EAST LANSING — Royal Oak Shrine’s girls soccer team had never been to a state championship before — much less past the first round of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s post-season tournament.
But when the Lady Knights walked off of the grass of Michigan State University’s DeMartin Soccer Complex Saturday after defeating Kalamazoo Christian 4-0, they discovered it was a whole lot like playing games anywhere else.
The main difference was that they were bringing home a state championship trophy — Shrine’s first in any sport since winning cross-country titles in 1973 and 1974, as well as boys’ golf in 1950 and 1952.
“We’re really excited to be the first in a long time,” head coach Mark Soma said. “We’ve told the girls all season that we’re built for competing with and beating schools in our division, and we’re really good at it.”
Senior Chloe Woodbeck, sophomore Lily Hotts scored first-half goals, while freshman Bridgette Drouillard and junior Regan Robinson tallied after halftime.
“What we said to the girls in the beginning was win the first 15 minutes, and in the second half, try and get one (more) and get it over with right away,” Soma said.
Shrine outshot Kalamazoo Christian 8-4, with junior goalkeeper Allison LaPoint holding the Comets at bay with several key saves.
“I rely a lot on my defense because they’re amazing and I trust them with everything, but it’s important to be able to make those key saves in tough situations like that,” she said. “Basically, it’s a little bit of instinct by now, but it definitely helps with the back-line in front of me.”
LaPoint, one of the team’s captains along with senior Mia Ciarlone, said Shrine’s first goal — which Woodbeck scored on an indirect free kick at the 20-minute mark — was the key moment of the match for her.
“For sure, it calms me down,” said LaPoint, who has committed to play at Central Michigan University. “Everybody’s a little bit nervous at the beginning, but you get that goal and you start to get that confidence and feel like, ‘Hey, yeah, we can really do this, for sure.’”
Woodbeck, who’s signed a letter of intent to continue her soccer career at Purdue, was the team’s leading scorer this spring — her only season of scholastic soccer after playing with high-level travel programs.
“Chloe and I kind of were texting each other early in the year and I said, ‘If you come play for us, I promise you we’ll win a state title,'” Soma recalled. “She told me as she came off the field (today) ‘Your words came true.’ I said, ‘No, you’ve earned it.’”
Since Woodbeck is the only senior in the starting lineup, the prospects are bright for Shrine to continue its high level of play going forward.
Soma said, “We need a few more goals from those other people on the team, but we should make a run. I would expect us to make a run again next year.”
If there was a knock against Shrine previously, it was that the Lady Knights had the talent but didn’t fulfill their potential when it came to advancing though the state tournament. But Saturday’s victory produced a different, and happy, outcome throughout the Shrine community.
“You know, everybody worked in the off-season, we all improved, we got some freshmen that were huge and we added Chloe, and we all pushed a little bit harder and all had the heart in it,” LaPoint said. “We lost in district finals last year, so it was huge to be able to turn around and win a state finals this year.”
Shrine finished the year 23-3-3 and was particularly strong in the post-season tournament, outscoring opponents 38-1 in seven matches. In addition to the state title, Shrine won the Catholic High School League’s C/D Division championship in May with a 5-2 victory over Wixom St. Catherine.