BATTLE CREEK – The Zeeland West soccer team has had a flair for the dramatic all postseason, but on Friday night they felt the sting of what it’s like on the other side of an emotional match.
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The Dux drew perennial state power Gull Lake in Division 2 regional finals and held their own for the 80-minute affair. But two goals in the final 20 minutes, including a penalty kick with just 6 minutes remaining in the game, from the Blue Devils doomed Zeeland West in the 2-1 defeat.
It’s tough in the moment for the players to process exactly what they accomplished as a group. Before the 2022 season, the Dux never brought home any sport of hardware for their trophy case. This season they brought home a district title and brought a state powerhouse to their knees before the clock eventually struck midnight on their season.
Grace Caywood, the senior goalie for Zeeland West, withstood an onslaught of shots from Gull Lake, making about 15 saves in as many minutes during the first half. It stings for her now, but she knows that when she wakes up tomorrow, that pain will fade and she’ll feel pride for what her team did.
“It’s incredible, it’s so special, I love all of these girls and they’re all my best friends,” Caywood said. “I’ve been playing with a handful of them since I started soccer and it’s just so cool to be able to grow and come to this point and make history with them.”
At the end of the first half, it felt like the Dux would continue to make history into the state semifinals. With just 33 seconds left on the clock, sophomore Rylee Smith sent a cross into the box from near the corner flag. There was nobody on the other end of the cross, but the ball floated over the Blue Devils’ keeper and into the back of the net to take a 1-0 lead into the break.
Smith, a sophomore, was one of several younger players to show off on Friday. Though the Dux are loaded with senior talent including Caywood and GVSU signee Abby Winn, the youth of the team showed that Zeeland West is still in good hands now that the older group is moving on. Defenders Jordyn Klaasen, a freshman, and Rylee Terpstra, a junior, held Gull Lake at bay all evening by blocking countless shots, keeping the game much tighter than the run of play would’ve suggested.
Ben Hondorp, the Dux coach, said it was hard to see his 11 seniors walk off the field for the final time. Still, he knows what he has returning and he can’t wait to see what happens next season. That progression he knows will come next year from the underclassmen all comes back to those who wore the green and gold for the final time on Friday.
“Our seniors have consistently been solid leaders and when you have those leaders, everybody else falls in line,” Hondorp said. “Every year you can elevate your program a little bit here and a little bit there and I’ve been very fortunate to coach seniors who love, who care and who play the right way.”
Hondorp and his girls stood on the touchline and watched Gull Lake celebrate during the trophy presentation after the toughest loss of all of their careers. Tears filled many of their eyes because not only did they lose out on a state title, many of them laced up their cleats for the last time.
Still, even though they were on the other end of a dramatic finish for the first time in a long time, Hondorp wanted his team to remain proud of what they did. People doubted them all season long and they made program history with every single win.
The 2022 Dux soccer team will always be special to Hondorp and the 26 girls who made up the roster. But all Friday night’s loss did was give them an extra push to keep going and break even more barriers in 2023.
“To come out of nowhere and to do what these kids have done, they’re going to have stories to tell their kids and grandkids this is going to go down in Zeeland West lore,” Hondorp said. “There’s going to be naysayers calling us a one and done or that we got lucky, and these kids aren’t going to let that happen.”
—Contact Assistant Sports Editor Will Kennedy at Will.Kennedy@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @ByWillKennedy and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.