By Mark Meyer
Special for Second Half
WILLIAMSTON – The postgame victory hugs late Saturday afternoon were twice as tight this time around and lasted just a little bit longer.
Junior midfielder Mickey Hostetler received hers from coach Jeff Corstange, as did junior defender Hayley Buckhout, senior goalkeeper Maggie Harma and sophomore midfielder Riley Wisser. Senior captains Tabitha Boze and Rachel Fouts savored theirs as did the rest of the victorious Blue Devils, who defeated Bloomfield Hills Marian 2-1 in the title game for the second straight season to finish 24-1-1.
Gull Lake won the 2013 title 1-0 in overtime over Marian, the 2012 champion.
“It’s an honor to represent the west side of the state in a game like this,” Corstange said. “The east side schools play a physical brand of soccer, and I felt like we answered that challenge. We were able to execute our game plan to the fullest.”
The intensity of this year’s rematch was evident throughout as the top-ranked teams (No. 1 Marian, No. 2 Gull Lake) traded excellent scoring opportunities throughout the game. Marian keeper Megan Bricely denied Blue Devils forward Kirsten Taylor three times in the first half from close range – twice on the same play when Taylor recovered the first shot only to be stopped on the rebound attempt.
“Last year we carried the play to them,” said Marian coach Barry Brodsky. “This year they had us back on our heels.”
Wisser opened the scoring for Gull Lake at 16:52 of the first half on a left corner kick that hooked sharply through a wall of Marian defenders.
“The key was to pressure their defenders,” Corstange said. “We wanted to be on the attack at all times and make sure they didn’t have an opening to get started.”
Marian’s Ellie Deconinck tied the game at 4:54 of the second half on a strong pass into the middle from Jaclyn Engel, who had recovered a corner kick block by Gull Lake’s Annie Walbridge. Engel dribbled along the left end line and connected with Deconinck, who found an opening inside the 6-yard box.
“I thought we had regained some of the momentum when we scored to tie it up,” Brodsky said, “but they were just deeper than us. They kept coming after us; they’re a very fit team.”
Senior forward Sydney Nikitas broke the tie at 19:43 by converting at short range after a driving pass from the right corner by junior forward Amanda Pavletic, hero of last year’s overtime triumph, to Boze, who pushed the ball to Nikitas in front of the goal.
“Unbelievable feeling to win it two straight years,” said Corstange, who has compiled a 58-7-3 mark in three seasons, to go along with his back-to-back titles. “This is an unselfish group. We use a lot of players, and they all know their roles. Great, great way to end the season.”
Marian finished the season 19-1-1 and allowed only seven goals all spring.
“Tough way to end it,” Brodsky said, “but’s let give credit (to Gull Lake). They earned it.”
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PHOTOS: (Top) Richland Gull Lake players and coach Jeff Corstange embrace after securing their second straight Division 2 championship. (Middle) Marian’s Amy Stroud (14) and Gull Lake’s Hannah Phommavongsa work to control a loose ball Saturday.