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Heads-up play nets Calvin NCAA tourney berth
By Lynn Bolt Rosendale
Joel Vande Kopple
Joel Vande Kopple (Grand Rapids, Mich.)

While setting a new record by allowing only one goal during the entire MIAA season, the Calvin men’s soccer team wanted to be sure that it wasn’t that lone goal that would end up costing them a league championship and a trip to the NCAA III national tournament.

The Knights, ranked as high as fourth nationally during the season, gave up that goal against rival Hope in the teams’ first conference meeting this fall. Hope won that game, 1-0.

Desperately needing a win in the re-match—which was the final conference game of the season for both teams—the Knights scored on a header by senior Joel Vande Kopple with just 3:45 left in the game. “It just felt so good,” said Vande Kopple. “During my career, we've struggled to get over the hump in some of the big games. With this, that frustration just flew right out the window.”

It had been a long wait for Vande Kopple, a three-time All-MIAA first team selection, who played on struggling Calvin teams during his first two years.

“When I first came to Calvin, it [soccer] was disappointing,” said Vande Kopple.

A graduate of Grand Rapids Christian High School, Vande Kopple was used to playing on winning teams.

“In high school we probably lost 10 games total,” he said. “In my first collegiate game we played somewhere in Ohio. We got beat 5-0; we just got spanked. I was used to going 18-2, and we went 11-9.”

Vande Kopple’s sophomore soccer season went much like the first. “We were a young team, getting used to a new coach, but we definitely underachieved.”

Things started changing last year. “We started coming together and stepping it up,” he said. “It was early in the season last year when we lost three out of four games in one week; we were sitting at 4-4. We got together and said, ‘We can’t have any more of this.’”

And they didn’t.

The Knights went on a 10-game winning streak. “We started beating teams like Hope and Kalamazoo, something we hadn’t done it a while,” said Vande Kopple.

The Knights ended up splitting with Hope and sharing the MIAA title last year; Hope ended up winning the tiebreaker and advancing to the NCAA III tournament.

“This year we said, “No more of that tying stuff,’” said Vande Kopple. “We want to win it outright.”

It nearly came down to a tie in the season finale, but Vande Kopple, who stands 6-5, managed to get his head on the ball for the winning score.

Unfortunately, the Knights’ run in the NCAA tournament was short lived. A defensive battle much like the game against Hope, the first-round tournament game went to Wartburg College in double overtime. The Knights of Wartburg scored the game’s only goal with 8:40 remaining in the second overtime. Calvin outshot Wartburg 14-11.

While his official playing days are over, Vande Kopple plans to stay involved with soccer.

Because of his love for the game and for kids, Vande Kopple decided to pursue a career in teaching.

He hopes to teach physical education and coach. He currently serves as the assistant coach for the girls’ soccer team at Grand Rapids Christian High School.

“My dad, my mom, my brother are all teachers, so that’s the one thing I wasn’t going to be,” he said. “But I love being around kids and sports so much that finally I said, ‘OK, I have to do it.’”