Second ring in three appearances in title game brings Knights into dynasty territory – The Oakland Press

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EAST LANSING – At this point you should start thinking about the ‘D’ word, as in ‘dynasty’. The Royal Oak Shrine Knights made their third consecutive Division 4 final and won their second championship, the first in 2019.

It has not always been so. Coach Mark Soma has been with the Knights for 22 years, and while the Knights have always been a solid program, they haven’t been a state powerhouse. But after winning the state title in 2019, the Knights have been virtually unstoppable ever since. The Knights have won 54 games over the past three seasons, including a 17-4-2 record this season. Only one of those losses has been to a Division 4 school – a regular season loss to Clarkston Everest Collegiate/Academy of the Sacred Heart which the Knights avenged in the regional semi-finals.

Shrine defeats Kalamazoo Christian, 1-0, to claim second state title on third straight trip to finals

While Chloe Woodbeck made headlines in 2019 before leaving for Purdue, she had plenty of help on this team, including this year’s senior co-captain Bridgette Drouillard, who played in all three finals.

“Normally towards the start of the season we pretty much try to connect with each other,” Drouillard said. “Towards the end, I feel like we really play together. And that’s happened every year we’ve made the playoffs.

Senior Ava Gappy also appeared in all three finals, although she suffered an injury in 2019 when the Knights won their first championship.

“It’s huge. Coming from a small Catholic school, I don’t think we get a ton of recognition. And we’ve been here three years in a row and we’ve kind of made a name for ourselves in this community. senior class have been spectacular and great leaders and have developed this program into something that will continue over the years, so I’m really, really proud of us,” said Gappy.

Photo gallery of Royal Oak Shrine v Kalamazoo Christian in the D4 Women’s Football Title Match

The Knights will produce six senior graduates in all, including all three captains. But the saying is that good programs don’t rebuild, they recharge, and the Knights seem to be loaded next year as well. Forward Norah Tisko, who started and scored the game-winning goal in this year’s state title game, and sophomore starting goaltender Elena Gallagher are part of a 17-man squad for the this year’s team, most of whom are freshmen and sophomores, this figure to return next year.

This youthfulness was part of the reason the Knights started off a little slow this year as they needed time to onboard all the new players. But after starting 4-2-1, the Knights rode through the rest of the season, hitting the all-time high — at the end of the year.

Shrine finished the season on a nine-game winning streak, conceding just four goals during that streak en route to the Division 4 title.

Royal Oak Shrine’s Norah Tisko (R) battles for the ball with Kalamazoo Christian’s Taylor Leonard (18) during the MHSAA Division 4 State Title game on Friday, June 17, 2022 at MSU’s DeMartin Football Complex. Tisko scored the only goal as the Knights beat the Comets 1-0 to claim the title. (KEN SWART — ForMediaNews Group)

“We had a lot of freshmen playing, so getting them familiar with the college game and the physics of the game at our level is something you can’t teach until you get into the situation. That’s probably what pushed us over the edge at the start of the season,” said head coach Mark Soma. “When you go through six or seven people in the game and the level doesn’t drop, it makes a huge difference.”

Next year, some of these players will be invited to take on bigger roles as the Knights reload again. But that’s what good programs do: earn, graduate, retool, and earn more. That’s what Shrine has done in each of the last three seasons: win a bunch of games and make it to the national finals, graduate some of their best players, then re-kit with the remaining players and make another run. That kind of winning culture breeds success, and at this point, that’s the only thing returning players have experienced.

Will the Knights make another run next year? Only time will tell, but that’s the kind of thing dynasties do… and it’s getting harder and harder to call the Knights anything else, except maybe “champions.”


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