By Jason Wesseldyk
All wins are nice. But some are a little more meaningful than others.
Case in point: The 3-0 win by the Saugatuck girls soccer team over Holland Black River on Thursday, May 3.
Because not only did that win extend the Trailblazers’ winning streak to 10, but it also locked up the first SAC Lakeshore championship in program history.
“This is a big deal for us,” Saugatuck coach Jordan Campbell said. “Up until a few years ago, we had an empty banner hanging in our high school gymnasium with an equally empty trophy case.
“This school has a strong athletic tradition and some great athletic programs that are consistently competitive. Winning back-to-back district championships the past two years has helped to bring some recognition to our players in the school and community, and a conference championship does even more so.”
And while the district titles are special, Campbell said the conference crown has a different feel to it.
“This wasn’t because of a fortunate draw or a magical week of soccer,” he said. “This was a season-long effort against teams that we’ve had a challenge in beating over the years like Fennville, Black River and South Haven. I know this team understands the importance of getting that first one and we’re excited to bring the trophy to our school.”
Campbell credited much of the team’s success this season to the unwavering leadership from his seniors: Iris Kuipers, Mia Zerfas, Adele Nieuwsma, Erin Moerler, Haley Rivera and Eva Kierzek.
“This is a special senior group that has done so much to bring soccer to importance in our school,” Campbell said. “They know how to work hard and love to compete. I haven’t had senior leadership like this before, and it’s made this season feel all the more special.”
In this game, it was a junior who led the offensive charge, while a sophomore anchored the defense.
Jenn Schock scored a pair of goals, while Kennedy Gustafson turned away every shot she faced in goal to preserve the shutout.
“Jenn is such a talented athlete,” Campbell said. “She played a large role in the success of the volleyball and basketball teams this year, and had she chosen to play softball this year would be one of the best players on that team too.
“We are thankful to have her on the soccer team with us, as she brings a competitive edge that not many kids do. She plays physical, is one of our faster players and is as creative with the ball as anyone on our team.”
Neave Rewa accounted for the other Saugatuck goal.
On the defensive end, Saugatuck has only allowed six open-play goals this season, with three of those coming in the final minutes of games in which the Trailblazers held decisive leads.
“Kennedy is one of the best high school goalies I’ve seen, so we obviously have a lot of confidence in having her behind us,” Campbell said. “It also gives a boost to our defense who know they don’t have to be perfect to keep teams off the scoreboard.”
In addition to Gustafson, Campbell praised the defensive contributions of Rivera, Nieuwsma, Maddie Klein, Faith Czarnecki, Ally Firmiss, Bonez Vazquez and exchange student Ellen Martinsson.
“Our defense has been so solid all year,” Campbell said. “I can count on two hands the amount of quality shots they’ve given up all year. We have options back there and are comfortable with them all.”
With the divisional title secured, Campbell wants his team to finish the regular season on a high note and hopefully make another strong postseason run. Not that he expects doing so to come without its share of challenges.
“We moved into one of the more challenging districts in the state with some traditional powers like Calvin Christian, Covenant Christian and Black River,” he said. “We want to prove we belong at that level as well. We have the ability, but it’s not going to be an easy task.”
Saugatuck followed up the win over Black River by downing Our Lady of the LAke 4-0 on Monday, May 8.
Nieuwsma finished with two goals, while Rewa and Meave Wrenn had one each. Nieuwsma also had an assist, as did Schock and Martinsson.
Gustafson was in goal for the shutout.
On Wednesday, May 3, Saugatuck bested Bridgman 6-0.
Rewa scored half of the Trailblazers’ goals to go with an assist, while Gustafson had two goals and an assist. Schock added one goal and on assist.
By Jason Wesseldyk