By Justin Haggerty

MUSKEGON – The Western Michigan Christian and Muskegon Catholic girls soccer teams have a long history of close, intense games when they play each other, and their rivalry was enhanced this year when WMC joined MCC in the Lakes 8 Conference.

WMC’s Morgan Kinnucan battles against MCC’s Leah McKenna. Photo/Randy Riksen

They went head-to-head on Monday night when they met for the first time as Lakes 8 opponents, and the result was an exciting game worthy of their long rivalry. The Warriors took a two-goal lead in the first half and hung on for an exciting 2-1 victory in windy conditions on their home field.

“We played both halves as we designed it,” said WMC Coach Dave Hulings. “We knew the wind at our backs would allow us to do what we did. We didn’t need to take chances the second half. Once they scored we did adjust a little to put some pressure on their backs. But with one forward up top we didn’t need to score.

“We just needed to win.”

The win improves WMC’s record to 6-5-2 and 2-1 in conference play. The Crusaders fell to 7-2-1.

WMC jumped out to an early lead less than five minutes into the match.

WMC’s Maria Michael unleashes a pass. Photo/Randy Riksen

Maria Michael made a crisp pass to the wing and found Molly Patton in the box. Patton beat the MCC goalkeeper and put the Warriors up 1-0 just 3:08 in.

Christian scored again at the 17:12 mark of the first half to go up 2-0.

Anna Sytsema centered to Morgan Kinnucan, who launched a hard shot off the goalkeeper. The rebound bounced out to the feet of Madison Woods on right wing.

Woods steered a shot toward the wide-open net and Kinnucan redirected the ball into the back of the net to cap the first-half scoring.

“We were aggressive and that gave us a couple of goal,” Hulings said. “We should have had a couple of more, but we are still working on finishing, as are most teams.”

The second half was a different story. The Crusaders dominated the midfield down the stretch and cut the deficit in half but could not find the twine to tie it up.

WMC’s Lauren Myers battles against Lilli Conroy. Photo/Randy Riksen

“They had the wind and we made the decision to get tough on them and bunker down,” Hulings said. “We played not to lose, and that is not always good. But with a 2-0 lead we didn’t need to take chances.

“We played very conservative and didn’t want to make any big mistakes. “

MCC’s lone goal came with 19:22 remaining when a Lauren Doriot shot was saved and the rebound bounced out to a waiting Leah McKenna, who finished off the play.

The Warriors appeared to have extended their lead again with 12 minutes remaining on another Kinnucan goal, but it was waived off when the play was ruled offsides.

Conroy and the Crusaders had opportunities with under 10 minutes to play, but hit the post and could not beat WMC goalkeeper Ashlyn Lane, who made several excellent saves to secure the win.

“Games like this are only going to help us,” said MCC Coach Art Dorsey. “I would have loved to win the game but we play them again and we may play them again in district play. I’m happy with how we played. We’ll just keep working.”