By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half
GRAND RAPIDS – Goalkeeping and defense were catalysts in last year’s MHSAA Division 3 championship run for the Grand Rapids South Christian boys soccer team.
As the Sailors attempt to replicate last year’s success, those two elements remain vital in their quest for back-to-back titles.
South Christian, top-ranked in Division 3 this week, has had to fill huge holes after the departures of all-state goalie Carter Selvius and all-state Dream Team defender Austin Clark.
“Our defense is really what we’re working on right now, knowing the guys I lost,” Sailors coach Jason Boersma said. “We lost our goalie and two real keys to our defense. It doesn’t automatically get replaced overnight having new players coming in.
“We’re working hard at figuring out what the best line-up is. We’re doing well, and we haven’t had a lot of goals scored on us, so that’s a positive.”
The Sailors surrendered only 13 goals last season, including only a single goal over seven MHSAA tournament victories.
They defeated Williamston 1-0 in a shootout to capture their third MHSAA Final in the last six years.
Selvius was one of the heroes in that game with 14 saves, and Boersma knew his absence in the net would be felt entering this season.
There was no clear-cut favorite to take over in net at the beginning. That allowed Boersma to look at a group of potential replacements.
“That’s why I kept four of them on my team,” Boersma said. “We knew what we were losing, and we had four guys who were somewhat equal. They all had different strengths and weaknesses, and we were going to let them battle it out.”
Junior Jake Tanis earned the job, and has spent a majority of time in the net.
“I’m going to give him as much experience as I can right now with him playing every single game just for more knowledge back there,” Boersma said. “He was more of a field guy, but his best chance to get time on this team was as a goalie. He has a big frame. He’s 6-2, 230 pounds, and so he has good size and is very athletic. He’s really learning right now.”
Senior midfielder Ryan Doornbos is one of eight starters back. He has faith in the players who have filled in at important positions.
“I trust them,” he said. “They’ve done a good job so far in replacing those roles, and I hope they continue to do that the rest of the year.”
Thirteen in all have returned from last season, including standouts Zack DeKock, Emmett DeJong, Sam DeVries and Daniel Sculley.
The Sailors opened the season with nine straight wins, but suffered consecutive losses to East Grand Rapids (2-0) and Caledonia (1-0) during the past week.
Doornbos missed both games with a concussion, while DeKock also is nursing an injury and didn’t play against Caledonia.
“It’s a huge difference with having him on the field for the team chemistry and moving the ball around,” Boersma said. “The effort he brings is phenomenal, and that’s a huge loss without him. He should be back within a week.”
The recent setbacks and injuries haven’t spoiled the Sailors’ outlook. Boersma would rather have them occur now than in late October and November.
“The guys are OK with losses because they learn from them,” he said. “Obviously no player likes to lose and they are competitive, but they are real good at sitting back after a game and knowing that they have to work on this and this.
“They are a very hard-working crew, and that’s one of my favorite things about them. They leave it all on the field each and every day. They know in games they lost that we made small mistakes. We make sure they don’t happen again.”
Boersma believes this team has the talent to make another deep run, but understands it will revolve around defensive adjustments.
“Knowing all the offense we had back, I was incredibly optimistic that we were going to have an opportunity, if we play the game we’re capable of playing, that on paper (we) could be one of the best teams in Division 3 in my mind,” Boersma said. “We also know soccer, and all the years I’ve watched my teams do well it has typically been my defense. You get great teams towards the end, and in the playoffs and there are numerous games you have to win in a shootout. That’s the way it goes in soccer.”
Doornbos hopes this year’s team can follow in the footsteps of last year’s in terms of staying together and creating a positive atmosphere.
“I think we need to keep each other hyped up and really be tight as a family,” he said. “I think that’s what helped us last year; our whole team was a family. We also enjoyed it last year, and that’s how we kept winning because we were having fun. We need to do those things and keep working hard.”
Dean Holzwarth covered primarily high school sports for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years and more recently served as sports editor of the Ionia Sentinel and as a sports photojournalist for WZZM. Contact him email@example.com with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) South Christian players, in white jerseys, defend their goal against Middleville Thornapple Kellogg last week. (Middle) Key returnee Zack DeKock moves the ball upfield. (Photos by Craig Pollatz.)