By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal

MUSKEGON – The Muskegon Catholic boys soccer team has learned a lesson in perseverance.

For the past two years the Crusaders have advanced to the district tournament championship match, and each time they lost.

Last season was extra tough because they dropped the title match in double overtime to North Muskegon.

But the third try turned out to be a charm for MCC, and it provided a measure of revenge.

Erik VanFossen scored from close range early in the second half to break a scoreless tie and propel Muskegon Catholic to a 1-0 victory over North Muskegon in the Division 4 district championship match.

Afterward the Crusaders were mobbed by classmates and parents as they accepted their  medals and trophy on their home field, which was the site of the title game.

MCC advances to the Division 4 regional tournament at Western Michigan Christian.

“This is the third year in a row in the district finals, so it feels good to get over the hump,” said Muskegon Catholic Coach Bill Moulatsiotis.

“Last year’s game was a real heartbreaker. It went down the last second. That makes this mean a little bit more. Every district final so far has been such a good game, so this is a real honor.”

The Crusaders, now 14-7-1, have experienced their share of struggles this season. They finished in the middle of the pack in the challenging River Valley Conference and battled through their share of injuries.

But the lineup was finally healthy on time for districts, and the team is finally hitting its pace, according to Moulatsiotis.

“We floundered a bit. Our defensive line was totally decimated, but we finally got everyone back,” Moulatsiotis said.

“The boys have finally bought into the system, playing the system the way it’s meant to be played, and playing within their roles. That’s what we’ll have to do to advance any further.”

Muskegon Catholic dominated the contest statistically, outshooting North Muskegon 16-8, but the match was scoreless at halftime.

Part of MCC’s problem was North Muskegon goalkeeper Jesse Dunn, who registered several tough saves to keep his team in the match.

VanFossen finally broke the deadlock just over six minutes into the second half, when he found the ball at his feet during a scramble in front of the North Muskegon goal and kicked in the winner.

“They tried clearing it and it hit me in my chest and fell to my feet,” said VanFossen, a junior center-midfielder.

“I was getting very frustrated before that. I just kept telling myself we had to keep playing the way we were playing and bring some intensity.

“This feels very good. We lost to North Muskegon last year, we got a second chance and we took advantage of it.”

The Norse had a few good scoring opportunities in the first half, but were thwarted by MCC goalkeeper Todd Hall. They weren’t able to mount much of an attack in the second half, particularly after MCC scored.

“Missed opportunities are what cost us the game,” said North Muskegon Coach Jeremy Tjapkes, whose team finished 8-13-1. “It’s not how many you get, it’s the quality of the opportunities. We had quality opportunities but we just didn’t cash in.”