Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
CEDAR SPRINGS — It’s never easy getting to the state semifinals. It’s especially tough doing it six straight seasons like North Muskegon’s girls soccer program.
It’s even tougher losing heartbreakers on that stage two straight seasons.
That’s the Norse’s fate, as they lost a tough 3-1 overtime decision to nemesis Kalamazoo Christian in the Division 4 state semifinals Wednesday night at Cedar Springs’ Red Hawk Stadium. It follows the 1-0 loss to the Comets in last year’s semifinals at Comstock Park.
After a shaky first half, North Muskegon came back strong in the final 40 minutes of regulation. The Norse tied it up at 1 with 14:53 remaining as senior captain Natalie Pannucci bent in a free kick.
Following a scoreless first of two 10-minute OT halves, Kalamazoo Christian senior Taylor Leonard scored two goals in a five-minute span in the final nine minutes to win it.
“They battled. They would have played another whole game at that point. You could just see it in their eyes — they wanted to keep playing,” North Muskegon coach Caleb Parnin said about his squad.
North Muskegon, ranked second in the Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association Division 4 poll, closes the season with a 17-4-1 record. The Norse, who captured West Michigan Conference, district and regional titles, saw their 15-game winning streak snapped on Wednesday.
North Muskegon had not allowed three goals in a game since a 3-1 loss to Division 3 state semifinalist Elk Rapids on April 22.
Seventh-ranked Kalamazoo Christian (18-6-0) will take on Clarkston Everest Collegiate (7-7-1) in Saturday’s 1 p.m. state championship match at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Soccer Stadium. Everest defeated top-ranked Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett in the semifinals, 1-0.
Last season, Kalamazoo Christian suffered a 1-0 loss in the state finals to Royal Oak Shrine.
Two years ago, North Muskegon rolled to the Division 4 state title, defeating Shrine 5-0 in the championship match.
“That haunts me to this day, so we’re so determined to go and win this year,” Leonard said about the Comets’ state finals defeat last year. “Everybody wants it more than ever before and we’re ready.”
Because of injuries and the red-card suspension of standout junior defender Kennedi Koekkoek, North Muskegon was forced to shuffle players around in its lineup.
In North Muskegon’s 1-0 regional finals win over Harbor Springs last week, Koekkoek was administered a red card for an intentional touch in the goal box on a call that the Norse disputed in the days to follow but were unable to get overturned.
It’s been a memorable ride for the Norse seniors, especially for captains Pannucci and Sam Johnson, the team leaders in goal-scoring.
Johnson played the last four games with a cast and wrap over her left forearm after she broke a couple bones in her arm in the district semifinals. Additionally, the right wing has been playing through a painful labral hip tear injury suffered near the beginning of last season along with tendinitis in her hip.
“I had a lot of fun. I became a lot closer with my teammates,” Johnson said. “Honestly, as much as the injuries I’ve had — they sucked — it’s fun to overcome them and still play through them, you know, having your team cheering you on and supporting you through it.”
Said Pannucci: “I’d say this team was super supportive and the connections we built through the whole season were super awesome and (the memories will last) a lifetime.”
Here are more details from Wednesday’s match:
- Kalamazoo Christian got on the board less than four minutes into the match when senior Rylan Smith lofted a shot out of the reach of North Muskegon junior keeper Emma Lamiman.
- Kalamazoo Christian outshot North Muskegon in the first half, 14-3, including 9-2 in shots on goal.
- In the second half, the Norse turned it around, putting five shots on goal compared to only three for the Comets.
- Neither team mustered many opportunities in the first OT period. In the second OT period, bpth teams managed a pair of shots on goal — the Comets cashed theirs in, while the Norse did not.
- Lamiman was strong in goal for North Muskegon, making 12 saves. Her counterpart, Kalamazoo Christian junior Elizabeth Netz, made seven stops.
- Lamiman carried a string of three straight shutouts into Wednesday’s match. During the Norse’s 15-game winning streak, she recorded 10 shutouts.
- Leonard’s first goal of overtime came on a header in traffic in front of the net off a corner kick with 9:05 remaining in the second extra period. Her second goal came from the right side on some slick footwork and a nice shot against her body with 4:04 left.
- North Muskegon graduates seven seniors from this year’s team. Among them are Pannucci and Jaley Schultz, who were both key members of the Norse’s state title team as sophomores in 2021. In that state championship game, Schultz scored a goal and Pannucci notched an assist.
Listen to a replay of the CatchMark SportsNet audio stream of the game:
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