MACOMB — When the Marine City girls soccer team left the field Thursday, it was met with a standing ovation.
The Mariners had just suffered an 8-0 loss to Macomb Lutheran North in a Division 3 district quarterfinal. But that didn’t stop fans from acknowledging what their team had accomplished — the rejuvenation of a program once on life support.
A remarkable turnaround ended that night, as Marine City, one year removed from an 0-14 record, finished the 2023 season at 10-3-1.
“This season had its own shape and form to it,” said Marine City coach Mark Diskin, whose team also won the MAC Gold championship earlier this month. “I could teach the younger players and they were receptive like sponges. They were open to the new information, applied it and got better. It helped support the core of seniors … that’s what really helped our team, is that first-year players listened, they tried and then they started to succeed.”
The Mariners’ revival was led by their four seniors — Ella Hensley, Brooklyn Zuziak, Tara VanBuskirk and Kya Vettraino. The group has stuck with the program through plenty of adversity, from complications of the pandemic to having to forfeit the final three games of 2022.
“Coming back from last year and being able to win the league has meant a lot to us,” Hensley said. “This is one of the closest teams I’ve ever had. We’re all friends and know each other very well.”
“We really came together as a team this year,” Vettraino said. “Everyone connected on a different level.”
As a result, Marine City quickly rose to another level.
After getting shut out in the first two games of the season, the Mariners won their next three by a combined total of 16-1. An 8-0 victory over Warren Fitzgerald on April 14 was the program’s first win since May 26, 2021.
“I really saw the improvement from how we were from last year (compared to) this year,” sophomore Jada Mauricio said. “It made me love the sport even more and create better bonds with my teammates, because we were able to spend more time together without getting frustrated. We were actually having fun.”
But the true turning point wasn’t until May 8, when the Mariners tied Hazel Park (then in first place), 0-0.
“The scoreboard didn’t tell that story well,” Diskin said. “We really pressured them quite well and held our defensive line perfectly. By the time we played Hazel Park, they had (six shutout victories). Once we shut them out, we knew we could pinch goals here and there. That’s when we knew we could build on it and get better.”
Following that draw, Marine City embarked on a seven-game winning streak to close the regular season.
“(Our success) didn’t hit us until two games before the end of league play,” Zuziak said. “Because we had one team we had to beat (to win the conference title).”
Marine City clinched the MAC Silver championship with a 1-0 win over Roseville on May 19. It was the program’s first league title since 2014.
“After that game, (our accomplishments) locked in now that we were league champs,” Zuziak said.
“It was fun to sit there and watch,” Diskin said of his team’s run. “I was just guiding them — keeping them straight as an arrow and they were taking the reins. It was awesome.”
While Thursday marked the end to an unforgettable run, the Mariners believe it’s just the beginning of a new era for the team.
“I’m looking forward to learning how to accomplish the goals I have for myself,” Mauricio said when asked about next season.
Marine City’s roster is well-balanced heading into 2024, with 14 players from this year expected to return.
“The good thing is we started the season with six freshmen on the roster,” Diskin said. “And like I said, those players were sponges. They sucked up the information, kept it and improved. As good as they did this year, they’ll be able to lead next year. It’ll be fun to work with them.”
Contact Brenden Welper at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @BrendenWelper.