By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
The setting is new – at least somewhat – as the MHSAA Girls Soccer Finals return to Michigan State University this spring for the first time since 2012. The format is new, as two Finals will be played Friday and Saturday.
But most of the favorites are familiar as three teams compete to repeat as champions.
Grandville Calvin Christian is playing for its fourth straight title in Division 4, while Richland Gull Lake is looking to make it three straight in Division 2 and Hudsonville Unity Christian is playing for its second straight title but ninth total overall.
The narrative is the opposite in Division 1, where both teams are playing for the first title in program history.
Below is this weekend’s schedule, followed by glances at all eight finalists.
Hudsonville Unity Christian vs. Detroit Country Day, 1 p.m.
Richland Gull Lake vs. Fenton, 4 p.m.
Grandville Calvin Christian vs. Lansing Christian, 1 p.m.
Saline vs. Grand Blanc, 4 p.m.
Tickets cost $8 per day and include admission to baseball and softball games that day also at MSU’s Old College Field. Radio broadcasts of all games can be heard online at MHSAAnetwork.com. All games will be streamed live online at MHSAA.TV and viewable on subscription basis.
All statistics below are through at least the regular season, with most through teams' Regionals. (Click for links to brackets and scores.)
Record/rank: 18-5-5, unranked
Coach: Greg Kehler, 17th season (260-80-47)
League finish: Third in Kensington Lakes Activities Association West.
Championship history: Division 1 runner-up 2004.
Players to watch: Annie Walker, sr. F (29 goals, 10 assists), Lara Wheeler, fr. F (17 goals, 5 assists); Amy Puidokas, jr. GK (0.60 goals-against average, 8 shutouts).
Outlook: Grand Blanc is on its best tournament run since making the Semifinals in 2005 after eliminating No. 1 Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, No. 10 Northville and then No. 5 Troy Athens in its last three games. Walker made the all-state first team last season and is again the scorer to stop, with 2014 all-state honorable mention Lexi Trudeau, a junior, among those moving the ball into striking position.
Record/rank: 21-0-3, No. 6
Coach: Dana Restrick, sixth season (record at school N/A)
League finish: First in Southeastern Conference Red.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Sofia Sweier, sr. GK (0.17 goals-against average, 20 shutouts); Taylor Mulder, sr. F (41 goals, 11 assists); Amanda Zylstra, sr. D (3 goals, 5 assists).
Outlook: Saline is 40-3-6 over the last two seasons and won its first Regional title last week. No. 3 East Kentwood in the Quarterfinal was the eighth straight opponent to be shut out by the Hornets, who have given up only four goals this season. Sweier and Zylstra made the all-state second team last season, and Mulder made the third.
Record/rank: 15-4-3, honorable mention
Coach: Matt Sullivan, 11th season (record at school N/A)
League finish: Second in Flint Metro League.
Championship history: Has never played in an MHSAA Final.
Players to watch: Brennan Sullivan, sr. M (1 goal, 3 assists); Brianna Costigan, jr. M (9 goals, 11 assists); Abigail Quesnelle, soph. GK (0.60 goals-against average, 14 shutouts).
Outlook: Fenton has reached the Semifinals three of the last seven seasons, but after two one-goal heartbreak losses that ended those first two trips, broke through by beating No. 6 Trenton this week. The Tigers also eliminated No. 4 Warren Regina and No. 8 Linden during the tournament and have won 11 of their last 12 games. Fenton scored 26 goals during the regular season, but has put 17 in the net in six tournament games. Costigan made the all-state second team last season, and Sullivan earned an honorable mention.
RICHLAND GULL LAKE
Record/rank: 24-1-1, No. 2
Coach: Jeff Corstange, fourth season (82-8-4)
League finish: First in Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference East.
Championship history: Three MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), four runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Hannah Phommavongsa, sr. F (16 goals, 8 assists); Amanda Pavletic, sr. M (14 goals, 8 assists); Olivia Sullivan, sr. D (1 goal, 4 assists); Kirsten Taylor, sr. F (24 goals, 11 assists).
