By Andrew Johnson

GRAND LEDGE – It’s amazing that the Mona Shores soccer team advanced to the regional finals – just one win away from the state semifinals – considering everything it went through.

Several Sailors were exposed to someone with COVID-19 before their regional semifinal game earlier this week. Seven were forced to sit out the game due to caution, including standout senior goalkeeper Keegan DeKuiper and four other starters.

Ethan Brown controls near midfield for Mona Shores. Photo/Jason Goorman

Despite that handicap, Mona Shores managed to rally from a two-goal deficit and beat Holt in that game. But the Sailors’ luck ran out on Thursday when they fell 5-1 to powerful Traverse City West in the Division 1 regional finals at Grand Ledge High School.

Mona Shores finished the season with a 14-4-1 record and its first district soccer title since 2005.

“It’s tough,” said head coach Mike Apostle about the season ending against the 2019 state runner-up Titans. “We’ve never been here, and we wanted to play the best. We’ll learn from it and grow from it.”

The Sailors played shorthanded again on Thursday. DeKuiper was back in goal, but six players were still out of the lineup, including four starters.

“It was a roller coaster,” Apostle said. “I couldn’t be prouder of how they stepped up. They accepted it and won a regional game. Nobody is going to forget these moments.”

The Sailors found themselves down 3-0 at halftime on Thursday. That was due to TC West’s Tony Gallegos, who managed to score a three-goal hat trick in the first half.

Finn Durbin extended the Traverse City West lead to 4-0 just three minutes into the second half.

Mona Shores broke the shutout with 25:40 remaining in the game when senior Hayden Yaros found the back of the net on a free kick from just outside the box.

Mona Shores’ No. 8 Alex Eckerman fights for the ball along the sideline. Photo/Jason Goorman

“He’s been our goal scorer,” said Apostle about Yaros as his high school career wrapped up. “He’s been a captain for two years, so it’s nice to see him go out by scoring a goal.”

Gallegos added an insurance goal for TC West down the stretch, and the Titans moved on to the state final four.

The Sailors were outshot 12-2 on the night.

While sad after the game, the Sailors held their heads high knowing just how far they had advanced the program behind the leadership of eight seniors.

“They’ve gone through more than most,” said Apostle about the seniors. “They’ve learned all year. It’s unbelievable what they’ve done, and they’ve done everything they could for this program.”

While his time is up as a player, Yaros said he’s excited to see what the future holds for Mona Shores soccer.

“It’s a stepping-stone for the program,” he said. “I can’t wait for the underclassmen to come back and show us what they can do.”