Grand Haven, Spring Lake and Western Michigan Christian each punched their tickets to Saturday's state championship games in their respective divisions with semifinal victories tonight.
For a complete recap on all three semifinal victories, click here.
Grand Haven seniors Jake VanderLaan and Nate Rose reached what was then the pinnacle of their soccer careers this past summer, guiding the Grand Rapids Crew Juniors to a national championship.
On Wednesday, after the pair helped the Grand Haven Buccaneers defeat Troy and advance to the Division 1 state finals, VanderLaan said this win was every bit as special as the national championship victory.
“This has been the best tournament I’ve ever had,” said VanderLaan, who scored the Buccaneers’ lone goal in a 1-0 victory over Troy. “This means just as much as going to a national championship game. In high school soccer, you’re ascribed to the players that you’re with. They go to your school, so you don’t get to recruit people.
“This is a great accomplishment and a great way to represent the community you’ve grown up in. It’s a great feeling.”
Grand Haven coach Aaron Dean realizes that his players sharpen their skills on the club level, and appreciates the chance to coach the collection of players when the high school season rolls around.
“I think the success you’re seeing — at Spring Lake, at Grand Haven, at Western Michigan Christian — it’s a product of what the youth soccer system is doing in the Tri-Cities,” Dean said. “The coaches running those programs have a very good understanding of what they’re trying to do to develop players — so that when they get to high school, they’re very good. You can see it now in the number of kids we having going on to play in college.
“The perspective of the youth program has really been on player development, not so much winning on the short term,” Dean continued. “So when coaches like (Spring Lake’s) Jeremy (Thelen) and myself get these kids, they’re already very talented. We’re just trying to put them into the best positions.”
The relationships built within travel soccer circles from players from the Tri-Cities area reflects in mutual respect they share.
In postgame interviews on Wednesday, Spring Lake players Michael Zietlow and Riley Kammeraad couldn’t help but smile when told that Grand Haven was leading in its semifinal contest against Troy.
“That’s awesome,” Zietlow said. “It would be pretty cool that our only loss of the season would come against the Division 1 champions.”
Kammeraad said he knows several of the Bucs — and, like his Spring Lake teammates, he’s excited that familiar faces on the Lakeshore are experiencing the same success the Lakers are enjoying in this postseason.
“I played with a lot of them with the Strikers with coach Bob Wright,” Kammeraad said. “It’s pretty sweet that we’re right by each other and we both have a chance to win state championships.”