Outlook: Gull Lake has won two straight MHSAA championships and is loaded with veterans as it goes for a third. Taylor made the all-state third team last season, and Phommavongsa, Sullivan and Pavletic earned honorable mentions. Gull Lake defeated No. 10 DeWitt and honorable mention Middleville Thornapple Kellogg during this run, with the lone loss by a goal midseason to Division 1 Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central. Junior keeper Regan Troff took over in net this spring and has saved 96 percent of the shots against her.
DETROIT COUNTRY DAY
Record/rank: 18-3-2, No. 3
Coach: Bob Bukari, 29th season (record at school N/A)
League finish: Does not play in a conference.
Championship history: Five MHSAA titles (most recent 2004), four runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Isabel Nino, soph. D/GK; Jenna Staudt, sr. D/M; Dagny Hill, soph. M; Libby Ronchetto, sr. M/D (Statistics not submitted).
Outlook: Country Day has finished runner-up three times since its last title, but has plenty of key players who experienced last season’s run. Hill and Staudt made the all-state second team in 2014, Nino made the third and Ronchetto earned honorable mention. The Yellowjackets eliminated No. 6 Grosse Ile and then edged No. 2 Flint Powers Catholic in a shootout to advance to this weekend.
HUDSONVILLE UNITY CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 23-1, No. 1
Coach: Randy Heethuis, 26th season (487-87-28)
League finish: First in Ottawa-Kent Conference Green.
Championship history: Eight MHSAA titles (most recent 2014), three runner-up finishes.
Players to watch: Bethany Balcer, sr. M (38 goals, 13 assists); Maddy VanDyke, jr. D (5 goals, 2 assists); Casandra Besteman, sr. M (3 goals, 3 assists); Elly Brummel, sr. D (4 goals, 5 assists).
Outlook: Unity Christian bounced back from a rare Finals miss by winning its eighth title last spring and second in three seasons. Unity Christian downed the reigning champion, Grand Rapids South Christian, in the Regional Final and also eliminated No. 4 Grand Rapids Catholic Central. Balcer – one of five players with at least 10 goals – and VanDyke are returning all-state first-teamers, while Brummel made the second team and Besteman earned honorable mention.
GRANDVILLE CALVIN CHRISTIAN
Record/rank: 21-3, No. 2
Coach: Tim TerHaar, 15th season (255-64-20)
League finish: First in O-K Silver.
Championship history: Division 4 champion 2014, 2013 and 2012.
Players to watch: Allison Keizer, sr. GK (0.88 goals-against average, 14 shutouts); Morgan Buursma, sr. D (20 goals, 4 assists); Hilary Curry, sr. M (24 goals, 16 assists); Emily VanVliet, sr. M (11 goals, 26 assists).
Outlook: Calvin Christian can become just the second team in MHSAA history to win four straight girls soccer championships, following the Unity Christian teams of 2005-10. Keizer and Buursma made the all-state first team last season, while Curry made the third team and VanVliet earned honorable mention. Four Calvin Christian players have scored at least 20 goals this season – junior forwards Whitney Koets (28) and Natalie Honeycutt (22) are the other two.
Record/rank: 20-4, honorable mention
Coach: Joel Vande Kopple, ninth season (129-41-9)
League finish: Tied for first in Greater Lansing Activities Conference.
Championship history: Division 4 runner-up 2011.
Players to watch: Kasey Jamieson, fr. F (47 goals, 15 assists); Emily Voss, sr. F (27 goals, 16 assists); Rachelle Trafford, sr. GK (0.74 goals-against average, 15 shutouts).
Outlook: Lansing Christian has reached at least the Semifinals four of the last five seasons, giving the Pilgrims as much late-round experience as most left this weekend. Voss made the all-state third team in 2014 and provides an excellent one-two scoring punch with Jamieson, who also had both goals in the Semifinal win over Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett to push her first-season total to 49.
PHOTO: Grandville Calvin Christian's Emily VanVliet controls possession during last season's Division 4 Final win.