Novi coach Todd Pheiffer is proud of the way his team has handled the pressure of having a huge target on its back after winning the Division 1 state soccer championship last spring.
Pheiffer didn’t know what to expect after losing several key players from the state title team, but junior Nevada Larson and Sarah Katinas have been outstanding while playing new positions.
Junior Avery Fenchel continued to play like a star despite being a marked player after leading Novi in scoring her previous two years.
In fact, Fenchel has taken her game to another level and has scored a career-high 24 goals this season, including a hat trick in last week’s 4-0 regional final win over Grand Blanc at West Bloomfield. That sent Novi (26-0-1) to the state semifinals Wednesday against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central (21-2) at Holt at 6 p.m.
The Division 2 and 3 semifinals are set for Tuesday with title games on Friday, while the Division 1 and 4 semifinals are Wednesday with the finals on Saturday. All championship matches are at Michigan State.
“We’ve only given up six goals all season, led by Lauren Calhoun and Nevada Larson in the back, Sarah Katinas and Eva Burns have been phenomenal all season long,” Pheiffer said. “That’s what we’ve talked about, just limiting the other team’s chances.
“We’ve got enough goal scorers with Avery and Jessie (Bandyk) and Lexi (Whalen) and Julia (Stadtherr). We know we’ll get scoring opportunities."
Novi has 22 shutouts in its 27 games.
“Lauren Calhoun has been our starting center back for four years,” Pheiffer said. “Nevada Larson had never played center back until this year and for her to learn the position is great. Sarah Katinas had never played outside back before this year. Eva was phenomenal last year as a freshman and she’s even stepped up her game more this year.
“And then, credit to Sammy Maday in goal. She was a JV player about a month ago and then we lost our goalie (injury). She had to step in and our defense really stepped it up, knowing that we wanted to make her feel as comfortable as possible.”
Novi was faced with adversity after sophomore goalkeeper Abbey Pheiffer, the coach’s daughter, suffered a season-ending knee injury in early May after posting 16 shutouts in the first 19 games. Todd Pheiffer then pulled Maday, a freshman, off the JV and she has played well.
The Novi-Grand Blanc game was a rematch of last year’s state final. Grand Blanc was the favorite, outscoring its opponents 25-0 in postseason play before Novi’s 1-0 upset win with Fenchel scoring the lone goal.
“We’re a different team than last year,” Pheiffer said. “We’ve moved people around. We’re not as deep in some positions, not as deep in the midfield as we were last year.”
Fenchel, a Ball State commit, was named Allstate All-American and will be honored at the MLS All-Star Game in Orlando this summer.
“Everybody knows what she’s done all season and they try to mark her and she does a great job of moving up top and just trying to pick and choose her spaces,” said Pheiffer of Fenchel.
Fenchel had 22 goals last season before improving on that this year.
“I think our team is working really well this year,” she said. “Last year we were great too, but this year I think we’re connecting with each other and we’re finishing opportunities better. We’re really motivated to win this again.”
Fenchel has been impressed with the play of Maday.
“I think Sammy’s gained some confidence over the games, knowing how strong our back line is,” Fenchel said. “We’ve gotten a lot of shutouts and Sammy’s done a good job for us since she’s been back there.”
Larson enjoys her role at center back.
“A lot of teams we’ve played in the KLAA have great center forwards so it’s really challenged me to play with my head a lot more and up through the midfield and just kind of learn spacing, like off of Lauren (Calhoun), and she’s done a great job of helping me learn the position,” Larson said.
Plymouth faces Troy in the other semifinal Wednesday at Troy Athens at 7 p.m. with the state title game set for Saturday at 4.
Flint Powers Catholic vs. Bloomfield Hills Marian. 7 p.m., at Novi
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern vs. Marshall, 7 p.m., at Portage Northern
Final: Friday, 4 p.m.
Boyne City vs. Grand Rapids South Christian, 6 p.m., at Cedar Springs
Warren Regina vs. Essexville Garber, 6 p.m., at Howell Parker Middle School
Final: Friday, 1 p.m.
Novi vs. Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, 6 p.m., at Holt
Plymouth vs. Troy, 7 p.m. at Troy Athens
Final: Saturday, 4 p.m.
North Muskegon vs. Kalamazoo Christian, 7 p.m., at Comstock Park
Royal Oak Shrine vs. Saginaw Nouvel, 7 p.m., at Troy
Final: Saturday, 1 p.m.
► All finals at DeMartin Soccer Complex, Michigan State University