Former Spring Lake soccer standout Gracie VanLangevelde spent Thursday night burying any and all emotion, as she prepared to start for Midwest United Football Club in the U-18/19 Developmental Academy National Championship game. A title-clinching save in sudden death penalty kicks finally unleashed the waterworks, as four years of unrivaled dedication culminated in a moment of unparalleled joy.
“It is something I have worked my entire life for,” she said of the national title. “I’ve been second place so many times; I just didn’t want to feel that loss again. When we did win I was shocked. Heading into the championship game I had put my guard up and didn’t let my emotion take over. I made the save and hit the ground and saw my team sprinting and I just started crying and screaming.
“It was a moment.”
That moment was many years in the making for VanLangevelde, who elected to leave Spring Lake varsity soccer behind after her sophomore year for a full-time pursuit of club ball.
The move was not taken lightly — by her or the Midwest program.
“My sophomore year was when they introduced the developmental academy— it’s meant to prep players for the Olympics,” she said. “I was offered a spot and you have to sign a contract. I signed to not play high school soccer or other sports, there’s a community service aspect to it and all this stuff. Most of my teammates are going to play in the Big 10 and have been to National Team camps and are prepping for World Cups, it’s a big thing.
“We travel all over the country playing on the weekends and training four times a week. It’s a crazy commitment. We work so hard for this. So, the game was crazy. It was a dream come true.”
Two years on the DA team, including one as the backup keeper, plus years of club training alongside middle and high school soccer led up to the developmental academy tournament — a meeting of the best of the best in the nation’s top age group.
After flying out to San Diego on June 19, Midwest squeezed out of the group stage. Their three-game group stage schedule finished in a tie with the No.2-ranked team in the tournament, who they outscored by one point overall to claim a spot in the tournament.
The narrow advance put them in the semifinals, where they took on Sockers FC, a Mid-America Division rival, defeating the familiar opponents, 2-1.
The tight tournament led to VanLangevelde ’s decisive save, but it took two in penalty kicks to take down the San Diego Surf playing on their home turf in the Golden State.
After giving up a game-tying penalty kick in the closing minutes of regulation, VanLangevelde survived overtime still tied, bringing on the goalie-testing shootout.
The emotion of the moment threatened to creep in after two even overtime periods.
“I’ve been to national championship games before, so before the game, I was preparing myself to lose and to try and be thankful we made the game at all,” VanLangevelde said.
“I started to get a little anxious heading to penalties. Even when I was at Spring Lake, penalty kicks never really went our way. It’s really against you as a goalie, so I just told my teammates, ‘I need you to make your shots, and I’ll do the best I can to save at least one.”
Each team netted its first two kicks, followed by a San Deigo make and a Midwest miss, putting VanLangevelde down, 3-2, with just two shots to go.
“I thought, ‘Oh crap,’” she said. “Now I have to save one.
“I went into the goal and did my thing, walking up to the six-yard mark and making myself look big. I turned around and walked back to the goal and thought, ‘I’ve been going left, I’ll switch it up and go right and hopefully she goes that way.’”
The switch was effective, bringing on a fingertip save at the right post, evening the score with one miss for each team. The regulation five shots ended tied with four makes apiece, bringing on sudden-death penalty kicks.
“At this point, it is just first one to make a save,” VanLangevelde said. “We made the first shot, and I remember looking at my team and they were just yelling, ‘You’re a beast, you got this!’ Knowing they were confident in me really helped me relax.
“I thought, ‘Go left, and hope you get lucky.’ The whistle blew, I threw myself left and saw the ball coming, it took a full extension and I pushed it just wide. I hit the ground and just started screaming.”
The title was the “highest of highs” for the local keeper, who came crashing down to earth this week as she returned to the bottom of the totem pole by embarking on her freshman year of collegiate play at Michigan Tech University. The challenge is daunting but welcome for the 2019 Spring Lake grad.
“Coming off a high like that, it has been hard to transition,” she said. “I’m completely starting over here at college. I know I have the skills that I have learned over the years, but now getting confident with a new team and developing those relationships and learning from the players is another thing.
“I already had my first workout with the team and it was brutal. But, you need to understand that you are starting at the bottom again. That moment Friday was the biggest moment of my life. If I’m patient and keep working hard, hopefully, I’ll be able to make it back to something like that.”
The Huskies kick off their season at St. Cloud State on Sept. 6.