The Lakers used the emotional lift of the festivities to roll O-K Blue Conference foe Allendale 4-0 in front of their home crowd Tuesday night.
With 11 seniors on the roster, head coach Jeremy Thelen decided to start the entire group of 12th-graders to begin the match.
“We played all of our seniors to start the game to honor them and the hard work they’ve put in and given to this program,” Thelen said after the match. “I’m proud of these guys, and it was really fun to be able to play all 11 of them at the same time like that.
“This is a working crew of seniors. They aren’t your flashy guys, but they have all put in the work over time and developed into strong-willed players for us. We are a defensive-minded team. Seniors like Ben Bouwhuis, Keaton Kval and Adam Boes really epitomize that identity and help us set the tone with our defense.”
Photo gallery from Tuesday’s game
The Lakers maintained possession for most of the first half, but weren’t able to capitalize on their scoring chances through the first 30 minutes of play.
Then, senior forward Robbie Hartliep made a mad dash to the net and knocked home a header past the Allendale keeper with eight minutes left in the first half to give Spring Lake a 1-0 lead.
A one-goal lead for Spring Lake can often feel like a three-goal lead with the way the team smoothers the opposition, but the Lakers didn’t lay back and play content after that.
Just five minutes later, junior Jack Ogden scored off an assist from senior Max White from inside the box to give Spring Lake a 2-0 lead with 3:50 left before halftime.
At that point, the host Lakers had all the momentum when they entered the intermission with a 2-0 lead.
At halftime, the senior players were introduced with their parents as a special acknowledgment for both parties’ sacrifice and commitment to the program.
The celebration on the field continued in the second half, with senior Tyler VanDam netting two goals to extend the Spring Lake lead to 4-0.
VanDam’s first score came on an excellent cross pass from junior Eli Denslow with 23 minutes left in the game. His second came less than three minutes later when junior Nick Krueger lofted a beautiful pass over the keeper and VanDam hammered home the header for his second score of the evening with 20:23 left in the contest.
“Tyler VanDam is a big effort player for us, so to see him score two goals like that was awesome,” added Thelen. “It was nice to see a big smile on his face after making a pair of nice plays on the ball like that.”
After a tough loss to Reeths-Puffer the night before, Thelen was happy to see his team respond with high energy just 24 hours later.
“The best thing to do after a tough loss like the one we had against (Reeths-) Puffer on Monday is to come out here and play a great game tonight. We stepped up our game and played quickly today,” he continued. “We beat Allendale 2-0 the first time we played them, so to put four on the board this time shows that we have really improved our play and came out focused tonight.
“We needed to come out strong after a disappointing loss and not have a letdown. Last year, we beat Allendale pretty handedly in our first match, but then tied them in the rematch. I think a lot of that was due to us dropping our focus last year and having a letdown game, but we avoided that this time around. That shows a lot of maturity.”
The Lakers utilized crisp passing to set up all four of their goals, and maintain possession for the majority of the match.
“We focused on that today, because we did not have very clean passing yesterday,” said Thelen. “We talked before tonight’s game about winning possession and passing with a purpose. That was really a key point of emphasis for us today.
“I thought Tommy Fine ran his tail off at outside mid to win a lot of loose balls to maintain possession. Jake Hewitt played a great game tonight at outside back, Graydon Deal and Caden Ercole also played strong tonight, as well.
“Matt Gagnon coming back has helped us out a lot on the attack, and Max White and Patrick Lee played a lot of minutes tonight, too.”
Senior Night festivities can sometimes to be a distraction for a team that isn’t properly dialed in on the present objective, but that was never an issue for the Lakers on Tuesday night.
“I’ve been playing with these guys since my freshman year, and we’ve worked our way up to the varsity level, and we all wanted to win this one tonight,” said senior defender Ben Bouwhuis. “All the starters tonight were seniors, so that was really cool, and we all played with a lot of intensity. We talked before the game and rallied the troops and wanted to make the most of it.”
As a defender, Bouwhuis enjoys that the team has taken on a defensive-minded approach to their play this season.
“As we progress throughout the season, we know we have to be more defensive minded. We know that all we need is one goal up top, and then we can take care of the rest,” he said. “We are returning all of our defensive guys from last year, so we knew that was going to be a strength for us.”
The Lakers will look to take advantage of a three-day practice period in the middle of the conference season as they prepare to fine tune some areas in time for a postseason push.
“We have three days of practice the rest of week, which is really rare the way that the season schedule is set up,” Thelen said. “Wednesday, we’ll go light and stretch to make sure that our bodies have recovered. Later on this week, we’ll spend more time and energy working on our defensive alignments and set pieces on offense. We want to focus our time on learning and getting better before the postseason starts.”
The Lakers return to the pitch at Sparta on Oct. 3 at 6:45 p.m.