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DeConinck’s header is only goal No. 2 Marian needs to beat No. 3 Country Day, win fourth straight district title

By: Matthew B. Mowery, May 31, 2019, 10:45 pm

BIRMINGHAM — For someone who hadn’t scored all season long, Olivia DeConinck seemed pretty sure she was going to break that drought in Friday’s Division 2 district championship game.

True to her inkling, the Birmingham Marian sophomore did just that, scoring off a header in the first half, and the two-time defending D2 champion Mustangs made that score stand up in a 1-0 win over No. 3-ranked Detroit Country Day.

“I just had a feeling. I told myself I was getting on the end of that (corner), and I did,” the sophomore said. “I was wide open, and I knew it was coming to me before it was even kicked. I just believed in my team and believed in myself, and when I was coming, my body just took over. It knew what to do, and it ended up in the goal. Pretty awesome.”

The win gives the No. 2-ranked Mustangs (14-1) a fourth straight district crown — and seven in the last eight seasons — and moves them on to the regionals at Country Day on Tuesday.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Highlights from this game will be part of the State Champs! High School Sports show at 9 a.m. Sunday on Fox Sports Detroit.]

“It means the world to me and our team. We knew this would be a tough game, and we were all nervous,” DeConinck said. “We just fought for it, and gave it our all. That’s all we can do.”

For the Yellowjackets (14-2) — who were down in D3 last season — it’s a third loss to Marian in the district finals in four seasons, but a total of five goals.

“We knew it would be a close game, and when you compare shots on goal, I mean, minimal opportunities going to goal, and unfortunately, one went in. That’s how the game goes,” Country Day coach Laura Hamway said. “We always purposely put together a difficult schedule, and we did that this year — multiple D1 ranked teams, and D2, and heading into this 15-1 — I don’t even know if we had five goals against us all year. So unfortunately you gauge your season by the end result, but 15-2 is something to be proud of.”

Unfortunately, that tough schedule didn’t prepare the Yellowjackets to have to do the one thing they had to do on Friday: play from behind.

How much time had they spent trailing all season before Friday?

“For I think one minute, honestly,” Hamway said.

When DeConinck scored her goal — on a corner kick by Sara Stroud — there was 8:58 left in the first half, as well as the entire second half to play.

Plenty of time.

But for all that Country Day spent much of the second half on Marian’s side of midfield — causing the Marian coaching staff to continually implore the Mustangs to ‘just weather the storm’ — the Yellowjackets didn’t have a ton of chances to score.

“I thought, even though they had possession in our half, they didn’t get too many good opportunities, shots-wise. Obviously, we weren’t playing in their half of the field, but they weren’t getting too much,” said Marian assistant Michael Schimmel, of the disparity of time spent in Marian’s end. “Yeah, more than I would have liked, but defense and restarts are what wins you championships, and 1-0 games are what it usually comes down to. Just had to grind it out. Wasn’t always pretty, but that’s what it took.”

The best opportunity of the second half might’ve come just 25 seconds after the break, as the Yellowjackets got the ball on goal, forcing Marian keeper Megan Kraus to make a save to keep her sheet clean.

“Early in each half, everybody always comes out with more energy,” Schimmel said. “They were definitely ready to play, and I think we were caught a little flat-footed.”

Given the talent on the two teams, and the rankings, as well as the tradition associated with both programs, it was one of those games that seemed awfully early in the postseason — one that seemed to belong at the end of a title run.

The two teams have 20 state finals appearances and 12 state titles combined between them, but only once have they won a championship in the same year, and only twice have they been in the finals in the same season.

The two-time defending Division 2 champions, Marian is chasing its eighth state championship. Only Madison Heights Bishop Foley (12) and Hudsonville Unity Christian (10) have more in Michigan girls soccer history.

“We had a talented team this year, with a lot of depth. Last year, we didn’t have any seniors. This year, we had four talented seniors,” Hamway said. “Talented group of girls. Losing four talented seniors, but to lose just four players, it’s a bright light. Always hard to lose.”

Click above to watch the highlights of the Marian vs. Country Day – Division 2 Girls Soccer District Final