Trips to the state finals may not be in the cards for area girls’ teams this spring, but all four area teams are expected to put solid squads on the field.
Spring Lake’s girls reached the regional finals last spring, and nine starters return from that squad — seniors Morgan Gagnon, Kelsey Kippe, Katie Miedema, Chezny Peel, Emily Walling and Kendall Meyers, along with juniors Leeann Latsch, Hailey Pellegrom and Molly Miedema.
Add a trio of talented freshmen into that group and Spring Lake has a team that should again compete for Lakes Eight Conference and Division 2 district titles.
“Our expectations re to raise our level of play, play with the best teams in the area, and when the tournaments come, to put our best out there and see where it takes us,” said Lakers’ coach Jeremy Thelen.
The freshmen Thelen referred to are attackers Megan Harken and Mariada Gezon, along with defender Anya Gordon.
Thelen said the strength of his team will likely be on defense, where Meyers, Latsch, Molly Miedema and Pellegrom will play in front of goalie Audrey Gray.
Gray didn’t play high school soccer last spring after spending much of her junior year as an exchange student in Uruguay. “She’s back out and playing goalie for us and she’s played really well,” Thelen said.
Thelen expects Katie Miedema to be the playmaker in the middle of the field for the Lakers.
Kippe, who was a defender her first two years on the Lakers’ varsity squad, moved up to forward as a junior and led the Lakers in goals with 15. She returns to the lead the Lakers’ attack again this year and scored a pair of goals in a win over West Ottawa earlier this spring.
Spring Lake is 1-1-1 on the season. After a disappointing tie against Coopersville, the Lakers defeated West Ottawa, then lost to state-ranked Grandville.
Whereas Spring Lake will field a veteran squad this spring, Grand Haven is the exact opposite, with only two seniors slated to start for coach Cor Damhuis’ team.
The Buccaneers’ roster features just four seniors total, along with six juniors, eight sophomores and a freshman.
“Normally, with young players at this level, you think about inexperience, being less able to perform under pressure,” Damhuis said. “These particular girls have been together for quite some time.
They have played on travel teams at a very high level of play, a high level of pressure.”
Damhuis has plenty of confidence in those young girls. In fact, his defense consists of sophomore Faith Platz in goal, with sophomores Roxy Glasser, Lany Kenny and Emily Sexton playing in front of Platz.
“What is nice about this team is our goalie is behind all those sophomores, which is the defense on her travel team in front of her,” Damhuis said. “They know what each other does, and they have speed.
They just have so much speed. Lany Kenny reads the game really well, anticipates really well, and Emily Sexton is probably the fastest one we have on the team.”
The fourth member of the Bucs’ defense is the stopper, which is either junior Belle VanderLaan or freshman Alex Prout.
In the midfield for the Buccaneers are seniors Claire Pepper, Brook Spruit and Megan Olle, along with juniors Lydia Weykamp and Courtney Springer and sophomores Taylor DeWitt, Rachel VanZytveld and Mallory Beswick.
Leading the offensive charge is DeWitt, Spruit, sophomore Claire Borchers and junior Lindy Vallier.
Zoe Jimenez is a backup defender or midfielder for the Bucs, while Abby LaLonde will also look to contribute off the bench.The fourth senior on Grand Haven’s roster is Hannah Rymal, who has yet to practice with the team after suffering a knee injury while skiing this winter.
The Buccaneers look to improve upon last year’s fourth-place finish in the O-K Red Conference, but moving into the top few spots in the Red won’t be easy.
“Every time I get excited that we have such a good team, the other teams get younger and get better, too,” Damhuis said. “I look at East Kentwood, Rockford and Grandville to be in the mix again, along with us. I’d like to be a part of that.”
TROJANS IN TRANSITION
First-year Fruitport coach Jeannie McClain is still trying to figure out where everyone fits on her team.
“We have a couple girls who aren’t playing right now,” McClain said. “We have one who’s out with a concussion and some other injuries, so we’re just trying to find our spots in the field right now.”
A few spots are locked down, including the goalie position, where Lindsay Armstrong returns as a senior captain. She’ll be aided by defenders Jordyn Stanberry, a sophomore who started on the varsity squad as a freshman, and junior Lena Rance.
Another spot that’s not being debated is in the center midfield, where Lauren Hazekamp is back as a fourth-year starter. Hazekamp, an all-stater on the volleyball court last fall, has struggled with injuries as well. After missing a good portion of the basketball season with a broken foot, Hazekamp pulled her quad in the opening week of the season.
“She came back from Spring Break feeling pretty good,” McClain said.
“She’s just a very solid player in the middle.”
Another volleyball all-stater, Bre Geile, is also struggling with injuries. She hurt her knee and missed the entire basketball season.
She’s nearly back to full strength and is playing sweeper for the Trojans.
Carly Kryfka will be one of the Trojans’ more dangerous attacking players, while seniors Kaelyn Laufersky and Tehran Peffley-Routt have stepped up their games this spring.
“Right now, as soon as we get back to full force, I’ll know a lot more, but those girls are playing pretty solid,” said McClain, whose team is 2-0 after a pair of tough losses to Grand Haven and Rockford.
NEW FACES ABOUND AT WMC
There are a lot of new faces on the girls soccer team at Western Michigan Christian, including coach David Hulings.
Hulings, who has coached the WMC boys for several years, resigned last year as Fruitport’s varsity girls coach to take the job at WMC.
He took over a WMC girls team that has six upper classmen.
“Since this is my first year as the girls coach, I can’t really speak too much in comparison from previous years,” Hulings said. “We have a great group of girls who have come out and look forward to what the group can accomplish. Although Coach Dan (McAllister, previous coach) and I have similar philosophy and I don’t plan on changing too many things the first year, it is tough on the girls to learn new terms and different expectations.
“That may, perhaps, be the biggest issue facing us. The girls from last year don’t change too much in their technical or tactical ability. So, we have similar resources and have to try to get what we can out of them.”
Of the 20 players on the team, 11 are freshmen.
“I think that will be a challenge for us to make sure these players remember the history and traditions under previous coaches,” Hulings said. “We are not attempting to build new here but simply continue those long standing traditions of WMC girls soccer. So, our youthfulness will be a challenge.
“We are lead by some upper classmen who have a history and understanding of the program. Rachel Karsten, Timera Crosby and Kari Hoffius are our lone seniors and along with junior Julie Merz, they make up our team captains. They will really be counted upon for not just their incredible talent but their needed leadership.
“The younger players will need their guidance and determination. Two other juniors, Courtne Stuk and Alli Langeland, complete our ‘upper classmen.’ They too, will be counted upon for skills and leadership.”
Hulings added that sophomore Mykala Dennison and freshmen Alexis Riksen and Megan Teeter have already shown both great skills and mature play.
“I look forward to leading this young group of Warriors,” Hulings said. “Learning the history, tradition and mission of the WMC girls program and building something great upon that is our biggest mission. We will let wins and losses take care of themselves. We are looking forward to training and playing like champions. We will see where we go from there.”