Although Mother Nature hasn't been kind to any of the outdoor spring sports teams during their tryouts and opening practices, Grand Haven's varsity soccer team didn't show many ill effects during the Bucs' season-opening contest against Fruitport on Tuesday at Buccaneer Stadium.
"It's been very difficult, but every team in the region has had to deal with this," said Grand Haven coach Cor Damhuis, who was bundled up in a parka and several other layers during his team's 3-1 victory against the Trojans. "We've been stuck in the gym for two weeks just aching to get back onto the field."
Because of early-spring snow showers and temperatures that have dipped into the lower 30s, the Bucs have had one tryout and two full-team practices outside.
"It's been rough," said sophomore Sawyer Overway. "It's really bouncey indoors, then you step outside and it's a lot slower and obviously really cold."
Damhuis couldn't fault his team's hustle and overall effort in upper 30-degree weather on Tuesday, which helped the Bucs produce three first-half goals and allow them to outshoot the visiting Trojans by a 9-0 margin after 40 minutes of action.
“We had first-game jitters, but I was very pleased with their effort,” he said. “We have a lot of stuff we have to work on, but it was a good start.”
It was Fruitport’s first time playing outdoors this spring, according to Trojans’ coach Jeannie McClain, so some early struggles were expected.
Bucs' senior Lydia Weykamp exposed the Trojans’ lack of early-season preparation as she laced a tremendous bending corner kick that slipped past Fruitport goalie Monica Holden on the far right corner with just over four minutes expired in the first half.
Grand Haven padded their lead with back-to-back strikes to the back of the net midway through the half, the first coming from Overway with 19:44 showing on the clock.
"I think I got a pass from Courtney (Springer) and I took a touch, played it with my left and hoped for the best," Overway said. "I tried aiming for the far (right) corner.
"Fruitport is always out here to beat us, so it felt good getting a big lead on them early."
Nearly a minute later, junior Claire Borchers got into the scoring mix, as she used her speed to track down the ball in the penalty box and beat Holden with another low blast to the right corner.
Borchers, who is also an all-state cross country runner, is one of several multi-sport standouts on the Bucs' team, giving Damhuis a squad that he calls "a very athletic group."
"Between the JV and varsity, we've got 13 basketball players," Damhuis said. "Claire is a great athlete, Roxy Glasser is a runner; Emily Sexton is a runner and basketball player. Then there's the basketball players like Sawyer Overway, Mallory Beswick, Courtney Springer; there's a lot of good athletes on this team."
Damhuis' squad has just three seniors, but Overway said they aren't inexperienced in the game.
"I've played travel soccer with a lot of the juniors and a lot of the girls in my grade plays club in Holland and Grand Rapids and other teams in the area," she said.
“A lot of them play with coach Bob Wright and if they’re not on his team, they’re playing with other local travel teams,” Damhuis said. “It definitely helps us. It makes the girls more prepared for the season.”
Several players on both sides experiencing cramping muscles near the end of the first half, prompting Grand Haven athletic trainer Patrick Wykes and his staff to use a rolling device to work out the tight spots on hamstrings and calves.
Fruitport shrugged off its dismal start and played with more intensity in the second half, as the Trojans won more 50-50 balls and eventually ended the Bucs’ shutout bid.
The Trojans recorded their first shot with 18:30 remaining, as the Trojans’ Kaitlin Hughey blasted a shot that struck the crossbar.
Hughey made it count with just under six minutes remaining, gaining control of a deflected pass from teammate Tara Champion and ripping a shot past Bucs’ goalie Vernonica Booth, although the Haven netminder managed to get a hand on the shot but couldn’t push it away.
Booth played a majority of the second half in goal, while fellow junior Faith Platz got the start in goal. Damhuis said it remains an ongoing battle between the juniors as to who will be the team’s No. 1 goalie.
Grand Haven is back in action on Thursday, as it travels to face Mona Shores. Fruitport won’t return to the field until following Spring Break.
Junior Varsity: Grand Haven scored a season-opening 6-0 win over Fruitport, with six different players recording goals. Finding the back of the net were Mackenzie Burkhardt, Courtney Burnside, Keaghan Rickard, Katie Fojtik, Gabby Braley and Lindsey DeWitt. Recording assists for the Bucs were Emma McDonald and Hailey Schneider.