By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
EAST LANSING – The final kicks of 2015 came down to gut feelings for Richland Gull Lake goalkeeper Regan Troff.
She closed her eyes and said a prayer. And then she made saves that extended one of the most impressive championship runs in MHSAA girls soccer history.
After 100 minutes of scoreless play Friday, this season’s Division 2 Final came down to a shootout between two-time reigning champion Gull Lake and Fenton – which was seeking its first MHSAA title in any sport since winning in softball in 1993.
Troff, the team’s first-year starting keeper, considered how her team would react if she succeeded or failed – before saving two of three Fenton kicks as the Blue Devils won the shootout 4-1 and the game 1-0 at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Stadium.
“I was just thinking about how much I love my team,” Troff said. “There’s no better feeling than knowing you have a group of 24-something girls who love you no matter what, whether you mess up, don’t mess up or save the game. They’re always going to be there, and you always have them to fall back on.”
There wasn’t much falling down this spring as the Blue Devils finished 25-1-1 despite graduating a strong group of seniors after last season’s repeat. Gull Lake became the eighth team to win at least three straight MHSAA girls soccer championships (and sixth program; Madison Heights Bishop Foley won three straight on three occasions.).
Troff replaced one of those graduated stars, keeper Maggie Harma, who had 18 shutouts during both the 2013 and 2014 seasons and played in net as a freshman at Wayne State University.
Troff spent part of Thursday’s practice talking with Harma and listening to her mentor’s final words of advice. They didn’t specifically come to mind as Friday’s game went to the shootout. But the theme was the same.
“She just told me to play with all of my heart, no matter what,” Troff said. “And whatever happens, just leave it all on the field because at the end of the day – if you win, or if you lose – you’re still a family no matter what.”
The teams had combined for 37 shots during 100 minutes of play and with each missing on a handful of scoring opportunities.
Troff had five saves and Fenton sophomore Abigail Quesnelle had 10 during regulation. The crossbars could’ve been credited with a few as well.
Gull Lake had won a shootout in the Regional Semifinal, as Troff had two key saves that allowed the Blue Devils to come back from two penalty kicks down and beat Mason.
This time, coach Jeff Corstange reminded his keeper to be patient, make her guess and go with it.
Gull Lake kicked first in the shootout, and senior Hannah Phommavongsa scored. Fenton’s first shot was saved by Troff, and Gull Lake junior Maddie Fouts sent her shot low into the net to make it 2-0. Junior Chloe Foor then scored to pull Fenton within 2-1.
But Gull Lake senior Hayley Buckhout made it 3-1, Troff saved Fenton’s next kick, and senior Annie Walbridge clinched it by connecting on the Blue Devils’ fourth penalty shot.
“Keepers tell you all the time that, oh, they can tell or you can guess it. To a certain extent you can, but you never know what’s going to happen,” Troff said. “You’re going with that gut feeling that you have, and that’s what I do, and just hope for the best.”
“You never want to lose on PKs,” Corstange added. “I talked to their goalie afterward; she played a tremendous game. And I told her that it’s not the way anyone wants to go out, and I apologized to her. PKs are never fun.”
Regardless of the loss, it was a historic run for Fenton (15-5-3). The Tigers advanced to the championship game for the first time after making the Semifinals for the third time in seven seasons.
Just a few inches here and there kept them from instead leaving with their first championship trophy. But they did finish with 11 wins over their final 13 games.
“It’s the way they play. There’s not a team that played harder than us all year,” said Fenton coach Matt Sullivan, who finished his 11th season. “The way these girls treat each other is just so special. I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I’ve never been around anything like this.”
Click for the box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) Gull Lake players celebrate after a score during Friday’s shootout. (Middle) Fenton’s Brianna Costigan (20) pushes the ball ahead with Kenzie Harney (11) among those defending.