Ben Kramer’s sophomore season on the Spring Lake soccer team started, and ended, with a painful twist.
Kramer stepped in a hole in the field during preseason drop-ins, suffering a broken ankle that required surgery and kept him out for the entire season.
That left Kramer on the sideline in a walking boot as the Lakers put together an undefeated regular season and advanced to the Division 2 regional tournament.
This fall, as a junior, Kramer has made up for lost time, earning the starting sweeper spot on the Lakers’ defense and helping lead Spring Lake back to the regional championship game, where they defeated Forest Hills Northern on Thursday night, 1-0.
Kramer said his time on the sidelines last fall actually helped him prepare for this season.
“It was good to be on the sideline and learn from good players like (Adam) Klauss, (Riley) Kammeraad, (Austin) Gabris, who are all college players now,” Kramer said. “Those guys were good influences on their teammates. They knew how to pick players up when they were down.”
Kramer was certainly down after breaking his ankle. Down, but not out. After surgery, he went through a few grueling rehabilitation sessions.
“The first couple were really tough because I was really out of shape,” he said. “They had me doing lunges, jumping to get strength back into that leg.”
By the end of last season, Kramer was running around with his teammates, but wasn’t cleared to practice or play.
He finally returned to competition on the Lakers’ junior varsity basketball team, then played golf and travel soccer in the spring.
“Basketball last year was tough, because at the beginning, the ankle was still a little fragile,” Kramer said. “I could feel it. But as the season went on, it got back to 100 percent, which was good. Then in the spring, I played golf, which wasn’t too tough on my ankle.”
Kramer also returned to the soccer field with the Tri-Cities Strikers.
“I just wanted to get some touch back, see where I was, see how I needed to improve,” he said. “I played alongside (fellow Spring Lake junior) Kaden Kendall, so we got some of our chemistry together before the season started.”
By the time this fall rolled around, Kramer was ready to go. He felt at full strength physically, but coach Jeremy Thelen said Kramer was still fighting to recover from the year off.
“You could tell at the beginning of the season, he hadn’t played a lot of soccer,” Thelen said. “It took him a while to get up to game speed.”
The same could be said for many of the Lakers, as they struggled to find their place after graduating all but three starters off last year’s team.
As Kramer found his comfort zone, so did the rest of the team.
“At the beginning of the season, we were all young, and we had never really played together,” Kramer said. “It was tough to know where we all were going to be. Communication has lacking. But the last couple weeks, we’ve stepped it up.”
The Lakers’ defense has been a huge reason for the team’s strong play over the final few weeks of the season. Kramer has solidified the sweeper spot, with freshman Dylan Constantine taking over at sweeper for the injured Luke Gray. Outside backs Adam Ross and Kendall, along with goalie Joe Czajka, have teamed up to allow just three goals against five very good teams over the past three weeks.
“Dylan has stepped up big, and Joe’s stepped up his communication as well,” Kramer said. “Now if Adam and I, or Kaden and I, if one of us goes out, the other has to step back and cover. Just knowing what each other’s going to do is huge.”
Spring Lake’s defense needed to be top notch tonight against a Forest Hills Northern team that upset No. 1-ranked Holland on Tuesday, 3-1.
The Lakers and the Huskies met earlier this season, with FHN scoring a 4-2 win.
The state soccer tournament is a bit like the NCAA basketball tournament, where teams get so caught up in the moment that they can forget to enjoy the ride.
Kramer said the Lakers are doing their best to soak it all up.
“It’s been really fun,” he said. “Everyone thought we wouldn’t get this far because we lost all those players, but the last couple weeks, we really picked it up. We’re playing our best soccer. Some of the players we’ve pulled up have really helped us.
“We had a team dinner at Applepee’s, so coming together like that, it’s good. It helps us. We’re bonding, creating more of a team atmosphere.”