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D1 SOCCER FINALS: Novi completes stifling defensive season with 5-0 win over Plymouth in title game to earn repeat

By: DAN STICKRADT, June 15, 2019, 4:38 pm

EAST LANSING — A year ago, Novi wasn’t the favorite in its Division 1 state finals with Grand Blanc.

Novi found away with a stifling defensive effort in a 1-0 victory in the title game.

This year, the top-ranked Wildcats made sure there would be no upset and they put together one of the more memorable performances in the history of the MHSAA state finals.

Running the tables as the No. 1 ranked team in Division 1 by the MHSSCA the whole season, Novi earned title No. 7 in the last 15 years with a dominating 5-0 victory over fifth-ranked Plymouth at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Stadium.

The victory set a Class A\Division 1 record for most goals scored (5) by one team and goal differential (5 goals). Previously, Saline in 2015 (4-0 over Grand Blanc, D-1), Ann Arbor Huron in 2008 (4-0 over Grosse Pointe North, D-1) and Troy Athens in 1991 (4-0 over Okemos, Class A) held the records of four-goal differential. Athens (2000) and Birmingham Seaholm (1995) also had four-goal performances in state finals games but those teams yielded goals in those contests.

“We did have a target on our backs as the defending champs, but I don’t think got the national respect early in the season,” offered Novi coach Todd Pheiffer, who is 5-0 all-time in state title games, including four wins at Novi and one state title at Ann Arbor Huron.

“Early in the season, Top Drawer Soccer had (Birmingham) Marian and Grand Blanc in their national ranking,” continued Pheiffer. “But we started 5-0 and we began to climb those rankings and eventually became No. 1 in the nation.

“Last year we had 10 seniors and we returned a good core of players, but this is this year and we are a different team,” said Pheiffer. “We focused on this year with this group of girls and we came together to have just an amazing season.”

Novi (28-0-1) also tied Hudsonville Unity Christian’s state record of 28 wins set in 2006 to add to its long list of accomplishments.

Novi, which graduated 10 players but brought back seven starters, outscored its seven tournament opponents 22-2 — and 65-8 for the season playing a challenging schedule — to go along with a school record 21 shutouts. Senior Lauren Calhoun, sophomore Eva Burns, and juniors Nevada Larson and Sarah Katinas formed the back line that stifled opponents all season, including eight clean sheets in the Wildcats’ final 10 games of the campaign.

Novi also won titles in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2018, but the previous four state championships came by just one goal and none were more than a three-goal differential.

“This was one of the best teams Novi had seen in a long time, maybe ever,” smiled senior midfielder Jessie Bandyk, who finished with two goals on the afternoon and 12 on the season. “We really wanted to win it as seniors. All season long we wanted to get back here and defend our title.”

Novi dominated play in the first half, building a 2-0 advantage, posting a 14-0 shots edge with four corner kicks over the first 40 minutes.

Senior Avery Fenchel got the offense clicking when she caromed a long pass from Katinas, cut back and laced her 27th goal of the season into the net with 20:10 remaining in the first half. It was credited as the game-winner, but the Wildcats were far from done devouring their prey on the day.

Senior Lexie Whalen made it 2-0 with 2:40 remaining in the first half, blasting in a shot from 20 yards out. Fenchel had the assist on the play.

Novi, which held a 21-4 total shots edge in the contest, including 11-2 with shots on frame, scored three more goals in the second half to make its statement.

Senior Julia Stadtherr scored the third goal off a pass from junior Michelle Jecmen with 27:51 left, while Bandyk converted a feed from Stadtherr with 25:29 left and capped the offensive explosion with 9:52 remaining off another slot pass from Stadtherr.

Freshman Sammy Maday, called up to the varsity in the 16th game of the season, shared the shutout with sophomore Abbey Pheiffer, who went down with an ACL tear late in the regular season but played the final 3:44 of the contest. Maday made both saves in the shutout.

“We we through a lot of adversity this season, losing our goalie to an ACL tear after Abbey Pheiffer had 16 shutouts in 19 games and we had to bring up a field player from JV who was a varsity athlete in basketball but played goalie three years ago and put her in goal,” Todd Pheiffer said. “It says a lot about our defense this season. We couldn’t have accomplished everything without them.

“We also play in the best league in the state, the KLAA-West (Division),” added Pheiffer. “There are seven really good teams in that league and we played everyone twice and to go 14-0 in that league just prepared us for this (tournament run).”

Plymouth had one of its best seasons in its 17-year history and played double digit state-ranked teams. They could not match up with Novi this time around.

“We had a great run to get here, but are you going to do?” sighed Plymouth coach Jeff Neschich, whose program also lost to Novi in the 2010 D1 state finals. “They were just on today and we weren’t. We just couldn’t get anything going and once you’re down 2-0 to a team like that in the first half, it’s really hard to come back.”

Plymouth (19-5-1) suffered its third defeat to Novi this season, but only lost 2-0 and 2-1 in KLAA-West play to the heavily-favored Wildcats. Plymouth’s other losses were to 13th-ranked Troy, who they avenged in the state semifinals, and 11th-ranked Hartland — both by a goal.

Plymouth did not even attempt a shot until there was 22:41 remaining. Novi, which also rang a shot off the crossbar and goal post in the second half, limited Plymouth’s Kennedy White, one of Michigan’s top players, to only one shot.