East Lansing — Breaking through barriers is never easy, and in the case of the Pontiac Notre Dame Prep girls soccer team, it seemed like a fleeting dream on a number of occasions in the Division 2 championship game against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.
But with its eighth penalty kick shooter on the pitch, Notre Dame was finally able to call itself state champions as Rosella LoChirco hit the back of the net and clinched the first title in school history with a 2-1 (5-4 penalty kicks) triumph.
“I was just ready to get it in the net and win the game,” LoChirco said. “I was a little apprehensive because of muscle pulls during the game, but I just saw a big open spot in the net, and once it went in, it was just total craziness.”
The craziness really started with 41 seconds remaining in regulation.
Notre Dame (21-1-3) dominated possession and attempts on goal, but was trailing 1-0 before a handball was called on Northern at the edge of the box. Notre Dame Prep's Payton Williams stuck the ball in the far corner with a strike from the right side to force extra time.
“I don’t even know what I was thinking,” Williams said of her first goal of the season. “I just needed to do something for our team to get us back in it. It was just an amazing moment for me.”
Williams' teammate was impressed.
“That was a Cinderella story,” LoChirco said. “(She) takes a lot of our free kicks, and for her to step up with a minute left and slot that so perfectly, it was just the best feeling. I’m so proud of her.”
When it came to penalty kicks, Notre Dame coach Jim Stachura made the tough decision to pull Haley Williams from goal in favor of defender Eileen Haig. The team's starting goalkeeper, Morgan Verheyen, was with her AAU volleyball team.
Haig stepped up big, making two saves, including one that prevented Northern winning the title with its sixth shooter.
“I just cleared my head as I was walking in,” Haig said. “I knew that my team was behind me no matter what and I knew I just had to go in there and do the best I could, and I did that.”
When asked if she had practiced for this situation, Haig had a surprising answer.
“Not in a few years,” she said, smiling. “But I’m good at jumping and guessing.”
“She’s an athlete,” Stachura said of Haig. “It’s the state finals. Why not?”
Notre Dame put eight shots on goal, attempted 16, compared to just two and eight from Northern (16-4-4).
Amanda Young (seven saves) was a force in goal for the first 79 minutes of regulation, shutting the door on Notre Dame at every turn. Natalie Belsito put Northern on top with a goal in the 45th minute, as she got behind the defense on a long ball and was able to finish with a flick of her foot on the first touch.
Hudsonville Unity Christian 2, Flint Powers Catholic 0: Emily Ponstein had seven saves, and Alaina VanZalen and Alexis Ponstein scored for Unity Christian (22-2-1), which captured its third consecutive championship and 10th in the last 12 years.