GRAND RAPIDS — Take two minutes away from Tri County’s regional soccer game against Grand Rapids Catholic Central and it could be the Vikings moving further into the history books and deeper into the playoffs.
However, three Cougars goals in that span in the second half — two scored 10 seconds in between — was the decisive factor in Tuesday’s Division 3, regional 9 game, which was the furthest a Vikings girls soccer team has ever been.
“We knew they were going to be the best of the best because they earned this spot just like we did,” Tri County senior Savannah Wilson said about Catholic Central (17-4 overall). “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game. We knew we had to be first to every ball and we knew we just had to win the overall possession.”
The Cougars, however, displayed great ball control and movement throughout the first half, keeping pressure on Vikings sophomore goalkeeper Macey Matulis, getting two goals passed her to put the Cougars up 2-0 early.
“We were a little nervous and backed up from the ball from the start,” Tri County coach Vic Matulis said. “We got down but then were able to get back in it with a goal.”
That goal came from Wilson at 9:16 left in the first half, as she shot a hard grounder from the right side of the net that trickled in between the post and Catholic Central’s goalkeeper’s legs to cut the Cougars’ lead to 2-1.
“It was definitely a confidence booster, down one in the beginning, it was kind of hard on us, but once we got back up we were more confident,” Wilson said.
Matulis strategized by keeping fresh legs on the field as much as possible in the first half to counteract the Cougars’ dominating ball handling skills.
“We subbed hard in the beginning and we talked to everybody and we got our game back and it was working really well, but then halftime came,” Matulis said. “But I didn’t want it to be halftime because we were just starting to go.”
The Vikings, however, wasted no time in evening the score once play resumed, scoring on a fluke goal at 39:47 from Mickalia Sprik, who lofted a high shot from midfield that went over the head of the Cougars’ goalkeeper and bounced in the net.
The Vikings continued to keep the Cougars’ offense at bay, and even had a breakaway scoring chance from sophomore Grace Miller, but at 29:05, Catholic Central’s Mackenzie Schliem, who was wide open to the left of the Vikings’ net, scored on a perfect pass to take the lead, 3-2.
Just two minutes later, Cougars striker Grace Johnson would score back-to-back goals that all but sunk the Vikings’ ship of hopes for a second comeback.
“We came out strong in the second half, but then we couldn’t stop those goals,” Wilson said. “I’m not sure it was our positioning or if we were out of rhythm, but they got the advantage.”
Matulis knew his Vikings team, which went 19-2 overall this year, earned a share of a conference title and earned the team’s first ever district title, just wasn’t playing like it usually does.
“I didn’t have them ready. We should’ve played a little better. Only one to blame is me,” he said. “We tied it up and had the wind in our favor and I thought we would roll into it then, but three cutthroats in two minutes, two goals 10 seconds apart, I couldn’t see how it all really happened, but this is a kind of team that knows if you’re not touching them, they’re going to turn and shoot.”
Despite the season-ending loss, Matulis had much to be grateful for.
“We had a great season. Every day we have a talk like that of how proud of what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished,” he said. “Day one, when we came in, we were further ahead than the season before. They worked really hard.”
Matulis said this year could well be the start of a new winning tradition at Tri County for girls soccer.
“We have a great youth program. We’re getting it done. The ones coming up are pretty good” he said. “I see district championships over and over, as long as we have unity in our district.”
For Wilson, this season has been a memorable one she will never forget.
“Everybody on this team works so hard, they never give up. They’re dedicated to practices and they work hard in the games and I’ve never seen so much effort from a team,” she said. “I’ll remember this team, all being together and having fun. Mostly, we had fun. We stayed loose, had fun and it made the season go by well.”
The Cougars move on to face Hudsonville Unity Christian, which beat Paw Paw 1-0 in overtime to advance. Those teams will play Thursday.