Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
NORTH MUSKEGON — Nothing was stopping North Muskegon’s Sam Johnson Thursday night during a Division 4 girls district soccer final against rival Western Michigan Christian.
Not a broken forearm/wrist, fractured in two places two nights earlier. Not sensational Warriors freshman keeper Elaina Clapp.
Johnson’s pinpoint shot from the short side on a beautiful, crossfield feed by Kennedi Koekkoek beat Clapp with 25:22 remaining in the contest and proved the lone goal in North Muskegon’s 1-0 victory on a warm evening at Fred Jacks Memorial Field.
It’s the third straight district championship for the Norse, who also won three in a row prior to the 2020 season being canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That goalie was super good. My run was kind of late because I was worried the goalie was going to scoop it up but, yeah … I just ran onto it and slipped it (past the keeper),” Johnson said. “Thank goodness. I was starting to get a little worried.”
North Muskegon (15-3-1), ranked second in the state and a winner of 13 straight games, advances to next Wednesday’s 5 p.m. regional semifinal against McBain Northern Michigan Christian (15-3-0) at Big Rapids High School.
McBain NMC defeated Shelby, 3-1, in a district final Thursday at Brethren. North Muskegon beat Shelby in West Michigan Conference play, 5-0, May 15 at Shelby.
Western Michigan Christian, which tied North Muskegon 0-0 in the March 23 season opener, finishes with a 7-6-3 record. It’s been an emotional season for the Warriors. Freshman Alia Zuidema died on April 29 following a medical emergency.
“Like I told the girls (after Thursday’s match), success is defined by just being able to take the field again after what we’ve been through,” WMC coach Jared McFarland said. “To be able to fight with (North Muskegon), to be here in this moment and this stage, was more than we could ever ask for.”
Western Michigan Christian, which employed a defensive-minded approach, managed only a few shots on goal. North Muskegon put 11 shots on goal, but could not solve Clapp until near the midway point of the second half.
Wearing a black, padded wrap over the blue cast covering her left forearm, the speedy Johnson took a pass just off the right post. She had very little room to beat Clapp, but Johnson fired a laser nearside that found the back of the net and set off a celebration. The Norse could then breathe a little easier in the tense game, although their work was not yet finished.
Between North Muskegon’s defense and the goalkeeping of junior Emma Lamiman, the Norse were able to put it away. Lamiman wasn’t tested nearly as often as Clapp, but she did make a nice, leaping save with just under 15 minutes left.
“It was really stressful. I think we executed really well,” Lamiman said. “I know in the game we were kind of nervous knowing that we did tie 0-0 in the regular season, but I think we executed really well and we did a good job so I’m excited.”
Johnson’s presence provided North Muskegon an emotional and psychological lift, not to mention her aggressiveness and prowess from the right wing. In addition to her game-winning goal, she managed to rocket a few other shots Clapp’s way, but the Warriors’ netminder was up to the challenge.
Nothing was keeping Johnson from suiting up Thursday. Tuesday night, she broke two bones in her forearm/wrist area late in the first half of a narrow 3-2 district semifinal victory over Ravenna.
“I fell and I tried to catch myself and then some girl happened to fall and sit on me, so it just like (snapped). I had to go and get it snapped back into place,” Johnson said while gesturing with her right arm.
“It wasn’t just the pain, too, it was the way it looked. It was bent like (90 degrees downward).”
Johnson said she’ll have to undergo surgery on her arm, but she’s going to try and wait it out as long as she can.
She said her arm “hurt really bad” during Thursday’s game despite taking pain medication. When asked whether she tried to use the “club” to her advantage, Johnson said she was too scared to hit anybody with it.
To Johnson, it wasn’t even a question whether or not she would play Thursday.
“No, no,” she said. “Right when I went to the doctor’s office, I was like, ‘So I’m going to play Thursday,’ and they just laughed and they were like, ‘We can figure something out.'”
McFarland has a lot of history with the Johnson family. He said he used to train with them in the summers.
While wearing a T-shirt with “Warrior Strong” on the front of it, in memory of Zuidema, McFarland said that Sam Johnson is the epitome of a warrior. After the match, Johnson and McFarland chatted for a moment, exchanging an embrace and fist bump.
“I knew that there was no doubt that she would be playing tonight after I heard that she was in a cast. There was no doubt — it’s her senior year,” McFarland said. “She’s an absolute warrior. Credit to her. She’s a good player.”
As North Muskegon players, coaches and fans milled about the field following the game, the sprinklers went off on Fred Jacks Field.
That seems like the only thing that’s cooling off the Norse and Sam Johnson these days, however.
With Thursday’s tally, Johnson has a team-leading 17 goals and eight assists. She has a goal or assist in 11 straight games.
“The amount of pain she’s playing with and doesn’t complain about it … she wants to go in as soon as she comes out. (She says) ‘Coach, I’m ready to go,'” North Muskegon coach Caleb Parnin said.
“Outstanding player. I’m really proud of her and, I mean, she did it again. She put the team on her back so to speak and they rally around her when they see that. The girls know how much pain she’s in — they know how much this was hurting her and what this might mean for this season. She absolutely fired them up tonight, which was awesome.”
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