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Top-ranked Novi blanks No. 4 Grand Blanc, 4-0, in regional final rematch of last year’s D1 title game

By: Matthew B. Mowery, June 6, 2019, 9:25 pm

WEST BLOOMFIELD — When Novi coach Todd Pheiffer first told freshman Sammy Maday that she was not only going to join the varsity, but play a position she hadn’t in three years, she was initially more than a bit apprehensive. 

And a tiny bit put out.

"I was kind of sad that I didn’t get to play my last game with JV, but then I was like, ‘Wait … this means that I’m going on further, districts, and potentially regionals and states,’ and I was excited about that,” said Maday, a junior varsity field player who was tabbed to take over in goal after an injury to the starter. “I was a little nervous, because I hadn’t played it (goalie) in a couple of years. But once I sharpened my skills a little bit … it felt normal again.”

Maday has made nearly a seamless transition back to playing goalkeeper, posting shutouts int the KLAA championship match, and four of five postseason games. 

That includes Thursday’s regional championship game, when the Wildcats — ranked No. 1 in not only the state of Michigan, but the nation — blanked Michigan’s No. 4-ranked team, Saginaw Valley League champ Grand Blanc, 4-0, in a rematch of last year’s Division 1 state championship contest.

Avery Fenchel had a hat trick, while the Wildcats (26-0-1) posted their 22nd shutout of the season. 

“That’s what we’ve talked about: Just limit the other teams. We’ve got enough goal-scorers in Avery, and Jessie (Bandyk) and Julia (Stadtherr). We know we’ll get scoring opportunities, but if we can limit the scoring opportunities the other team has, especially a great team like Grand Blanc … They’ve got Paige Webber up top, Ally Childers in the middle, and they’re a great team. So for our team to just (shut offenses out) consistently, game-in and game-out. That’s a credit to our backs,” Todd Pheiffer said. “Credit to Sammy Maday in goal. She was a JV field player about a month ago. We lost our goalie (Abbey Pheiffer) who had 16 shutouts in 19 games. She’s had to step in, and our defense has really had to step it up, knowing that we want to make her as comfortable as possible.” 

The defending champion Wildcats advance to next week’s semifinals at Holt, where they’ll face Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, a 2-0 winner over the other Saginaw Valley League division winner, Midland, in Wednesday’s regional finals. The semifinal game is slated for Wednesday at 6 p.m.

“It’s a great accomplishment for our team. It’s really exciting for us,” Fenchel said. “We’re really motivated to win this again. We’ll just go out strong.”

Thursday’s game between former Kensington Lakes Activities Association conference mates was a rematch of last year’s Division 1 championship game. Novi has now advanced to at least the semifinals for a third time in the last four years, and a ninth time since 2005.

Before this season, Grand Blanc had lost in the finals the last two seasons, and three of the last four.

“We knew how bad they wanted this. … They’ve been to the state championship three of the last four years, and we knew they were going to bring so much to the game today, because those seniors for Grand Blanc wanted their chance,” Pheiffer said. “Four years ago, these (Novi) seniors were freshmen, and we played Grand Blanc in the regional finals in 2016, and we beat them in double overtime. … These seniors, they have been now to the semifinals three times in four years, and that’s a credit to them. Lexi Whalen, Jessie Bandyk, Lauren Calhoun, Julia Stadtherr — those four seniors have been on varsity since they were freshmen. … They’ve kind of led the way for the underclassmen.”

Fenchel got the Wildcats on the board with 18:59 left in the first half, on a lead pass by Jessie Bandyk, then Lexi Whalen skipped one over the keeper’s head with 7:50 to go in the half, making it 2-0 Novi.

Fenchel scored twice in the second half, just under 10 minutes in when Bandyk again gave her a perfect lead pass, then with 20:46 left, when she blasted a free kick through the keeper’s hands from 25 yards out.

The hat trick gives Fenchel 24 goals on the season.

“You think about 24 goals in the conference we play in — Hartland three times, Brighton three times, Northville twice, Plymouth twice, Salem twice, Grand Blanc now, Stevenson twice — is just a credit to how hard she has to work. Because everybody knows what she’s done all season, and they try to mark her. She does a good job of moving up top, and just trying to pick and choose her spaces,” Pheiffer said, admitting the Wildcats wanted to get out to an early lead, because of the  “We were here the other night when Paige (Webber) scored three breakaway goals. We told them that if we could get one early, get them back on their heels … and we were able to do that. That kind of relieved the pressure a little bit of knowing this is a trip to the semis.”

The Wildcats have been doing much the same thing in trying to relieve the pressure on their fill-in goalie, who was elevated to the job when Abbey Pheiffer hurt her knee in the Hartland game on May 14.

“We had no backup, so I put Jenna Daschke, a field player — who’s a basketball player, has got good hands, threw her in goal — and that was the only game we gave up two goals. When I went home that night, I already started figuring out what we were going to do, and the very next night, we had Sammy there,” Pheiffer said. “We just gave her a lot of training in practice, a lot of reps in practice. And Abbey has been phenomenal, because she’s been right there, coaching her, telling her (things). It would’ve been easy, after you play 19 games, and now you’re going to the state tournament, and you don’t get to play, to kind of sit back and say ‘Why me? Why me?’ And she has been the biggest cheerleader on the sideline, which says a lot for a sophomore to do that.”

Maday credited all of her elder teammates for giving her as much support as possible. 

“They’ve helped out a lot. They’re really encouraging, and the back line, they’re always helping and talking to me, and I’m talking to them, telling them where they need to be,” she said. “Everyone’s just super helpful.”

Fenchel said that’s been a priority.

“It was really unfortunate for Abbey to get hurt. We all felt really bad for her. But I think we used that as more motivation, we said ‘We can do this. We’ve got this.’ Sammy, we’ve brought into our team, telling her that she can do this. She’s stepped up for us, and done great, so far,” the junior forward said. “I think Sammy’s gained some confidence over the games. I mean, knowing how strong our back line is, our back line has been phenomenal in all games this year.”

That back line of Lauren Calhoun, Nevada Larson, Sarah Katinas and Eva Burns has been stellar all season, and a large part of the reason the Wildcats have only given up six goals in 27 games. They’ve also been playing it a little closer to the vest with the youngster in goal, though.

That the transition has gone so smoothly is largely a testament to that foursome’s prowess. 

“It is. It is a testament. We’ve changed a little bit in defending … We used to send them a little bit more out of the back, because we had Abbey back there, and she’s stopped all four PKs that she’s faced this year, she’ll save breakaways, she’ll save shots — so we knew,” Pheiffer said. “Credit to Sammy for stepping into the shoes, but we play a little more defensively with the back four … a little more conservative. We’ve gotta be a little more conservative because of that, and we just want her to feel comfortable back there.”

She’s felt increasingly comfortable, but this playoff run has still been somewhat of a blur.

“It’s been going by crazy fast,” Maday said. “Everything — it went from me playing just a few weeks ago in a regular game, to districts, and winning regionals, and now headed to states — it’s just all going by so fast."