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PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999: Salem wins first district crown in 25 years

 PARTY LIKE IT’S 1999: Salem wins first district crown in 25 years

Salem senior Elaine Rama eyes the ball during the first half of Saturday’s title game.

On the silver anniversary of the Salem girls soccer program’s most-recent MHSAA Division 1 District championship, the present-day Rocks celebrated in grand fashion Saturday morning at Livonia Stevenson High School.

One of the most-consistently excellent teams in southeast Michigan for the past two decades, Salem was unable to get over the district title hump, having fallen just short in three consecutive championship matches, before finally reaching the summit with a convincing 3-0 triumph over the host Spartans in a showdown that kicked off at 11 a.m.

It was the first district title for the Rocks since 1999 — approximately seven years before this team’s core of spectacular seniors were born.

“This feels great,” said senior mid-fielder Claire Hammill, who netted the winners’ first and final goals against Stevenson. “We really wanted this one, especially for the seniors.”

To check out video highlights from Saturday’s game, click here.

The Salem soccer team posed with its 2024 District championship trophy Saturday afternoon
The Salem soccer team posed with its 2024 District championship trophy Saturday afternoon

As a member of the elite Michigan Hawks 2006 ECNL team, Hammill — set to play for Rutgers University beginning this fall — was not allowed to play for Salem until this season due to conflicts with her club team’s schedule.

“When I noticed there was an opening in our Hawks’ schedule this spring, I talked to my Hawks coach and convinced her I could make it work and do both (club and high school soccer),” Hammill explained. “She kind of joked and said, ‘OK, but you better come home with a (district) trophy’.”

Rising to the occasion

Hammill made sure she checked that box by serving as a catalyst for the Rocks’ three victories in arguably the deepest Division 1 district in the state. She scored twice in Salem’s playoffs-opening 2-1 win over Plymouth before duplicating her two-score effort in Saturday’s final.

Salem advanced to play Ann Arbor Skyline in Tuesday’s 7 p.m. regional semifinal at Ypsilanti Lincoln High School.

In addition to the three talent-rich P-CEP teams, the Stevenson district included the host Spartans — who were the champions of the KLAA East Division — and Northville, a perennial state-title contender.

“Playing both of the other Park teams for the third time — and we knew Stevenson was going to be tough because they were playing very well toward the end of the season — and with Northville in the brackets, this district was one of the best in the state,” said Salem Head Coach Kyle Karns.

“We have a team full of girls that are hard-working, good on the ball, technical players. Claire and Lauren (Driscoll) do a good job of controlling the mid-field. We’re blessed to have the kind of team we have this year.

Salem senior Katie Parana defends a Stevenson player
Salem senior Katie Parana defends a Stevenson senior Jenna Bebeau

“This was a long time coming. The girls worked hard and we’re starting to play well at the right time.”

In what many observers expected to be a tight, low-scoring 80-minute battle, the Rocks stunned their hosts with a goal just 4 minutes and 28 seconds into the contest.

Early advantage stabilizes nerves

Hammill, who can hammer the ball equally hard with both her left and right foot, struck a rising laser from about 20 yards out that settled into the net just below the crossbar.

“We really wanted to get ahead early and kind of make it known we were going to control the game right from the start,” Hammill reflected. “On the first goal, I knew I needed to attack my defender and make her make a decision. When she committed to one side, I was able to get around her on the left and I had a pretty clear shot at the net.”

Salem expanded its advantage to 2-0 roughly five minutes later when a low, perfectly-place corner kick from Cali Schwartzenberger found the left foot of Driscoll, who drilled home the set-piece goal before being engulfed by jubilant teammates.

Karns said the Rocks didn’t change their game plan once they jumped ahead 2-0.

Claire Hamill launches her second goal of the game
Claire Hamill launches her second goal of the game

“It’s certainly nice to get off to quick start like we did; it lets us settle in and let a lot of the nerves to leave and establish some composure,” Karns said.

“That said, 2-0 leads are very dangerous because one goal by Stevenson could change the momentum immediately.

Never-say-die Spartans

The Spartans threatened to cut their deficit in half early in the second half, but Salem senior goal-keeper Morganne Jones made a spectacular save on a golden scoring opportunity for Stevenson.

“Our defense has been playing so well, it’s really limited the times Morganne has had to make great saves,” Karns said. “But when she is put in a position to step up, she’s risen to the occasion.”

Salem players celebrate after being presented the district trophy from Head Coach Kyle Karns
Salem players celebrate after being presented the district trophy from Head Coach Kyle Karns

Hammill put the result on ice with 18:10 remaining in the game when she settled a pass from Elaine Rama and touched it into the goal.

“Elaine gets a lot of credit for that goal because she put me in such a great spot,” Hammill said. “Elaine is super amazing to play with … she makes my job a lot easier.”

Salem came within inches of scoring two more goals as Lauren Fowler and Alik Yeremian well-struck shots both crashed into the cross-bar.

With underclassmen like Schwartzenberger, Yeremian, Kendall Jaskolski, Avery VanWAshenova, Katie Sarkesian and Aubrey Krischano, it’s safe to say it won’t take the Rocks another 25 years to secure their next district trophy.

Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or edwright@socialhousenews.com.

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Ed Wright

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