By CHRIS DOBROWOLSKI firstname.lastname@example.org
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — BELLAIRE — The task would appear to be tall.
But the Bellaire boys soccer team is going into Wednesday’s Division 4 soccer state semifinal feeling like it has nothing to lose.
Despite a stellar season where they have a 24-1 record, and having gone farther in postseason play than any other soccer team in school history, the Eagles will most certainly be the underdog when they take on top-ranked Grand Rapids Covenant Christian in Cedar Springs. Yet, Bellaire isn’t daunted by having to go against the Chargers (21-1-3).
“I don’t think anyone expects us to be here,” said Bellaire head coach Brad Rowe. “Little old Bellaire, a public school. Public schools don’t usually get this far. We’re kind of playing with house money. We have no pressure. Most teams tend to look past us and hopefully Covenant Christian will do the same.
“The pressure is on Covenant Christian. They’re the No. 1 team in the state. We’re going in with the attitude to just go out and give it our best effort, leave it all on the field and play with a ton of heart. That’s what we’ve done until now and it’s worked for us. Hopefully it will work on Wednesday.”
It most definitely has, and that includes five postseason wins. Out of those five victories, three have come by one goal, a 1-0 win over Muskegon Catholic Central in the regional final on Friday being the latest. Rowe expects a similar low-scoring, defensive contest against Covenant Christian.
“They’re a very good defensive team, from what I understand,” said Rowe. “They’ve got an all-state keeper. Looking at their record, they just haven’t allowed a lot of balls in the net this year. Goals are going to be at a premium.”
The Chargers have been as stingy a team as you’ll find in the state, having allowed only eight goals all season. Goalie Austin Brower, who was the Chargers’ keeper on last year’s team that reached the state finals, has only allowed five of those goals. He’s been in net for more than a dozen shutouts. Defenders Jared Cammenga and Austin VanDyke were both on last year’s squad and lead the defense, along with Brower.
Only one of the five teams Covenant Christian has played in the postseason has scored, that being Quincey, which lost 6-1 in the regional semifinals. The Chargers then beat second-ranked Kalamazoo Hackett 1-0 in a shootout on Saturday.
“That was a monumental win,” said Covenant Christian coach Mike Noorman. “We had never been in a shootout before. We had the guys who could do it, but because we had never been in that situation before it was new and nerve-racking. They missed their very first PK and then they hit all four of theirs after that. We hit all five of ours.”
Even though it was coming off a runner-up finish, Covenant Christian did not necessarily expect to be doing as well as it has. The Chargers had plenty of question marks after graduating 11 players and a No.1 ranking was a surprise.
“I did not expect our team to catch on so well, having graduated so many guys,” said Noorman. “They played really well right away. We worked really hard. It was different because last year we really worked hard at it a lot. It seemed to come so easy to these guys right away, playing together. Our group as a whole is still senior-led and they were at the finals last year. The idea of being the No. 1-ranked team was still exciting for them.”
Bellaire checks in at No. 10 in the state rankings and has started to draw attention to itself from locals with its magical postseason run.
“It’s really nice to start to see the kids get the credit for the years of effort they’ve put in,” said Rowe. “This group of kids has been at it for four years, working hard, knowing that this was a possibility their senior year. To see the press, the awards and the things that are coming their way, it’s really exciting for me to see them get that. I think they’re enjoying it.”