Going into this season, it would have been difficult to predict that Lansing Christian would be playing in the Division 4 girls soccer state semifinals.
After all, the Pilgrims graduated their starting goalkeeper and leading scorer Kristy Gomez tore a knee ligament in the off-season.
So coach Joel Vande Kopple really did not know what to expect from his young team.
“We had a lot of talent, but we had a lot of question marks,” Vande Kopple said. “We took some lumps earlier in the season, but give credit to the girls, especially the young girls, stepping into some tough positions. They’ve really come through for us.”
The Pilgrims will go into their semifinal game with a record of 10-3-3, and were battle-tested early in the season with tough losses to much bigger schools with strong teams. Two of their losses were to Mason and Holt and one of their ties was with Haslett.
But the turning point may have been their other defeat, a 2-1 loss to Laingsburg on April 29. They have not lost a game since.
“That was the low point for us,” Vande Kopple said. “But the next game we came back, started playing well and I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Gomez is back with the team now, after missing the entire regular season. She scored one goal and set up the other in the Pilgrims’ 2-1 win over Saginaw Nouvel Catholic in the regional final, just her second game of the year.
Vande Kopple said that the effect of her absence may not have been completely negative.
“Obviously, we hated that Kristy was out, but the nice thing is, we couldn’t rely on Kristy to score the goals that she did last year,” he said. “We had to figure out ways to get other girls in good positions. After that Laingsburg game, they really stepped up. You can’t even try to replace Kristy, but they definitely produced at a very high level.”
When they face defending state finalist Clarkston Everest/Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes in the semifinals, the Pilgrims will go into the game with just a hint of swagger after coming from behind against Nouvel in the regional final. The Panthers muscled their way to dominating the midfield in the first half, but Lansing Christian dug deep and turned the tables in the second.
“We’ve got some girls with some attitudes on our team,” Vande Kopple said. “We were in a similar situation last year, down 1-0 at the half to a very tough, physical team, and we couldn’t come back. We did this year, and it was a great game.”
The winner of that semifinal will face either Kalamazoo Christian or Grandville Calvin Christian for the Division 4 state championship at 3 p.m. on Saturday at Mason.