By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
MASON – It was not a premonition, but Hudsonville Unity Christian girls soccer coach Randy Heethuis picked the right tape to show his players at a team dinner Friday night.
It might have provided the added spark needed as Unity Christian rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit to defeat Detroit Country Day 3-1 on Saturday in the MHSAA Division 3 championship game at Mason High School.
It was the Crusaders’ eighth championship in the past 10 years and first since 2012.
“At our team dinner, we watched a tape of the 2012 Final that we were down 1-0 at halftime,” Heethuis said, “so we went into halftime and said, ‘This looks vaguely familiar. We just watched this last night.’
“I said, ‘Girls, we’re going to come back and win this one, too,’ and sure enough, they did it.”
Both teams came into the Final riding impressive defensive streaks. Unity Christian had allowed only one goal in its previous six tournament games, while Country Day had an eight-game shutout streak, including blank sheet the past six in the tournament.
So a 1-0 halftime lead in a game that featured just three shots on goal in the first half seemed somewhat safe. However, Unity Christian began the second half with more intensity after the halftime speech from Heethuis.
“At the end of the first half, we started putting a little more pressure on them,” he said. “We had probably three really good opportunities that just hit wide, and at halftime we talked about it. I said, ‘Girls, we’re OK.’ I asked them to believe, and I asked them to come out and play the hardest 40 minutes of their lives.”
The first payoff came in the 51st minute when senior forward Aubrey Schierbeek took a corner kick and scored from the left side. She was deep in the box, and the ball went over the head of the goalkeeper and fell into the far end of the net.
“I didn’t call it,” said Schierbeek, who is one of four Unity Christian players who are slated to play at Spring Arbor University. “Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to go in until I saw it in the back of the net.”
The goal came moments after a flurry in front of the net created the corner-kick opportunity, and Heethuis pointed out the importance of that part of the game.
“Tessa Glashower won a nice ball there, and she took a shot that the keeper tipped over the top that won that corner for us,” he said. “It’s the little things like that – the kid who steps up and makes a play that wins a corner for you is huge.”
Schierbeek struck again 16 minutes later for the tie-breaking goal from right in front of the net.
“Coach told me in a previous game that you’re not going to get a chance to dribble it around, so when you get the open shot, take it, and that’s exactly what I did,” said Shierbeek, whose two goals gave her 32 this season. “I had the opening, and I took the shot, and it happened to go in.”
With a 2-1 lead, the Crusaders had all the momentum, and just two minutes later Schierbeek assisted on a goal by Rachel Roerig, a junior forward who scored from in front of the net.
“Once we were level, I think the girls just relaxed a little bit, and then our intensity level really picked up,” Heethuis said. “Then we got a glimpse of watching us attack the way we’re capable of attacking.”
Unity Christian (23-1) finished with a 13-3 edge in shots on goal in the second half and finished with a 14-5 advantage. Country Day (21-4-3) had two shots on goal in the first four minutes of the game, including a goal by senior Michelle Manning, who took a rebound and scored from the left part of the box.
“I kind of broke in and didn’t have many options,” she said. “The goalie did a good job of covering the near post - and far actually when she stepped out - and I froze for a second and then tried to slip it by her,” said Manning, who plans to continue playing soccer at Northwestern. “I couldn’t slip it by her, so I kind of tried to poke it past her. It didn’t really work out, but it came right back at me and I put it in.
“Unity Christian came out a lot stronger than us in the second half. I felt like they kind of put us on our heels, and it took us a hard time to adjust.”
Unity Christian goalkeeper Abby Veeneman had four saves as the Crusaders held their opponent to fewer than two goals for the 22nd time in the 24-game season.
“I was a little worried when we were behind, but I have a lot of confidence in my team that we can come back,” said Veeneman, who plans to next go to Australia to do mission work with a youth group. “Our team knows how to defend well. They communicate, and they work good together.”
It was a tough defeat for Country Day, which was chasing its sixth MHSAA championship and first since 2004, which came against Unity Christian in the title game.
“Unity is an excellent team – an excellent team – and they’re the better team than we are,” Country Day coach Bob Bukari said. ”They have more weapons, they’re well coached, they’re well organized, they are strong in goal, they’re strong defensively.
“… Unity deserved the victory without a doubt. We hit the crossbar, and we could have scored a second goal in the first half that would have changed the whole complexity of the game. But we didn’t put our chances away, and they buried theirs.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Unity Christian's Aubrey Schierbeek (22) pushes the ball ahead while Country Day's Libby Ronchetto (11) pursues. (Middle) Schierbeek and Bethany Balcer celebrate during Saturday's Division 3 Final.