CANTON -- Saline has advanced to the final four of the MHSAA girls’ soccer playoffs for the first time. Maddy Ross, Taylor Mulder and Sarah Livesey scored and Sofia Sweier posted her 20th shutout of the season as Saline defeated Canton, 3-0, to win its first regional champion.
Saline will face East Kentwood or Midland at 7 p.m., Wednesday at Spring Arbor University in the semfinal. The winner will compete for the state championship against Troy Athens or Grand Blanc at 4 p.m., June 13 at DeMartin Stadium at Michigan State University.
The regional victory was a longtime coming for Saline head coach Dana Restrick and her Hornets. Some of the seniors on the team, like Mulder, Livesey and Amanda Zylstra, played in the regional final twice, losing to Canton in 2012 and Northville in 2014.
“We making history again,” said Mulder, who scored her 41st goal of the season. “We’d never won a regional championship before, so it’s one of the most satisfying feelings in the world. It’s awesome.”
Restrick’s near-misses date back to her playing days, as a 14-year-old Lady Hornet on the varsity squad.
“It’s been a long time coming. We’ll celebrate today, but after that we need to focus on the next game because teams can get thrilled with making it to a new level that no team has done and get complacent and maybe not as hungry,” Restrick said.
With a stiff breeze at their backs, the Hornets controlled play for most of the second half. In the first 15 minutes, Mulder, Danielle Rathfon and Rachel Genereaux all had good looks but fired shots off target. While Canton also had a couple of good chances created on long passes to speedy forwards like Hannah Lapko, Saline carried play.
At the 15:14 mark, Saline struck. With Amanda Zylstra leaping in for a header, the Canton keeper couldn’t control Rachel Genereaux’s corner kick. The rebound bounced out to Molly O’Sullivan, who arced a shot between two defenders, but wide right. Aly Dahlmann made a great play, leaping to head the ball and keeping it from passing the end line. The ball bounced into the crease along the goal line, where Maddy Ross was positioned just beyond the defender. The ball hit Ross and went into the goal.
“It was going out of bounds by Aly made a great play. It just bounced off my body and fell into the goal,” Ross said, describing the goal.
Restrick said the goal was a result of hours of practice.
“I don’t think people know how many pieces go into that. Every single person did what they were supposed to be. Rachel serves the ball. Amanda gets the header. Molly’s in her spot. Aly Dahlmann’s in her spot. Maddy’s in her spot. Everybody did their job on that corner. I don’t think you know how much we cover that in practice to make sure every spot is covered,” Restrick said.
Despite constant pressure, Saline was unable to add to their lead before halftime.
At half, Restrick and the coaching staff made adjustments to nullify those long passes to spring the Canton forwards. Despite playing into the wind, the offense generated more dangerous scoring opportunities.
“I think we were smarter in the second half. We were able to possess a little more and our opportunities were better opportunities, rather than just hopeful opportunities/ But the first half we still played well. Canton gave us everything they could. We executed the game plan,” Restrick said. “These girls believe in themselves and that’s why we continue to make history.”
15:20 into the second half, 40-goal scorer Taylor Mulder, who’d been marked and shadowed for the last two games, scored her first goal of the regional tournament. It was a demonstration of will as much as skill.
Mulder went streaking in battling for a loose ball with a Canton defender and lost her balance near the top of the 18. She picked herself, found the ball, spun around her mark and then, nestled between two defenders, she fired a shot past the keeper for a 2-0 lead 15:20 into the second half.
“By the time you get to this point in the season, every team has a plan for Mulder. She’s not going to get the open looks she usually does. She’s still finding a way to get things done. But what can you say? She went down, got back up and scored,” Restrick said.
At 23:21, another one of Restrick’s seniors made her mark. Sarah Livesey, who scored the game-winner on a 40-yard free kick in the regional semifinal against Woodhaven, did it again against Canton.
“I originally wasn’t going to shoot that one, but I looked back at Amanda (Zylstra) and she said, ‘just like Tuesday.’ So I shot it,” Livesey said.
Into the wind, the shot soared toward the net, somehow coming down perfectly over the leaping goalie but under the bar. The crowd roared and the Lady Hornets mobbed Livesey.
The first regional title in Saline girls’ soccer history was just 16:39 away.
The Hornets had two or three other great chances down the stretch. Saline’s defense kept the Chiefs at bay. If a Canton runner managed to beat a Hornet, it seemed like there was always a second or third Hornet there for back up.
“Our defense is phenomenal. We have the five of us, including Sofia. We’re unstoppable,” Livesey said. The defense of Livesey, Zylstra, Allison Luurtsema and Morgan Jones and goalie Sofia Sweier recorded the team’s 20th shutout of the year.
In goal, Sofia Sweier’s 20th shutout of the season ties her for fourth in the MHSAA record book.
- Taylor Mulder – Took all the abuse Canton could heap on her, but she kept coming, using her speed to keep the Chiefs in retreat. Her goal was more will than skill – and that’s saying something.
- Sarah Livesey – Livesey and the entire defense (Zylstra, Jones, Luurtsema) played a fantastic game. Anyone of the defense is worthy of three star mention, but Livesey gets the nod for yet another 40-yard moonshot into the goal. Two goals in two regional games for the defender who went all season without scoring. If they ever start keeping yards/goal stats, Livesey is your girl.
- Aly Dahlmann – Maddy Ross scored the goal (her second in as many games), but Dahlmann’s header to keep the ball from bouncing harmlessly out of bounds kept that play alive. Not only that, she directed the ball right back in front of the net, over a defender, to Ross, to deflected it in for the opening goal.