The Lakers were hosting crosstown rival Fruitport, which always ratchets up the emotions. Add in the intensity of both teams playing to keep their seasons alive and the fact that it was the final home game that six Laker seniors would ever play on their home turf, and you run the risk of a team playing too emotional or even out of character.
That was hardly the case, however, as the Lakers stuck to their gameplan and shutout a talented Fruitport squad, 3-0, to win the Division 2 district title and advance to Tuesday’s regional semifinals at Cedar Springs High School.
“It’s pretty bittersweet. It’s exciting to get the win, but it’s also kind of sad that it was our last game playing on our home field,” said senior midfielder Kaley George. “It was fun to play Fruitport and be a part of that rivalry one last time. It was a good last win on the home field.
“I think we played a little timid against Reeths-Puffer on Thursday, but we were much more calm today. I think it helped that we played them earlier in the year. That helped us prepare for how they were going to play and what they were going to try and do. We didn’t really know how Reeths-Puffer was going to play us, so we had to adjust as the game went on.”
The Lakers didn’t waste any time setting the tone of Saturday’s contest, with senior Jaedyn Shelton serving up a well-timed free kick to junior teammate Emily Batts, who volleyed the sailing shot over the outstretched arms of the Fruitport keeper and into the net to give Spring Lake a 1-0 lead just minutes into the match.
Fifteen minutes later, senior Sarah Thornley collected a loose ball and sent a pass down the seam to sophomore standout Laney Peasley, who buried the shot to put the host Lakers up 2-0.
The Lakers would take that 2-0 lead into halftime.
With nineteen minutes left in the second half, junior Tia Leary found Batts for her second goal of the afternoon to seal the 3-0 win.
“Today was all about making a statement and proving that we deserve to be where we are, and I think we did that,” said first-year Spring Lake head coach Becky May. “Everybody really did their job today. Our defense did their job and communicated well, although (Fruitport) hit a couple off the post, so they got behind us a couple times.
“Our midfield did their job possessing and finding the girls up top, and the forwards did their job. So it was a good game for us mechanically. All the pieces were in play and we needed that.”
May, who took over the program last summer after long-time coach Jeremy Thelen stepped down, was extremely appreciative of the opportunity and was thrilled to add some hardware to the trophy case for the program.
“It’s an honor. I was handed an amazing group of girls, and they’ve responded to it. Coming in, I knew quite a few of these girls, but I didn’t know what kind of a team we had. I tried to implement my new system on them, and they’ve adjusted to that.
“We also have a group of really strong younger players, and they’ve had to mesh with the seniors. So we’ve had our fair share of challenges. But we’ve gotten better as the season has gone along, and that’s what you need going into the playoffs.”
Sophomore keeper Kamryn Lewkowski recorded the shutout in net; after fellow sophomore Gracie VanLangevelde helped the team record a 2-0 win over Reeths-Puffer on Thursday.
“There’s no strategy to it,” May explained about the goalie rotation. “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve got two of the best goalies around, and I have them on the same team. So the problem of rotating them in and out is not really a problem. They’ve both had big games for us, so we all have confidence in both of them.”
For Fruitport, Saturday’s loss was a disappointing ending to a fantastic and historic season for the Trojans.
The team finished with a school record 17 wins. In fact, four of the team’s five losses came to undefeated Mona Shores and Spring Lake.
“It’s tough. We came out strong and possessed really well, but then they get that early goal and add another one shortly after that, and we had to play from behind the rest of the game,” said Fruitport head coach Jeannie McClain. “That’s hard to do, especially a good defensive team in the playoffs. We hit the crossbar twice, so had one of those gone in, it would have been a completely different game. Soccer is a weird game, and sometimes it’s all about the bounces. It felt like two evenly matched teams, but the bounces just didn’t go our way.
“I feel bad for the seniors. They played hard, and gave so much to this program. Three of them have been starters since they were freshmen. That makes it hard for me, because they’ve helped build this team to what it is now, and it would have been nice to win a district title for them.
“We did set the school record for goals in a game, plus some individual scoring marks. I think we finished with four different school records, so that’s a pretty successful season.”
Senior forward Emily Winicki set one of those records, as she set a new high mark for goals scored in a single season, which had stood since 2001 when Sarah Reed scored 27 goals for the Trojans. Winicki and fellow senior midfielder Kelsie Schultz will both be continuing their playing careers at Muskegon Community College.
Senior forward Jensyn Stanberry finished second on the team in scoring and will be playing college soccer at Chicago State University next year.
McClain was also complimentary of another senior player who helped create great team chemistry.
“Camryn Zeller is a quiet leader for us,” she added. “She’s not the best player on the team, but she’s probably the best teammate. These girls have made such an impact on the entire program. We had a bunch of young kids here watching the game, and all of them knew who Emily and Schultz were, and I think they really have inspired the younger generation of soccer players in our program. They look up to these older girls, and they have set the bar even higher than it was when they got here, and that’s the biggest compliments I can give.
“This is the most talented team we’ve ever had. We’ve had good players throughout the years, but this is probably the best collection of talent we’ve had and probably the most cohesive unit I’ve ever coached.”
Spring Lake (19-2-1) will travel to Cedar Springs High School on Tuesday to face Cadillac (18-1-1) in the Division 2 regional semifinals at 5 p.m.