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Unity Christian rallies past Country Day, wins in overtime, to claim ninth state title

By: Dan Stickradt, June 12, 2015, 5:33 pm



East Lansing – Maddie VanDyke is known as a quiet and private person. The junior from Hudsonville Unity Christian didn’t mind standing in the limelight on Friday.


Pushed up to forward from her natural center back position, VanDyke scored the game-winning goal in top-ranked Unity Christian’s 2-1 double-overtime victory over No. 3 Detroit Country Day in the Division 3 final at Michigan State University’s DeMartin Stadium.


VanDyke scored on a breakaway, corralling a long through pass near midfield from senior Bethany Balcer. VanDyke raced in and chipped in a shot from 16 yards out that crossed the line before the defenders could clear the ball with 4:12 left in the second extra session. 


“We had a lot of chances. We kept trying and trying,” VanDyke said. “It was a great ball from Balcer and I was able to go in (alone) and score. I was just trying to help my team win.”


It’s been a trying school year for VanDyke. Her father Rod VanDyke died last October in a tragic accident so this moment of athletic success brought a special emotion to her coach and those around the Unity Christian program. 


“Tears,” said Unity Christian coach Randy Heethuis. “I mean not only winning a state championship, but for it to end that way with Maddie scoring the game winner. It has been a rough, rough year for her family. This couldn’t have happened to a better kid to win it for us. She’s a very private person and doesn’t talk about it a lot. She deserves it.”


Despite out-possessing Country Day for over 90 percent of the contest, the Crusaders (24-1-0) had to come back after trailing 1-0 at halftime for the second straight season.


Unity Christian, which surrendered two goals in the postseason and outscored the opposition 124-8 over 24 games entering the title match, finally netted the equalizer with 16:57 remaining. Junior forward Abby Neinhuis got on the end of Balcer’s cross and knocked it home from close range. 


The Crusaders outshot Country Day, 31-4, including 15-4 with shots on frame, and held a 10-0 edge on corner kicks but could not muster another goal until the 96th minute. The game-deciding goal gave Unity Christian its ninth state title, second most in state history. Unity Christian has competed in 12 state finals in the last 14 seasons.


“Every year is different because every year is a different group of kids,” Heethuis said. “Kids graduate every year and new kids come in. We lost two seniors to knee injuries during our run, so we didn’t have as much depth. But we had plenty of kids that stepped up and played great. These kids played for each other.”


Country Day (18-4-2) scored on its first shot attempt on a slick individual effort. Sophomore Lauren Alshab beat her mark down the left side before uncorking a shot from 21 yards out that landed top shelf inside the right goal post. 


The Yellowjackets rarely threatened again, attempting just two second-half shots and none during the overtime periods.


It was the final game for veteran Country Day coach Bob Bukari, who has coached in Oakland County since 1979. He started at Birmingham Seaholm then went to Country Day in 1986. He said he will assist the team next season to help with the transition. 


“We were tired. Our previous two games we went to a shootout and you could see the fatigue on us during the second half and overtimes. Are legs just weren’t there,” Bukari said. “I’m proud of my girls for the run we had and our effort. There’s no shame in losing to a team like that. They were the better team.


“I will miss the competitive atmosphere of games and the kids. Being able to coach kids like this and see them develop is special.”