GVSU women's soccer defends DII national championship — two years later

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The Grand Valley State women's soccer team didn't have a chance to defend its national championship from 2019. Because of COVID-19, last season was shortened and moved to the spring, and after the Lakers won the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament, there were no more matches to play. The NCAA had canceled fall 2020 championships for Division II.

"We were practicing a lot," said forward Kennedy Bearden, "for no reason, actually."

Well, turns out there was a reason. It just took a while to get there.

The Grand Valley State women's soccer team won its seventh national championship.

Bearden, a forward from Detroit Country Day, scored a goal in double-overtime to propel Grand Valley State past Saint Rose of New York, 3-2, on Saturday afternoon at Switchbacks FC Stadium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to secure the program's seventh national championship. All of them have come since 2009.

Bearden, a sophomore because last season didn't count toward official NCAA eligibility, scored twice.

The Lakers have won national championships in 2021, '19, '15, '14, '13, '10 and '09.

"Honestly, it's indescribable, this feeling," Bearden said Sunday morning, before boarding the bus for the trip back to west Michigan. "This team put so much effort in. We faced so much adversity. Just to come out with the win, it was really special, especially for our seniors.

"It was just awesome."

One of those seniors, Cecilia Steinwascher, from Sterling Heights and Ford High School, scored the other goal, in the second half, for a 2-1 lead, before Saint Rose responded less than four minutes later.

Grand Valley State freshman goalkeeper Kendall Robertson, from Jackson and Western High School, stopped four of Saint Rose's six shots.

The winner from Bearden came just after the 100-minute mark, when senior forward Caitie Baron, a senior from Farmington Hills Mercy, battled for the ball, which ricocheted to Bearden. She drove it in, kicking off a dogpile on the field — before officials converged to consider overturning the winner.

That made for a few awkward moments, as the Lakers wondered whether they were national champs — before the official word came in that the goal was good.

A shot by Grand Valley in the first overtime was reviewed and ruled to have not crossed the line.

"It was just a lot of chaos," Bearden said. "We finally got the win, and it was the best feeling in the world."

It was followed by a celebration dinner of pizza and mac and cheese, "all the good stuff," Barden said.

The last season for Grand Valley State ended May 2 with a 3-0 win over Northern Michigan in the GLIAC final. A little over a month later, head coach Jeff Hosler, who had led the Lakers to three of their national championships, was hired as head coach at Michigan State.

Grand Valley State was without a head coach for nearly two months, before it hired Jim Conlon from Division III Washington University in St. Louis.

Grand Valley State's season started just one month later.

"We were really shook," Bearden, who assisted on the winning goal in 2019, said of the surprising coaching change. "We didn't know what to expect. We all just kept working over the summer, it didn't really stops us from doing what we needed to do."

On the new staff, Bearden said: "At first, it was just difficult (for them) trying to get used to our culture, and us trying to get used to them. But they had open arms to us and our culture, and as we went through the year, we blended together. We're one whole family."

Grand Valley State finished the season 24-1-2, with the sole loss and two ties to state rival Ferris State, which lost to Saginaw Valley State on penalty kicks in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Grand Valley State beat Saginaw Valley State, 2-0, in the regional final.

The women's soccer championship caps an impressive fall season for Grand Valley State athletics, which won the Division II men's cross-country championship and was runner-up on the women's side. The Lakers became the first program to boast both individual national champions in the same season — senior Isaac Harding (Rockford) and junior Hannah Becker. Junior Tanner Chada and sophomore Klaudia O'Malley (McBain) were national runners-up for Grand Valley State at the finals Nov. 20 in St. Leo, Florida.

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984