MASON – East Lansing senior Drew Person wasn’t particularly enthused when he was moved from his attacking midfielder role to center back after the Trojans’ first game of the year.
East Lansing boys soccer coach Nick Archer was trying to clog the holes in his back line after his team’s season-opening 5-4 loss to Haslett.
Things have gone well for the Division 2 No. 1-ranked Trojans since then, and Tuesday’s rematch with the No. 18-ranked Vikings showed how far East Lansing has come since the initial encounter.
East Lansing captured its second consecutive CAAC Gold Cup championship with a 2-0 victory over Haslett at Mason High School. CAAC teams play in either the top tier gold tournament or the second-tier silver tournament.
“It definitely was a really good test,” Person said. “I wasn’t excited about (changing positions), I wanted to score goals and get assists. …It really helped us against this team.”
The Trojans entered the Lansing-area tournament as the No. 4 seed after finishing third in the CAAC Blue. The Vikings, who went a perfect 5-0 in the CAAC Red, were the No. 2 seed.
Person said coming into the tournament that his team felt like it had something to prove, even though East Lansing is regarded as the top Division 2 program in the state.
“We have a target on our back because we are East Lansing,” said Person, whose team was the No. 1 seed when it won the Gold Cup last season. “Going into this tournament, we had the mindset that we are a No. 4 seed and we need to play our game and play very well if we want to win this tournament. I feel like that fired us up a little bit and helped us get to this point.”
The two teams played to a stalemate in the first half, with the Trojans dominating possession in the first 20 minutes and Haslett applying pressure on the offensive end in the final 20 minutes.
East Lansing was able to get a break with 29 minutes remaining in the game when an errant goal kick from a Viking defender sent the ball directly to senior Sam Lebbie, who was able to score right in front of the net.
The Trojans caught another break nearly 15 minutes later on their second goal when a bouncing ball maneuvered past the Haslett defense and keeper Nathan Westerlund and gave junior Petrus Marten an open net to shoot at.
“It feels good, real good,” Archer said. “The (Gold) Cup is one of the toughest tournaments around, and in our experience playing in the Cup, we learned we need to rest afterward. It’s a tough three-game grind.”
The Vikings had multiple opportunities on the night to get on the scoreboard, but they were unable to capitalize on their near-scoring chances. In the first half, junior Joe Sparkia almost handed Haslett a one-goal lead, but his header in front of goal went wide left. Late in the second half, facing a two-goal deficit, junior Andy Vahng made a nifty move inside the 18-yard box and fired a shot that was caught by East Lansing keeper Scott Campbell, who had to dive across his line to make the stop.
“If we could have scored one or two (in the first half), I think the game would have been a lot more challenging for them coming out in the second half,” Vikings coach Darus Ward said. “We wasted a lot of chances. They had two chances, and they took advantage of them.
“We’ll fix it, we’ll grow from it, and we’ll keep going.”
SILVER CUP: Prior to the Gold Cup title game, No. 1-seed DeWitt faced No. 2-seed Holt in the CAAC Silver Cup. The Rams won the game, 2-0, at Mason High School.
Holt’s Josh Rosendale scored the game’s opening goal early in the first half to give his team a 1-0 lead. The Panthers’ Caleb Randall scored the equalizing goal. The game-winning goal for the Rams came from senior John Weaver, who scored with under three minutes remaining in the contest.
Contact James L. Edwards III at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.