. But consider any lingering Unity nightmares over for the Hornets.

Junior Breyer Fenech blasted in a shot off an assist from Kaley Douglass with 1 minute, 21 seconds to play as Williamston pulled out a heart-stopping 3-2 victory in the Division 3 championship game at Michigan State’s DeMartin Stadium.

“Kaley put it right on my foot,’’ said Fenech. “She and Liz (Bellinger) are both going to play in college. They are great players. They know how to play. I don’t play mid that much, but unfortunately one of our midfielders got hurt the last game. I kind of saw Kaley coming down and I saw an opening and I called for the ball, she was able to get it through and I put it away.’’ 

Said Douglass: “It was all her. She called for the ball, and I heard her immediately. I slid it through, and it was all her. If she hadn’t gotten my attention, I probably wouldn’t have known she was there. She was the one that finished it, and I’m so thankful she did.’’

The Hornets (17-2-1) entered the postseason ranked No. 1 in Division 1, and Unity Christian (21-2-1) was ranked No. 2.

Unity hadn’t lost since falling to Division 1 contender Hudsonville in the Crusaders’ season opener.

“Their second goal turned the game around,’’ said Unity coach Randy Heethius. “The winning goal was a thing of beauty. Give them a lot of credit. They are a good team. Obviously, we’re disappointed with the way the game turned out. We’re young. I think we have a chance to get back.’’

Super freshman Ava Lutke gave the Crusaders a 2-1 lead with her 26th goal of the season with just over 21 minutes left in regulation. It appeared to be enough.

Williamston soccerHowever, the goal of the game was a 45-yard blast 11 minutes later from senior midfielder Bellinger, a free kick that landed in the right corner of the Unity net.

“It brought a lot of energy; I wasn’t even expecting that,’’ said Bellinger. “I was just trying to get one in there. I think it did bring our energy up. I practice that every single day, hitting balls and redoing it. It was exactly what I was hoping for. We were storming the net and it went in, which is what we were hoping for.’’

Hornets coach Steve Horn wasn’t surprised.

“We’ve been waiting for that,’’ he said of Bellinger. “That was a fantastic free kick. She hit that top shelf. We’ve seen that from Liz all year. We have some great players and some good role players. That was a coming out for Liz. I have been waiting for that for a few games.’’

And it fired up her teammates. 

“When she hit that I said this isn’t over. We have 10 minutes left,’’ said Douglass.

The Crusaders entered Saturday having won 10 girls soccer Finals titles – the second-most of any school – with three runner-up finishes, but hadn’t been in a championship game since 2016 when they lost to Flint Powers Catholic.

Williamston’s Emma Gorsline, a junior midfielder, wasn’t at full strength because of a hamstring injury. She was one of seven players who had made either first- or second-team all-state or honorable mention in 2021.

It was amazing that Williamston goalie Abby Pieper was even playing, after suffering a concussion during hockey season and an eye injury that kept her from seeing for a month.

“I think I played about 10 games this year,’’ said a jubilant Pieper. “I had some vision loss. I started feeling better late April, early May. It was a quick season for me, but it paid off.’’

Junior forward Olivia Bosworth, with an assist from Jade Taylor, got the Crusaders on the board less than five minutes into the game to give Unity Christian a 1-0 lead.

A collision in front of the Crusaders' goal 6:05 into the game led to a Douglass penalty shot, which she drove into the net to tie the score at 1-1.

Both teams had chances over the final 33 minutes of the first half, but weren’t able to convert.

 Lutke had a great shot to open the second half, but it was stopped by Pieper.

Click for the full box score.

PHOTOS (Top) Williamston’s Kaley Douglass fires a penalty shot during Saturday’s Division 3 Final at DeMartin Stadium. (Middle) The Hornets celebrate during their first championship victory.

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.)