In sports, it's often said, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game." While that's a nice sentiment, winning sure does feel good, and winning a state championship is even better.
For the first time ever, the Grosse Pointe North High School girl's soccer team knows this feeling well. On June 16, at DeMartin Stadium at Michigan State University (MSU), they took home the Division 2 state championship.
For head coach Olivia Dallaire, this win really brought her full circle. She actually played four years of soccer at North, as well as at Michigan State. "It was very special for me," she says. "I was definitely emotional after the game and just couldn't believe it. I'm just extremely proud of the girls. They really played for each other and represented the school and the community very well."
Coming in as an underdog (they were only the second team since 1991 to make it to the Michigan High School Athletic Association state finals with fewer than 10 wins), they showed a perseverance that made a huge difference.
"I think what really made the team so successful was our 'never give up' attitude," says assistant coach Marty Shearer. "A lot of times, when you're the underdogs, it gets a little bit difficult after a while. My role was keeping the players motivated even when things weren't going great."
When the team beat Bloomfield Hills Marian, winner of four Division 2 state championships since 2017, in the regional semifinals, Olivia believes that was the real turning point. "It gave them the confidence to play against anyone."
Goalkeeper Grace McCormick, who has been playing soccer since she was 3 years old, loves the game and still can't believe her team won the championship. "It felt like a fever dream to me," she says. "It was just such a hard season - we were 4-7-7, and the fact that we could then go on a six-game run without losing or tying was quite surreal."
She gives her coaches a lot of credit. "I've always loved my coaches, and Olivia was an inspiration - I can't give her enough recognition. She had just had a baby and had a new job as a nurse anesthetist, but she would run to practice with her child and practice playing with us with the baby strapped onto her. Her dedication to the team and her athleticism is just unreal."
Grace is actually following in Olivia's footsteps. This fall, she'll be attending the University of Detroit Mercy. "I can't picture my life without soccer because it's become such a staple for me. Detroit Mercy is the only division-one school that allows you to do clinical rotations for a nursing degree. Olivia's the reason why I am where I am."
Another player, center fullback Ava Mattaliano, says Grace convinced her to join the team. "I've been playing since I was 3 years old, but then I took a break when I was 11. Grace was the one to get me to play again last year when I was a junior."
She says winning the state championship was the most exhilarating thing that ever happened to her. "I didn't even know we had won until I looked over and saw my coach just fall to her knees with her hands over her face. That's when I was like, 'We just did it!'"
Ava is not only an accomplished soccer player, but she has also been given a scholarship to Plattsburgh State University in New York for hockey. She is thankful for her coaches and her parents as well. "They're my number one supporter."
The team is also very thankful for the support of the entire community. "I think the community really came together, especially when we went to the state finals," says Marty. "They had a nice rally for us. Elementary school students cheered us on, and many parents decorated their cars. The support was amazing. The parents also sponsored a pasta party for the team, and there was a lot of bonding there, which the players appreciated. Plus, they always ensured the players were at practice and games. That takes a lot of work."
Adds Olivia, "We probably had a hundred people out there with pompoms and posters cheering the girls on."
The school's athletic director Michelle Davis says the North community has always been very supportive. "They came out for many games, but the finals is where I think most of them showed up. Many people there didn't have students in the program anymore, but they all came out to support the girls. Current and former North faculty members also came to show their support."
After 23 years of coaching, she's reveling in her first championship. "I've always been an advocate of sports, and I don't care what your physical capability is," says Michelle." As an athlete, just come in and give it your all, and that's what those girls did. They just gave it their all and left nothing behind."
Another commonly used phrase in sports is "Cinderella story," which refers to competitors achieving far greater success than expected. The journey taken by the Grosse Pointe North High School girl's soccer team definitely fits this definition, and just like many fairy tales, it had a very happy ending.
"I'm just extremely proud of the girls. They played for each other and represented the school and community well."