Reaching the state semifinals once is quite a feat for any athletic program.

The North Muskegon girls soccer team played in the Final Four in its fourth-straight season on Tuesday night and nearly clinched back-to-back berths into the Division 4 state finals.

The defending state champs fell 1-0 to Kalamazoo Christian at Comstock Park High School in the semifinals, ending their dream of a repeat.

Kalamazoo Christian’s Taylor Leonard netted the game’s lone goal, 11 minutes into the first half. Leonard scored on a shot from  just outside the 18-yard line that sailed just over the finger tips of North Muskegon goalie Emma Lamiman.

North Muskegon senior Molly Stewart moves the ball upfield during first-half action. Photo/Tim Reilly

The one goal was all the Comets needed, however, there were ample other opportunities as they outshot the Norse 14-5.

North Muskegon seniors, who saw their final high school season come to a close, had reason to walk away with the feeling of incredible accomplishment.

“It’s just really cool to be on a team like this, to have the ability to make it this far every year,” North Muskegon senior Molly Stewart said. “We (Norse seniors) have loved playing together and we’ve always been super close from our freshman year to our senior year.” Stewart played in the semifinals in each of her four seasons.

The Norse graduate just four seniors in Stewart, Grace Vander Woude, Loren Hoffman and Emily Judd. That means North Muskegon has quite a crew returning for its 2023 season.

But the number of Norse seniors also translated to having a tough time with Kalamazoo Christian, which had even more senior leadership and depth on Tuesday.

North Muskegon struggled to find shots against Kalamazoo Christian, which made its last trip to the state finals in 2019, the same year the Norse lost to the Comets 1-0 in the semifinals.

The best opportunity North Muskegon had on the night came in the last 45 seconds of the game.

Natalie Pannucci ripped a shot on Kalamazoo goalie Elizabeth Netz, who reached back to make the save, but lost her balance.
 As Netz was falling down right on the goalline, Norse sophomore Kennedi Koekkoek was right there to anticipate a rebound. Koekkoek made contact with Netz as she fell into the goal.

There was no goal awarded to Pannucci, rather a penalty was called against Koekkoek and the clock ran out.

“If she fell in the net, it’s a goal, but it looked like we bumped her and that was the call,” second-year North Muskegon Coach Caleb Parnin said. “But we put it all on the line and it was that close at the end.”

The Norse finish the season with a 16-4-1 record. That includes district and regional titles along with a West Michigan Conference title.

“It’s a big deal,” said Parnin of his team’s accomplishments. “There are a lot of teams who would kill to be in the spot where we were tonight.”

Kalamazoo Christian advances to Friday’s state finals against Royal Oak Shrine Catholic, which defeated Bad Axe in overtime. The Comets will look to capitalize on their fourth trip to the state finals since 2017. The matchup is a rematch from the 2019 finals when Kalamazoo Christian lost 4-0.  

Photos courtesy of LSJ photographer Tim Reilly.