WINONA LAKE – Some people just have the knack for being in the right place at the right time. Allison Vroon is one of them.
Vroon, a senior who has buried game winners in her career, hammered home the biggest goal of her Grace tenure Wednesday night, getting the golden goal in a 1-0 result for the Lady Lancers over visiting Marian.
The goal pushed Grace into a tie with Spring Arbor, assuring Grace its first Crossroads League conference title in program history. The celebration was something to behold.
“We just connected well as a team and we’ve always done that this season,” said Vroon afterwards, speaking so quickly through enthusiasm she had to pause and restart on occasion. “This is great. I honestly don’t know how to feel right now, I haven’t thought about it yet. For me as a freshman to now, I’ve come a long way. It’s a great moment, but this is a team win as much as it was my goal. We earned this together.”
No. 24 Grace and No. 11 Marian played to a nil-nil stalemate through 80 minutes, and it looked as though the match would head into a second overtime as time dwindled under two minutes. That’s when Vroon would take the shot that history will not forget. Getting a ball crossed in from the left edge from Sacia Hanson, Vroon took the bounding ball square in front of the goal and hammered home the winner past a diving Brenna Malatestinic and into the netting.
“We wanted to move the ball from left to right and give ourselves as many opportunities as we could,” said Grace College head coach Michael Voss. “It didn’t matter who it was, we wanted our shooters to go one-v-one with them. Then it doesn’t matter because they’re locked up trying to worry about us charging and that opens up the wings. That’s how we got the goal. We got the ball to the outside and found an opening in the middle.”
For a one-goal match that saw 21 shots on target, Grace had 14 of them but really had to hold its breath in the second half as Marian started to gather a lot of momentum on its counter attack. Greer Glover had a handful of clean looks at net, sending a pair, however harmlessly, at Grace keeper Bethany Blackwood. Another breakaway by Ali Nelson late in the match had Nelson whistle her chance wide. Blackwood would make seven saves to get the biggest clean sheet of her young career.
“I knew there was a lot of pressure coming towards me, but I had total confidence in my defense,” said Blackwood, just a freshman but with 14 shutouts on the season, her 10th in 11 matches. “They were holding them for the entire game. I didn’t have to make an awesome save all night, I had complete faith in them stepping in front of a shooter.”
Grace and Spring Arbor both finish 8-1 in the Crossroads League, Grace losing to Spring Arbor, 3-0, Oct. 17, but Marian knocking off the third-ranked Cougars this past Saturday by a 2-0 count. Marian finished third in the league standings at 5-2-2.
“Our loss at Spring Arbor taught us a lot about ourselves,” said Voss, whose team’s 16 wins is also a program record. “We had nothing to lose there, they are the No. 1 team in the nation and winner of two of the last three national championships. The way they do things and how we do things is totally different. The loss said we have to make adjustments. For us to bounce back here was a totally different game. A ton of respect to Marian, they played a great game. They played shutout soccer for 88-plus minutes, just a great match. Tough game. But it was good to break them down.”
Grace (16-2) will wait for its assignment for the start of the Crossroads League tournament, slated for Wednesday, Oct. 31. Grace will host its match at 3 p.m., either against Bethel or Huntington. With a win there, Grace would also host a semi-final match on Nov. 3 at 2 p.m.