Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Shooting stars

Tri County girls soccer shoots lights out, bounces Big Rapids from CSAA tournament with 4-1 win

Tri County’s girls soccer team leans back for a bow-and-arrow celebration in the second half of Wednesday’s win over Big Rapids at Goodin-Parker Field. The Vikings have changed up their team goal celebrations throughout the season in an effort to keep the game fun. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

PIERSON TOWNSHIP — Tri County’s girls soccer team had plenty to celebrate at Goodin-Parker Field on Wednesday night. Five distinct moments, to be exact.

Tri County won the game, 4-1, over Big Rapids. But before anything could be celebrated, freshman forward Savanah Thompson concocted a pregame plan with her fellow forwards, Alli Johnson and Leah Sieffert. The Vikings (14-1-1) were moments from kicking off a Central State Activities Association tournament game against Big Rapids (9-10) — and the team needed to make sure the goal celebrations were set.

At first, the celebration was going to be a hug, then disperse to allow the goal scorer to “throw” a bowling ball to knock over the pins — their teammates.

“We like to come up with these little celebrations to get the other team thinking, ‘Oh no, they’re gonna score again,’” Thompson said. “We wanted to do it as a whole team today. Usually it’s just (Alli, Leah and me), but we wanted to include everybody. So were like, ‘Let’s do it as a team.’ That’s really what got (Big Rapids) down, and why I think we won today.”

Head coach Brian Campbell loves to see the goal celebrations, just as long as they’re not too excessive. It’s a quick burst of happiness, then focus right back into the game.

Of course, though, it’s gotta be fun. That’s what Campbell has wanted from his team this year, and he’s gotten it.

Tri County’s Alli Johnson breaks through the Big Rapids defense in the first half of Wednesday’s CSAA semifinal at Goodin-Parker Field. Johnson scored two goals in the win. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

“They come up with all these crazy ideas,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to have fun, we’ve got to celebrate — we should be celebrating. We’re having a little bit of fun with it, and that’s OK. … I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. I don’t know if it’s gonna be bowling, lawn darts or whatever.”

Neither team started out attacking strongly, the play was mainly in the middle to start the game. Any rushes either team had were quickly thwarted by the opposing goal keeper or a mistake leading to a clear.

Big Rapids had the big opportunity in the game after Tri County was called for a handball in the 18-yard box with 21:40 showing on the first half clock. BR’s Julia Waltz stepped to the spot facing Athena Herrington in the TC goal. Waltz stepped through the shot but hit it too high and it bounced off the crossbar of the football goalpost.

Wednesday’s game grew more aggressive as the minutes went on, a mightily physical game — but TC is a mightily physical team. Johnson ran through one of the Cardinals and shoved her to the ground. Johnson received a yellow card and, by rule, exited the game; but for just over a minute.

Johnson came back into the game and had a prime opportunity to score the game’s first goal when she found herself on a breakaway following a through ball from Thompson. Johnson took three dribbles and slotted home a ground ball on the left side of the net to put the Vikings up 1-0 with 8:00 on the clock.

Commence the first bowling celebration. Tri County took the 1-0 lead to the break.

BR started the second half with the ball and challenged Herrington with a handful of shots, which she navigated with ease. She ended up making 10 saves on 11 shots on the night.

Then, with 33:20 left in the second half, Johnson was shoved to the ground in the Cardinal 18-yard box. Setting Thompson up for a penalty kick, which she has been solid with all season. Thompson paced the ball into the back of the net to give the Vikings a 2-0 lead. Another bowling celebration.

Seven minutes after the penalty kick goal, Thompson found the ball at her feet again. The ball had landed in front of her after a shot from Johnson, and Thompson knew exactly what to do with it — just shoot it until it went in. It did as she was falling to the ground. She popped up and gave an angry-faced fist-pump as she put her team up, 3-0, with 26:35 left.

Tri County’s Savanah Thompson plays physical offense in the first half of Wednesday’s 4-1 CSAA semifinal win over Big Rapids at Goodin-Parker Field. Thompson scored two goals, one off a penalty kick, and had two assists. — DN Photo | Austin Chastain

“(This one means) a lot because I think our team could go a long way if we keep this energy,” she said. “I see great things in our future, and I just wanted to beat Big Rapids.”

After the fist-pump and the hug, the team celebration was different — the Vikings changed it up. This time, the entire team turned toward the scoreboard and pulled imaginary bows back to shoot imaginary arrows at the scoreboard.

“We have multiple, so we switch it up in games to surprise everybody,” Thompson said. “We’re always trying to come up with new ones.”

Five minutes later, the Cardinals fired a brigade of shots at Herrington, who had turned each one away to that point. Waltz hit a cross high in front of the net, it tipped off Herrington’s hands and into the net. Giving Big Rapids some life, but it needed to get a move on. The Vikings had just beat the Cardinals at home on May 8 with a 3-1 final, so the Vikings had the momentum and the confidence they could pull out the win.

Regardless, Campbell was not taking it easy in the final 20 minutes. He was still yelling loudly to make sure his team was still playing hard. His voice was almost gone by the time the game was over.

“I’m still always nervous playing Big Rapids, they’re good, no doubt,” he said. “We talked about a strategy that worked. Big Rapids, you have to shut down Julia (Waltz) and Kyra (Couch). You do those two things, you have a chance. We talked about adjustments we needed to make and everything worked. … We won a lot of one-on-one battles, which gave us a lot of control of the ball. Defense is playing great, everything is just working.”

Johnson added another tally after some close misses throughout the second half. She slotted home a ground-ball shot on another assist from Thompson with 10:10 left to cap the scoring. The bow-and-arrow shot was the final team celebration of the game. But the Vikings weren’t done quite yet.

After the final whistle, the Tri County fight song blared loudly over the speakers at Goodin-Parker Field. The players clapped along and went to ring the victory bell, a custom at Goodin-Parker Field.

Campbell is excited with the way his team has played this season. The one blip on the record was a loss at Newaygo in which the game was paused due to lightning in the area. Outside of that loss, the Vikings have taken care of everybody they’ve faced, and done it with authority.

“Attitudes are up, everybody is working together,” Campbell said. “I told them in the huddle that we had a plan and everyone was on board with the plan. Everybody executed. … Everyone just believed in the plan. I don’t dictate it, I get buy-in from these players. We talk about what’s going to work. … If you respect these girls and you ask for their opinions, you’re going to get buy-in. … We want it. We want it bad.”

Tri County is going to shoot for its first conference title since 2017, and it will have another chance to take on Newaygo to do it. The Vikings and Lions will do battle for the conference title at 6 p.m. Friday in Newaygo.

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