NORTH MUSKEGON – Temperatures in the 40s Thursday night at Fred Jacks Memorial Field served as a reminder that winter is coming.
Fortunately for North Muskegon’s boys soccer team, Winter has arrived – make that, Brandon Winter.
The junior forward scored both goals in North Muskegon’s 2-0 victory over a gritty Ravenna squad in a Division 4 district championship match. It’s the Norsemen’s second district title in three years.
“This is the first time we’ve ever hosted (an entire district), so we wanted to make sure we left our stamp,” said North Muskegon coach Jeremy Tjapkes, whose program has been established for 22 years.
The Norsemen (10-11-2) advance to next Tuesday’s 5 p.m. regional semifinal at Cadillac’s Rotary Club Field, where they’ll face the winner of Saturday’s district final between eighth-ranked McBain Northern Michigan Christian (17-1-1) and Oscoda (16-2).
Ravenna, which tied North Muskegon 1-1 on Sept. 15 at Fred Jacks field, closes the season with a 6-9-3 record. The Bulldogs were aiming for their first-ever district title.
“I’ll give them credit, man. They’re a hard-fighting team,” Tjapkes said. “You know, they finished at the bottom of our conference, but that team has a lot of fight and a lot of heart.”
Photos by Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
During a hard-fought, physical game, in which the teams combined for only nine shots, Winter made the most of his opportunities.
Winter got the Norse on the board with 32:02 left in the first half, when he knocked in a header off a feed by senior Hunter Koekkoek. He added an insurance goal with 5:33 remaining in the contest, when he chipped in a loose ball from the doorstep after junior Jack Erne fired a point-blank shot attempt.
“Mr. Winter has been stepping up for us big this year,” Tjapkes said. “Yeah, he’s opportunistic. When he’s prepared and his opportunities have been there, he’s been capitalizing for us.”
Said Winter: “It’s amazing to come out on top in this one. We’ve got more to go. … It’s the first time we’ve ever hosted (an entire district). It means a lot, playing for my seniors. I mean, it’s their last year – we’ve got to do everything for them.”
North Muskegon sophomore goalkeeper Leighton Hunt made four saves. His counterpart, Ravenna senior Isaac Kantola, turned away three shots.
The Norsemen are no stranger to tough games.
Last season, they fell to Western Michigan Christian in the district finals, 2-1, up in Big Rapids. This season, Tjapkes estimates they’ve faced nine or 10 state-ranked opponents, plus a tough Forest Hills Northern squad.
“I think it made us better as a team,” Winter said. “When we got beat, we didn’t get down on ourselves. We looked at it as a learning asset. It was just a lot better for us as a team.”
Ravenna has made some strides as a soccer program. Coach Alex Mares said that the Bulldogs didn’t field a team for a couple seasons prior to his arrival four years ago.
Mares said in his first season, the Bulldogs had only nine players. Those roster numbers have increased each year, he said.
The ’Dogs, whose school emerged as a football power in the late-1980s and into the 2000s, were trying to make history on the pitch, too.
“I am so proud of these guys. I feel bad because Ravenna had never been district champs, this was our opportunity, and I have a bunch of kids crying out there. I feel bad for ’em,” Mares said.
“I’m so glad, though, to where we got, all the progress we had this year. It’s been a great season for the boys and it just hurts me to see them like that right now.”
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