By: Daniel Stickradt
GIRLS SOCCER: Lansing Christian edges Kalamazoo Christian in shootout for first D4 state title
BY DAN STICKRADT
WILLIAMSTON — Like a slow rising single on the charts, Lansing Christian took its time to reach the summit.
The Pilgrims are now on top of the world.
Goalkeeper Lynn Cullens, who told her coach weeks before that she wasn't worthy, made a save in a shootout as top-ranked Lansing Christian posted a 2-1 victory June 17 over third-ranked Kalamazoo Christian in the MHSAA Division 4 state finals at the Wiliamston High School Soccer Complex.
Lansing Christian collected a 4-3 edge in the shootout to lift the Pilgrims to some new pioneer territory — their first state title.
“This is a program thing, really,” said Lansing Christian coach Joel Vande Kopple. “We had some people from the 2011 team her and some people from the 2015 team here. (in 2015) we made a run to the final which was somewhat unexpected. Then last year everyone thought we’d get here and we were upset in the semifinals. This year we got back here and I thought we’d played a great game. We almost had it won in overtime. I told them that we can't given in a e up any late restarts and we did give up the late corner and they scored. But we got in done in penalties. No one likes to go dot a shootout and lose. That’s the way it goes. We were fortunate enough to win. But the credit to Kalamazoo Christian. They played a great defensive game and took us to a shootout.”
While Lansing Christian was an offensive juggernaught this season — the Pilgrims outscored the opposition 125-12 over 27 games — it was the improved play of Cullens, a junior goalkeeper, who helped make the difference in the end.
“A few weeks ago, Lynn said that she didn't think we could win with win her as the goalie. We had faith in her and the coaches really worked hard with her (on stopping penalty kicks),” said Vande Kopple. “She ended up making a save in the shootout. She came through for us when we needed her to.”
Lansing Christian (23-2-2) lost in the finals in 2011 and 2015 and also in the state semifinals three other times, including last year. A rejuvenated Cullens, a third-year starter, saved the day in the end.
“I did say something to my coaches, but they worked with me for this,” said Cullens. “I just I just had to trust in God and everything would work out. I had to stop doubting in myself.”
Cullens made only four saves during regulation and the two 10-minute overtime periods, as Lansing Christian dominated play throughout the contest. Meanwhile, Kealeigh Usiak, Abby Lyon, Jessie Kruger and Eliza Lewis their penalty kicks, with Lewis booting the tie-breaker in the shootout.
“I was so nervous. I have never been in one of those before,” said Lewis of the shootout. “I just knew I had to pick a place and shoot it towards that spot and we would win.”
The Pilgrims were ranked No. 1 all of last season before being stunned in the semifinals by eventual state champion Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett. Lansing Christian, again ranked No.1 the whole 2017 campaign, was not to be denied this time in their third trip to the finals.
Lansing Christian dominated throughout the contest and outshot the Comets by a commanding 21-6 margin, including 13-5 with shots directly on frame, and even held a 10-3 edge with cornerkicks.
Lansing Christian finally broke the stalemate with 7:22 remaining in the first overtime. Sophomore Jackie Moore floated a long serve into the penalty box and sophomore Rilyn Ross flicked the ball over the hands of Kalamazoo keeper Allyson Kranstz and into the far corner of the goal.
Kalamazoo Christian (20-3-3) made a final push and forced all 11 players upfield on a cornerkick opportunity to try to knot the score. Freshman Lauryn Money converted a cornerkick from senior Meagan Laaksonen with 3:03 remaining in the second overtime session to set up the shootout.
Krantz finished with 12 saves for Kalamazoo Christian, which recorded 16 straight shutouts heading into the finals.
“I think our defense is what got us here,” admitted Kalamazoo Christian coach Jay Allen “We had 20 shutouts on the year and our defense was great all season. We gave it our best shot and just came up short. “I think once we got down 1-0, we saw they were a little tired, too, so we started to push it. We knew new once it got to the shootout that anything can happen.”