The Notre Dame Girls Varsity Soccer team claimed its first MHSAA state title in program history, scoring a goal in the final minute of regulation to force overtime before prevailing after eight rounds of a penalty kick shootout over Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern.
Though the Irish held an 11-2 advantage on corner kicks throughout the match to go along with a 15-8 shots advantage (shots on goal were 8-3) they found themselves down a goal for the majority of the second half. After a scoreless opening half the Huskies got on the board with 34:42 remaining in the second half when sophomore Emily Ashby lofted a 50-yard through ball towards the box and junior Natalie Belsito ran through Notre Dame defense and cashed in the shot for a 1-0 lead.
Despite several opportunities, including many from right near the box, the Irish were unable to beat FHN goalkeeper Amanda Young (committed to Michigan Tech) until the 80th minute. With Notre Dame pressing, a hand ball right outside of the box led to a free kick being awarded with 41 seconds remaining. Junior Payton Williams then picked a perfect time to record her first goal of the season, finessing a shot over the Huskies’ wall of defenders just inside the far post to tie the game at 1-1. “I saw that side open, so I went for it,” Williams said. “It was amazing when time was coming down, knowing that we came back to do it, especially with it being my first goal in the state championship.”
After an additional 20 minutes of overtime could not provide a winner, the teams headed to penalty kicks and coach Jim Stachura turned to junior Eileen Haig, typically a defenseman, to play goalkeeper. Haig stopping the first penalty kick she faced, as well as two others to give her teammates multiple needed opportunities to end it. “Right after (regulation ended), the goalkeeper coach Ryan (Tadajewski) came and told me, putting the idea in my head and it went out of my head in overtime. Then I was thinking I have to do this for my team. I know I can save some of these. I had to do this,” Haig said. “Once I got in there, it was complete calm. It was amazing.”
The best-of-five penalty kicks round failed to provide a champion as the teams remained tied 3-3 and would head to single penalty kicks. Converting for the Irish were Williams, Olivia Mears, and Stephanie Maniaci. After trading goals and stops, Notre Dame received a break as the eighth shooter for the Huskies sailed a shot over the net, setting the stage for Rosella LoChirco, who buried the game-winning shot to give the Irish the 5-4 PK win in the eighth round.
“I tell you what, we played good enough to win and I thought we were always one foot away from scoring in regulation before that late goal. But we found a way to grind it out and win a state championships in a shootout. It’s unbelievable,” Notre Dame coach Jim Stachura said. “What a way to end it. Eight kickers into the shootout.”
Notre Dame (21-1-3) finished the season on an 18-game winning streak. En route to the title game, Notre Dame defeated #1-ranked DeWitt, #4-ranked Marian #8-ranked Warren Regina and #14-ranked Fenton in postseason play. The Irish lose seniors LoChirco, Erika Wiest, Hannah Zapczynski, Grace Cummings, Maya Jacobs, and Morgan O’Neill to graduation.