By Jason Goorman

NOVI — Three years of growth can make a big difference for anyone. When sports tradition is involved, 3 years doesn’t seem like much.

The Western Michigan Christian boys soccer team had tradition on its side at Saturday’s Division 4 state finals.

WMC’s Ashton Leffring battles around No. 19 Raj Tiller during Saturday’s Division 4 state finals. Photo/Randy Riksen

The good news for the Warriors is they walked away state champs for the second time in four years, repeating 2019’s feat, with a 1-0 shutout. WMC topped Ann Arbor Greenhills in front of a packed grandstand at Novi High School. It’s the same venue where WMC won the title in 2019.

The goal allowed was the first by Greenhills in its sixth tournament game.

Matthew Bradford-Royle tallied WMC’s only goal with just over 14 minutes left to play in the contest. Ashton Leffring set up the play on a direct kick from 30 yards out. Ann Arbor goalie Etienne Rouillard was unable to control the rebound and Bradford-Royle was ready for the rebound and sent the ball into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead. 

“It was a rocket,” said Bradford-Royle about Leffring’s shot on goal. “He practiced them (direct kicks) five different times during warm ups and I saw him going right corner, so I took a note and said I have to go back to the right corner because I knew he’s going there. Clean up crew, it felt great.”

The Warriors battled Ann Arbor, and the wind, similar to 2019’s weather. The big difference this time around, the air was a lot warmer.

Gavin Riksen pushes the ball down field against Ann Arbor’s Nicholas Alumkal. Photo/Randy Riksen

The Warriors were once again lifted by a standout performance in goal. This time it was Jared Olsen. The senior goalie posted six big saves and earned a shutout he will never forget.

“It’s been crazy,” Olsen said. “My freshman year I was on jayvee, but I was in the stands right here watching this game. It was a crazy ending in that game with shootouts. So ever since that experience, I have wanted to be part of this, even just to be on the field.”

Olsen was more than just on the field this year, he led a WMC defensive barrier that Ann Arbor Greenhills struggled to penetrate.

The senior goalie set the tone for WMC in the first half, making a save on a perfectly played Gryphons’ direct kick from 30 yards out.

“Having the wind with them, I knew they’d try to curve a shot,” said Olsen. “It was a late reaction too because it was curving a lot and I lost it behind our wall and their players, so I had to take an extra quick step to get there.”

Olsen made the dive and stopped the shot, giving his Warrior squad the confidence it needed to get through the rest of the game.

Lucas Dick goes for a header between the Gryphon defense. Photo/Randy Riksen

WMC limited the Gryphons to just three good chances on goal in the first half and limited them once again in the second half.

The first half was a struggle for WMC as it adjusted its nerves and had to manage the wind. The Warriors managed a lot more opportunities in the second half with the 40-mph gusting wind at their backs.

Leffring, Joey Eastway and Gavin Riksen did all they could do to pressure the goal for WMC, but the Gryphons’ kept the Warriors at bay.

WMC offically had just two shots on goal in the game, but held possession throughout the second half.

“They locked it down,” said WMC coach Ben Buursma about his team’s ball control and defense. “We knew Greenhills had two dangerous forwards and dealing with the wind was the hardest thing in the first half.

Matthew Bradford-Royle reacts after scoring the go-ahead goal for the Warriors. Photo/Randy Riksen

“The wind really messed with the timing of our passes and footwork,” he said. “Once we had 10 minutes left to go in the first half, we settled into the game and I thought there’s no way we were going to lose after that.”

The state championship is WMC’s eighth in school history, and for Coach Burrsma, it means even more to do it with his son, Charlie, on the team.

“That’s a very special feeling,” Buursma said. “I knew it would come. I hoped it would come this year, to get it this year in his (Charlie’s) junior year with a great group of seniors. It means everything. He has some great leadership to look up to for next year, I couldn’t be happier.”

Charlie Buursma gets ready to send a pass for WMC. Photo/Randy Riksen

WMC student section cheers on their Warriors. Photo/Randy Riksen

WMC student section cheers on their Warriors. Photo/Randy Riksen

WMC’s Cole DeJonge controls in front of No. 42 Kai Ravikumar. Photo/Randy Riksen

WMC student section cheers on their Warriors. Photo/Randy Riksen

WMC fans hoist a sign cheering on No. 10 Ryan Riksen. Photo/Randy Riksen

Ashton Leffring gets ready to rip the free kick that set up the Bradford-Royle goal for WMC. Photo/Randy Riksen

The Warriors celebrate after the goal. Photo/Randy Riksen

2022 Division state champions, Western Michigan Christian. Photo/Randy Riksen

The WMC soccer team is surrounded by the student body to pose for a trophy shot after the game. Photo/Randy Riksen