After 100 minutes of play, the first 82 of which had no scoring, the Kalamazoo Christian Comets and Lansing Christian Pilgrims needed penalty kicks to determine the MHSAA Division 4 girls soccer state champion. The Pilgrims won the shootout 4-2, giving them a 2-1 final score for their first ever state championship in three visits.
Lansing Christian dominated regulation, out-shooting the Comets 13-1 in the first half and 8-3 in the second. However, senior goalkeeper Allyson Kranstz was a brick wall, making 12 saves in regulation and another in overtime.
“She kept us in it,” noted Kalamazoo Christian head coach Jay Allen. “She kept us in all season, that’s why she has 20 shutouts, along with that defense.”
Despite only getting four shots in regulation, the Comets were the closest to scoring with a shot midway through the second half getting past Pilgrim goalkeeper Lynn Cullens, only to be cleared by midfielder Sarah Voss right at the goal line.
“For Sarah to do that in that moment was a huge moment,” said Lansing Christian coach Joel Vande Kopple. “They almost got us there.”
In the first overtime, 82:38 into the contest, Lansing Christian became the first team to score on Kalamazoo Christian since April 22. Jackie Moore found a pass to sophomore Rilyn Ross, getting her 20th goal of the season and the lead.
With 3:03 remaining in the second overtime, the Comets stuffed the box on a Meagan Laaksonen corner kick, which deflected off a header for the equalizer.
Although it initially looked like it was scored by Lauryn Mohney, and was even listed in the official scoring as such, it was actually senior Abbey VanDongen who got the deflection.
“I haven’t gone up like that on a jumping header in forever,” said VanDongen, who suffered ACL tears in the previous two seasons. “I felt it, just watched it go in. It was emotions and happiness after that.”
With the game tied 1-1 after the second overtime, it came down to five rounds of penalty kicks. Lansing Christian had the first shot and Kealeigh Usiak scored. Laaksonen matched for the Comets, followed by a another Pilgrim score by Abby Lyon. Against Kayla Beebe, who led the Comets in goals on the season, Pilgrim keeper Lynn Cullens was able to make the save to give her team the advantage.
“Lynn, a couple of weeks ago came up to me and said, ‘coach, I don’t think we’re going to win the state title if we go to the shootout with me in goal.'” said Vande Kopple. “We just kept trying to build her confidence and she made a huge save for us.”
“My team is like family,” said Cullens. “For them to be on my side and for them to trust me that much…it feels great.”
Cullen also noted how she and her team rallied around senior Abby Krueger, an all-state player from last season, who suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the postseason.
“The one thing she told me before this game was, ‘Lynn, I know you’re hard on yourself, but I believe in you and God believes in you. You just have to give it your all and keep your head up, because we all trust in you.'”
Kranstz saved the next shot by Kasey Jamieson, the top Pilgrim scorer. The Comets couldn’t even it up as Elise VanSparrentak’s try smacked the crossbar. Jessie Kruger scored and made it 3-1, followed by a match from Annika VanZytveld, putting it at 3-2. The fourth and decisive PK was scored by Eliza Lewis, giving Lansing Christian the win and their first ever title. They had taken second in 2015 and 2011 under Vande Kopple, who just finished his 11th year at the helm.
“In my first year, (Kalamazoo Christian) beat us 4-0 in the regional finals and I said to myself, ‘I don’t know how we’re ever going to beat a team like that,'” noted Vande Kopple. “They’ve won four state championships and that’s kind of the model we followed. To get here, to play them, to play as hard as we did and to get a win feels really good.”
Coach Allen was an assistant in Kalamazoo Christian’s previous title wins in 2008, 07, 04, and 03. After finishing his fourth year as the head coach, he told his team following the game that they were the hardest working group he’s coached. He also had high praise for Krantsz, who he shared a long embrace with at midfield with following the game.
“The best goalkeeper we’ve had at Kalamazoo Christian, period, ever. You don’t replace that quality of, not just goalkeeper, but that quality of an individual,” said Allen.
“You always have something special for your first class. The things they’ve done to me in four years, I’m surprised I’m still alive,” laughed Allen. “They’ve worked hard, they’ve seen adversity. This year, they came and they said, ‘we will play on June 17.’ And you know what? Here we are, playing on June 17.”
Kalamazoo Christian finishes the year with a record of 20-3-3. Lansing Christian ends at 23-2-2. Listen back to the contest below: