BY DAN STICKRADT
BLOOMFIELD HILLS — A marking back’s job is often to shut down the opposing team’s top offensive threat. In Katrina Koomen’s case, the Novi senior can do so much more.
Koomen, one of the state’s top lock down defenders, also finished with a goal and an assist Thursday night at Bloomfield Hills, including netting the game-winner, in leading the Wildcats to a 3-2, double overtime victory over Brighton in a Division 1 regional final.
Koomen scored the decisive goal with 7:48 left in the first of two 10-minute overtime periods, curling a 20-yard free kick into the goal and sending fourth-ranked Novi to its seventh regional crown in 12 seasons and into next week’s Final Four.
“What she did on that (free) kick at the end, where she held up and made (the wall) go back – a lot of players would have rushed the kick and the referee probably wouldn’t have whistled it, she had the soccer sense to say no,” explained Novi coach Todd Pheiffer. “She’s such a great player. It’s more than just her skill, but her leadership abilities. She always makes the right play.”
Novi, which has won five state championships in seven trips to the Final Four, was awarded a free kick when senior Chloe Allen was tripped up just outside the penalty box. On the ensuing kick, Brighton’s defenders charged the ball before the kick was taken. Koomen settled down and buried the shot seconds later to give herself 12 goals and 15 assists on the season.
Not bad — for a defender.
“I just try to do what it takes for us to win,” said Koomen, who did not play high school soccer as a junior. “Playing for your community is such a special thing. I missed it.
“That’s an angle that we’ve practiced a lot,” added Koomen of her game-winner. “It was nice to see the hard work pay off at a crucial moment where we needed to score. I was really happy to be able to put the ball in the back of the net for my team.”
Brighton, which climbed to as high a s No. 2 rankings and entered the contest 11th in the D-1 top-15, finished a fine 18-2-3 playing one of the state’s most difficult schedules.
“It’s been 11 years since we’ve been this far. I am pleased that we are headed in the right direction,” noted Brighton coach Chris Stevanovic. “We are not going to go away. We had 10 sophomores on this team and only six seniors and six juniors. We’ll return 16 players next season. We would have loved to win this one, but we came up short to a very good team. We hope to be back again soon.”
Novi scored the game’s first two goals and eventually led 2-1 at the half.
Senior midfielder Megan Riley retrieved a through ball from freshman Julia Stadtherr and deposited a low shot into the corner just 3:08 into the contest for a 1-0 advantage.
Sophomore forward Laine Fenchel made it a two-goal lead with 20:20 remaining in the half when she volleyed home a close-range shot following Koomen’s long free kick into the box.
Brighton trimmed the deficit down to a goal with 22.1 ticks remaining in the first half. Sophomore Emma Shinsky’s long throw in was flicked backwards by sophomore Megan McCord over to senior midfielder Kirsten L’Esperance, who headed home the shot from six yards out.
The Bulldogs tied the game with 27:43 left in regulation, when sophomore Alexis Shatrau flicked the ball to senior Delaney Bussey in traffic in front of the goal and Bussey left no doubt by depositing the ball into the net.
Over the 20 minutes of overtime, Novi held a narrow 4-2 shots edge, scoring on its third attempt of the extra sessions.
Overall, Brighton held a 10-9 shots advantage, although Novi held a 7-5 command with shots directly on frame.
Brighton senior goalkeeper Madison Gould turned aside a penalty kick by Novi’s Gracie Backus that could have given Novi a three-goal lead. Novi’s Aastha Dharia gained the win between the pipes on three saves.
The Wildcats escaped the state’s deepest regional to reach the state semifinals for the first time since 2012.
“We were the only region with four top 15-ranked teams in it,” offered Pheiffer said. “This was the toughest one and we told the girls that if they came out of this region, it would say a lot. Having us, Brighton, Grand Blanc, and (Rochester) Adams in the same region — we had to earn it.”
Novi will play next Wednesday in the semifinals at Rochester Stoney Creek against the winner of the Troy Athens-Stoney Creek regional final.