ZEELAND - As the Zeeland East boys soccer team marched toward the end of the regular season, the records started to fall.
Aaron Keegstra set the season (11) and career record (20) for shutouts. Caleb Swartzendruber set the career record for assists (34).
But most importantly, the Chix set the school record for wins. Zeeland East has 14 wins (14-3) after beating Muskegon Reeths-Puffer 4-3 in the opening round of the OK Green Conference Tournament on Tuesday at home.
"We have a group of guys who are committed to doing the same thing for each other. It is individuals coming together for a common goal, and it has been fun to watch the progress there," Zeeland East coach Zack Williams said. "You see the fruits of your labor. We had 14 returning players who got a taste of that success last year and they really were committed to having even more success, and that has been awesome to watch."
This group of Chix has faced an extreme amount of adversity, following the loss of their teammate Keaton Kroll, who died in 2019 after collapsing on the field because of a blood clot, on top of facing the pandemic.
That has molded the group even closer.
"The difference with this team is the brotherhood. Our ability to be working together an fighting for each other on and off the field. We love each other and that keeps the chemistry going throughout the season," Swartzendruber. "It means a lot. It is an honor to be in the recordbooks along with Aaron Keegstra, but our goal is playing for Keaton Kroll. Honoring him and playing for him has been a huge part of it for us. Our coaching staff has done a great job building this program up the past five years, and it is just a huge honor to be a part of it and see Zeeland East soccer succeed."
Positivity is something the Chix have focused on.
"It is 100% positivity, building each other up on the field," Swartzendruber said. "In past years, we have gotten down and shut down. This year, we have been able to bounce back."
"It is about realizing we are all going to have moments when we lose. You break down the game into moments, and we are going to lose moments. How do we respond to those? We respond with positivity," Williams said. "I can't say enough awesome things about my coaching staff. We all commit to every day is a gift. We are going to make the most of every game, every practice, win or lose. That consistent positivity is something the kids see and want. That helps in soccer and in life. We lost a player and the years of COVID - that is a lot of emotional stress on these guys. But they just came together instead of crumbling. They are committed to each other. I can't say it enough."
The players agreed that they see that example that the coaches set.
"It has been great. We have a great coaching staff and we built this team around love and working hard. We do what we do to win and train for it," Keegstra said. "It is amazing because a lot of the records are from the 1990s. As a team, beating them is amazing. It helps us stay hype and keep our energy up."
On Tuesday, the Chix opened the scoring with 26 minutes to go in the first half on a rebound goal by Swartzendruber.
Five minutes later a beautiful centering pass from Kaiden Link found the head of Alessandro Saccani, who headed it into the top corner of the net. Isaac Fernandez scored on a rebound with 13:34 to go in the half.
Less than 2 minutes into the second half, Saccani scored again to make it 4-0 on a pass from Juan VanderMaas.
The Rockets answered with three second-half goals, giving the Chix a much-needed wake-up call before the district tournament.
"We got a little too confident at the end, but coaches keep us humble," Keegstra said. "Positivity is a big thing because when we are negative, we all go down - and when we are positive, we are at the top."
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Chix soccer 'came together instead of crumbled' in record-setting year