EAST LANSING – Division 3 girls soccer has turned into the Hudsonville Unity Christian Invitational.
The Crusaders (22-2-1) recorded their fourth straight title and 10th overall under longtime coach Randy Heethuis Saturday afternoon at Michigan State. Heethuis has been around so long (27 years), second-generation players are popping up from his early teams.
Alaina VanZalen is a second generation player. Her mom, Vicki, played for Heethuis as a junior.
Alaina, a junior midfielder, scored the game-winning goal in a 2-0 victory over Flint Powers. The winners had just three shots on goal.
“She was certainly a better player than her mom today,” said Heethuis. “That first goal we got today was huge. Alaina was just able to slip it under their keeper. After that, the second half was mostly Powers to be honest with you. They had us on the ropes, but our keeper Emily Ponstein pretty much stood on her head and made some huge saves for us.”
Said Alaina: “I kind of took it up and looked for a low corner and shot there. It just sunk in. It kind of wiggled it in. Coach Randy is a good coach and he has been helping us get where we need to be.”
Recounting her career was a little hazy for Vicki.
“I graduated in 1991,” said the former Vicki Hagger. “He was my first coach. Unity got their first soccer team my junior year. He has changed. He’s a little older and he’s a little slower. He will laugh. He just relates so well to the girls. … He can take these girls and put them where they need to go and makes a team.”
Powers entered the championship game as the top-ranked team in Division 3 and one state title, a 2011 victory against these same Crusaders.
Powers dominated played in the first 20 minutes, keeping the ball in the Crusaders’ end and attacking at every opportunity.
Twenty-eight minutes into the contest, Unity Christian still hadn’t been credited with a shot on goal.
But the Crusaders’ first shot on goal was a good one. VanZalen eluded Madison Evans for her sixth goal of the season at the 28:05 mark.
Powers intensified the pressure even more in the first 10 minutes of the second half, but Ponstein made a couple of great saves to keep the lead. Ponstein made another spectacular save against Rachel Rasins with 9:57 to play and again on a free kick 90 seconds later.
Younger sister Alexis Ponstein gave the Crusaders the cushion they needed with an unassisted goal with a spectacular length of the field dash in the 77th minute.
“Coach was screaming on the sideline ‘go to the corner, go to the corner,’ ” Alexis Ponstein said, “and there was one defender left and I just decided to slow it down before I went to the corner, then she stepped to me and I realized I was open in the center of the field, so I went.”