By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
WILLIAMSTON – Flint Powers Catholic attacked Hudsonville Unity Christian’s defense Saturday with a physicality and aggression the Crusaders had not seen this spring in assembling one of the best defensive seasons in MHSAA history.
They’d given up only six goals before the Chargers’ McKenzie Speer put through a shot 2:20 into the first half of their Division 3 championship game at Williamston High. And the Crusaders didn’t respond through the rest of the first half.
“My team was just so excited. We played a little frantic,” Unity Christian senior goalkeeper Holly VanNoord said. “We had to collect ourselves.”
Winning in June has been Unity Christian’s way for more than a decade. And this rematch of the 2011 Final went along with that recent dominance.
The Crusaders scored twice in the second half and held off a number of late Powers runs to claim a 2-1 win and their seventh championship in eight seasons after falling to the Chargers in last year’s title game.
“We just kinda opened our eyes and realized something had to change,” VanNoord said. “Coach just talked to us (at halftime and said) we gotta play together. I guess that was the main key. Once we got our heads on straight, we said we aren’t going to play to lose. We’re going to play to win.”
Unity Christian finished this season without a loss, at 23-0-4. The Crusaders' seven goals against was good to tie for 13th in the MHSAA record book and second only to their 2011 team among those that played 27 games. VanNoord had 20 shutouts, tying her for fourth on that single-season list after she set the MHSAA record with 24 last season.
Powers’ goal also was the first Unity Christian had given up this postseason. But VanNoord’s defense wasn’t the only stellar one on the field. Powers (20-2-4) also hadn’t given up a goal in the postseason until Crusaders sophomore Aubrey Schierbeek tied up the score 9:43 into the second half.
The teams then traded excellent scoring opportunities. Unity Christian freshman Bethany Balcer pushed a roller under diving Powers keeper Heather Rolls with 22:05 to play. But Chargers senior Jessica Adams swooped into the box and stopped the shot.
At 16:27 to play, VanNoord turned away a run. Then Rolls did the same with 15:54 to go.
Powers senior Amanda Bubnar fired a shot hard at the goal with 7:20 left, but VanNoord deflected it over the bar. Three minutes later, Schierbeek deflected a shot to the right of the net.
Freshman Casandra Besteman made all the work pay off with 3:52 to go, taking a throw-in and with a high left leg booted the ball in for the go-ahead goal.
“We have our style. We definitely have our three up top. We didn’t get to play our possession as much as we like to. (But) congratulations to them; they really played a good game,” Powers coach Art Moody said. “It could’ve gone either way. We were just hoping it was our way.”
The teams combined for 22 shots; Rolls saved six and VanNoord saved five.
Rolls finished this season with 19 shutouts, good to tie for seventh in the MHSAA record book for one season.
Click for a full box score.
PHOTO: Unity Christian goalkeeper Holly VanNoord (in orange) goes high to make a save during Saturday's Division 3 Final at Williamston High.