No. 5 Grand Blanc knocks off defending champ, No. 4 Midland, to win Saginaw Valley League title in first season as a league member
GRAND BLANC — The Saginaw Valley League girls soccer trophy is going to look a bit different, once the Grand Blanc Bobcats get it in the hands of an engraver.
The No. 5-ranked Bobcats announced their arrival in the league by beating the defending SVL champion, the No. 4-ranked Midland Chemics, 2-1, Wednesday evening, claiming the trophy in their first year as a league member.
“It feels really good, because we’ve never been in this league before,” said senior all-stater Paige Webber, who got the game-winner with just less than 10 minutes to play. “It feels good to finally be in the league, and take over the championship.”
Grand Blanc joined the Saginaw Valley League this year after nearly a decade in the Kensington Lakes Activities Association.
[EDITOR'S NOTE: Highlights from Wednesday's game will appear on the State Champs! High School Sports Showat 9 a.m. Sunday on Fox Sports Detroit.]
“I looked at it (the trophy) when it was up in the press box, and it’s ‘Midland Dow, Midland, Midland, Midland Dow, Saginaw Heritage, Midland, Midland …’” Grand Blanc coach Greg Kehler said with a chuckle. “It’s like ‘OK, let’s put our name on that thing for once.’”
It’s not like the program hasn’t had its share of hardware, though.
The Bobcats won their first KLAA title on their way out the door last season, after spending years dominating the Big 9. They won league titles 16 of the last 19 years in that league (1991-2000, 2002-06, 2009) before joining the KLAA, and winning a divisional title right out of the chute in 2010.
The north half of the SVL has had a hammerlock on the hardware in that league, with three teams — Midland (7), Midland Dow (18) and Saginaw Heritage (9) — winning outright titles or shares in every season but three since the league — which was created in 1904 — began contesting girls soccer in 1986.
The Chemics (15-2-1), who won three straight from 2007-09 after a 30-year drought, just didn’t have the horses to capture their second title in the last five seasons. Midland was appreciably slowing as the game wore on, giving up chance after chance to the Bobcats (16-2-1) in the second half.
“It was a couple of things: One of them was that we only had three subs, four subs. I’m hurt, and I have one player that — she’ll be back, but we chose not play her today. Another one was out at school because of other school commitments. Two starters, one a center midfielder, one is a forward, so it makes a huge difference with what I can rotate. That’s one thing. In the second half we dropped off a little bit. We could’ve won a little more in the midfield, but we lost, and I had to move people around,” Midland coach Rodrigo Barassi said. “It’s one of those things that we just ran out of legs in the second half.
“Second half, we just lost it. Our defense has carried us throughout the whole season. It was one of those where we just ran out of human resources.”
It was something that was tangible to the Bobcats, even before the half.
“As a matter of fact, I talked about it with my JV coach (Nick Thomas) at halftime, or even before the half, and I said, ‘You know, I’m not sure they’ve played 80 minutes at this pace, against teams like that.’ And not that it’s their fault — I mean, it’s just what you’re given as a schedule. But we’ve played a lot of tough, tough teams, and I think that helps our fitness, I think it helps our awareness and our ability to play fast, and under pressure. It just does. We talked about it at halftime, and I said ‘I don’t think they can go 80 at this pace.’ You could tell,” Kehler said. “Their midfielders just kept dropping back into the final third, our attacking third. Finally we connected on that last one.”
Even with all the pressure the Bobcats were applying, Midland keeper Maya Etienne and the Chemic defense kept it tied through the first 70 minutes, until Webber finally slipped a shot into the lower left corner of the net with 9:58 left, off an assist from Ally Childers.
“I did think it was coming, with the amount of chances I was getting, one of them was going to go through. I wasn’t super nervous, I was just getting frustrated waiting for it to happen,” said the Michigan State-bound Webber, who has more than 100 career goals. “I was getting very frustrated out there. I was getting very annoyed. She saved like 10 of my shots. It felt good to finally get one through.”
It was a bit of a relief for Kehler, too, considering he didn’t want his team — which had carried the play for the entirety of the second half — to get into a shootout, where anything could happen.
“Yeah. I hate shootouts. With the boys, we went to Midland Dow, and played the same kind of game. I wasn’t disappointed with how my boys played, at all, and we lost the game in a shootout. That’s how they go. So, yeah, it was nice to get that one,” the coach said. “With Paige, you’ve just gotta stay on her for 80 minutes, and that’s tough to do. She picked a spot, and found it, and got the game-winner. She’s done that all year.”
Childers got the Bobcats on the board with 9:29 left first half, popping a rebound of a shot by Isabella Sabo into the top right corner of the net for a 1-0 Grand Blanc lead.
“I’ve always said this, that Ally Childers plays the most important position that we have, because she’s a holding mid, but she can get forward and attack,” Kehler said of Childers, who will join Webber at Michigan State next season. “She’s really improved as a scorer this year, and I think she knew that she had to with the losses of all the goal-scorers we had last year. She’s been incredible.”
Midland tied the game at 1-1 with 2:45 left first half, scoring on a free kick by Ashley Hills that the Grand Blanc keeper got two hands on, but just couldn’t squeeze.
Chemics defender Jackie Brown made a huge defensive play just four minutes into the game, pushing Grand Blanc forward Tessa Garnett off the ball, after Etienne had gone for the stop, and missed.
After that, though, Etienne was spot-on, stopping a slew of Bobcat shots in the second half.
“This was a really big game to play tonight, and a really great team, against Midland — this kind of game gets us ready for the tournament, and I think it’s going to help us down the road,” said Kehler, whose team is hoping to finally break through in the postseason, after Division 1 runner-up finishes three of the last four seasons, and each of the last two.
“Oh, no they talk about it. That’s been the goal, every year, especially since we’ve been so close in the past. We want to get back there again, and give it another shot. All we can hope for is just one at a time, just like you always say.”
SAGINAW VALLEY LEAGUE GIRLS SOCCER CHAMPIONS
MIDLAND DOW (18) — 1987, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
SAGINAW HERITAGE (9) — 1994, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005
MIDLAND (7) — 1986, 1987, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2015, 2018
FLINT CENTRAL (2) — 1990, 1991
FLINT POWERS (2) — 2016, 2017
GRAND BLANC (1) — 2019