Flint — First went down the No. 8 team in the state.
Next was the No. 5 squad in the state, earning the Fenton varsity girls soccer team a Division 2 district title.
On Tuesday, the top-ranked team in the state went down to the Fenton Tigers 2-1 in a regional semifinal contest at Flint’s Atwood Stadium.
Maybe the only ones not shocked by the list of ranked teams falling to Fenton are the Fenton Tigers and their fans who have seemingly seen this story before.
Fenton used its team love and its deep bench to frustrate the undefeated DeWitt Panthers, earning a 2-1 victory and proving once again that maybe the state has undersold the determined Tigers in the state rankings.
The Tigers used their trademark style to earn the victory. They played strong defense and when given the chance, used a counter attack with their great speed up front. That equation worked for two second-half goals. And when the Tigers needed their defense to step up, the defense did so consistently. Keeper Lauren Koscielniak made 14 saves, including some of the diving variety, to earn Fenton a spot in Thursday’s regional title game against the 11th-ranked Flint Powers Catholic Chargers at Atwood Field at 6 p.m.
The Tigers weren’t surprised by the victory. They know the most important ingredient to a victory — loving each other and believing in themselves.
“It means the world to be out here playing with these girls for a final season at Fenton High School,” Koscielniak said. “We have a lot of love in the program. Unlike any other team we are playing for each other. We are not playing for anybody else — not for our coaches or for our family. We are playing for each other, looking at each other’s eyes when we play the game and we pull out wins like that. That’s what it’s all about.”
“We do it for each other and the love for this program is awesome,” Murphy said. “(Fenton varsity girls soccer) coach Matt Sullivan preaches how much we love each other. The chemistry we build. We are always the underdogs going in, of course against the top-ranked team in the state when we are not ranked. But we stick together, held to it and came out with this win.”
“No, not really,” Sullivan said when asked if he was surprised by his team’s success. “I didn’t necessarily think we were going to win but we’ve been here before many times. We’ve had to face some pretty good opponents before. We are confident how we are going to come out. At this point, so much can happen in terms of the result. All you care about is how the girls come out. Do they come out with positive energy and support each other? Are they smiling and having fun and working their butts off? As long as that happens, we’ll take the results after that. That I’m absolutely confident in.”
After a scoreless first half, both teams had chances to get the first goal in the second half. A lead pass to Murphy with about 36 minutes left in regulation was the first strong chance by either team in the second half. It was saved. About seven minutes later, Fenton’s other dangerous forward, Callie Dickens, had a shot that was saved at the near-side post.
Only a minute after that, Koscielniak made what was probably her best save when she made a punch save on a shot that looked destined to hit the back of the net.
“I had the one I had to jump to the upper right-hand corner and punch it over,” Koscielniak said. “That was probably my favorite one. That one was intense. I love the intensity of the play and I love the intensity of the game. It really uplifts the team when we have that, and I love being out there.”
With just under 23 minutes remaining, the Tigers had another clutch opportunity. A through ball to Murphy enabled her to have the ball near the end line on the bench side of the DeWitt net. She held the ball for a few seconds, saw Dickens near the net, crossed it and Dickens scored the game’s first goal. Fenton led 1-0 with 22:32 left in the contest.
“Sullivan told us to settle the ball and instead of just whiffing it, to settle the ball down and look for our players across the net. I looked up and Callie was there, so I set her the ball and she finished it.”
Less than two minutes later, the Tigers made it 2-0. This time it was Murphy who scored off a lead pass from Dickens. Fenton clearly had DeWitt frustrated.
“I knew it was a breakaway and there was a girl next to me that I had to beat to get the opportunity,” Murphy said. “I did it, found the corner and I was super happy.”
The last 20 minutes the Tigers had to play their share of defense, with seniors Chloe Wagner, Makayla Murphy and Shelby Murphy leading the way. However, with 3:54 left in regulation, the Panthers did cut the gap in half on a goal by Teresa Ashbrook. That’s as close as DeWitt would get as the Tigers didn’t allow another Panthers’ shot the rest of the game.
Fenton lost an earlier season meeting with DeWitt (23-1) by a 5-1 margin on April 4. However, the Tigers have been a much stronger squad since that first appearance. The Tigers also lost to Powers 3-1 earlier this season on April 11.