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FINALS PREVIEW: Birmingham Marian in search of perfect season in D2 title game

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The Mustangs will face Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern on Friday at 4 p.m.

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The polls were right.

Having avoided potential upsets and lived up to expectations this postseason, No. 1-ranked Birmingham Marian and No. 2-ranked Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern will square off in the Division 2 girls soccer championship game Friday, putting their respective unbeaten records on the line.

Marian will be seeking its first state title since 2012, led by veteran coach Barry Brodsky and a group of six seniors – four of which were members of the last Mustangs team to reach the finals in 2014.

“We were there freshman year and didn’t have the result we wanted. Each year, we’ve kind of been trying to get back there and weren’t successful,” senior defender Maria Kaschalk said. “I think it’s cool that we’ve come full circle now, freshman year to senior year. We’ve been trying to work for that.”

Seniors Ellie DeConinck, Elaina Eckert and Olivia Zardus were also on the 2014 runner-up team and remain key cogs on the current Mustangs squad, which has racked up a perfect 23-0-0 record this season.

The title game will be played at 4 p.m. Friday at Williamston High School.

Marian defeated Linden 2-0 on Tuesday in the semifinals, posting its sixth shutout in as many games during its playoff run.

“We’ve really tried to emphasize no restarts because any team can be dangerous on a restart,” Kaschalk said. “We try to limit the dumb fouls in our own end and play simply, not trying to overcomplicate it. When in doubt, kick it out. It doesn’t always have to be pretty soccer, but it gets the job done.”

Marian goalkeeper Isabel Hayes has been strong in net when called upon to steer aside opposing shots, particularly in the Mustangs’ closest-call of the postseason – a scoreless district final against Birmingham Detroit Country Day that was decided in penalty kicks. Hayes made two crucial saves in the shootout to help Marian survive and advance on June 2.

“We preach defense no matter what. If we feel we can stop the other team from scoring, we’ll put ourselves in good position to win,” Mustangs assistant coach Adam Gorski said. “Offensively, if we could finish a little more, we could give ourselves more confidence and put the game out of reach, but we preach defense first.”

Up top, Marian has been dynamic at times with a combination of DeConinck and sophomore Jansen Eichenlaub, plus others, generating a steady stream of scoring opportunities and goals. The Mustangs have utilized a fairly deep rotation of players to keep fresh legs on the field.

“We’re definitely in peak form right now and we’re excited to see what we can do Friday against a really good team,” Gorski said.

Forest Hills Northern enters the final with a 20-0-3 record and has not lost since dropping last season’s title game to Pontiac Notre Dame Prep in a shootout. The Huskies graduated just one senior from last year’s team.

“I know Forest Hills Northern has always been successful over there and have a great track record. It’s definitely going to be a battle, but one that the girls are looking forward to taking on,” Gorski said.

This will be Marian’s ninth appearance in the Division 2 finals in the past 16 years, during which time it has won five championships under Brodsky. It will also be a rematch of the 2010 title game in which the Mustangs prevailed.

“From Day 1, the coaches have kept us all in – that’s our motto for the year, “all in” – and we’ve been together as a team,” Kaschalk said. “The coaches know our capability, and they’re not letting us play any less than that or slip at any time. We’ve been staying together and working to get to our last goal.”

Last Updated: 6/15/2017 10:48:27 AM EST

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