EAST LANSING, Mich. — On the first day of soccer practice this spring, Novi coach Tod Pheiffer had a lecture for his defending-champion Wildcats.
“We graduated 10 seniors from last year. That was last year’s team, that was their championship, now we’re playing for this year’s championship,” he told the girls. “We had a lot of key players back and that was great because we had a lot of experience, but this was this year’s team.”
That message resonated with Jessie Bandyk.
“Coming off of a winning season, people think, ‘Oh, it’s a rebuilding year, you’re losing all these seniors,’ but it really wasn’t,” the senior captain said. “Looking back, it’s crazy, because we won every game. It was definitely unexpected coming off of last season. We just took it in stride and we came back and got another state championship.”
Behind Bandyk’s pair of second-half goals Saturday, the calm and collected Wildcats frustrated Kensington Lakes West Division foe Plymouth (Canton, Michigan), 5-0, to win their second straight Division 1 soccer title, the seventh in school history.
Novi eked out a 1-0 upset win over top-ranked Grand Blanc in 2018. This year, though, 28-0-1 Novi was the No. 1 team, and — as Pheiffer would have it — there was no comparison.
“Last year we came in as the underdog, so we were able to go into the game like ‘Let’s just leave it out there, whatever happens,’” said Julia Stadtherr, who had a goal and two assists. “This year there was a lot more pressure, but we also had people with the experience of being in that state championship game, so that canceled it out.”
Avery Fenchel and Lexi Whalen gave Novi a 2-0 lead with their first-half goals. But Stadherr said it wasn’t a comfortable lead, since the Wildcats had played Plymouth (19-5-1) twice earlier and knew of their tendencies.
“Going into the second half we just wanted to score as many goals as we could and really solidify the lead,” she said. “Plymouth has a pattern of coming back from 2-0 over the course of the state tournament so we knew, at halftime, 2-0 wasn’t good enough, we had to get more goals.”
Novi’s play was as dominant as the final score indicated, as they outshot Plymouth 25-5. Freshman goalkeeper Sammy Maday earned the shutout — Novi’s 23rd in 29 games.
Even though the outcome wasn’t in doubt, winning brought a feeling of relief to Bandyk.
“This year we had a lot more riding on us,” she said. “If you talk to anyone on this team, it was more nerve-wracking this year. You’re expected to win, so if you don’t, you definitely disappoint a lot of people, but we just tried to put that behind us and not let that get in our heads. It’s another soccer game — we just had to give it our all and work hard.”
Get more Michigan high school soccer news at the Detroit Free Press.