He doesn’t want his squad to become overconfident at this early stage in the season, but when the Lakers are turning games that are supposed to be competitive into blowouts, how can he not praise their excellence?
It happened last week against Grand Haven, a contest that ended in a 6-0 final, and a showdown against visiting Orchard View on Tuesday – the No. 2-ranked team in Division 3 – was more of the same, as Spring Lake fired in five second-half goals against the bewildered Cardinals and romped to a 7-0 victory at Spring Lake Middle School.
Spring Lake, which is ranked No. 3 in Division 2 in the Michigan High School Coaches Association rankings, remains unbeaten at 6-0 overall. The Cardinals fall to 5-2.
“Right now, it’s hard to say who is going to give us a challenge,” Thelen admitted following the victory. “I thought Grand Haven would be competitive, and granted, they have a much different team than a year ago. And tonight, with Orchard View ranked No. 2, I thought they’d play us tough, but we poured it on.”
Orchard View had its chances in the first half to assert itself, but it was the Lakers who made it count.
After Lakers’ standout forward Riley Kammeraad opened the scoring with a blistering shot nearly 8 minutes into the contest, the Cardinals failed to convert on a pair of chances for the equalizer, including a header off a corner kick that was pushed inches wide right by senior John Leonard.
Nearly two minutes later, Spring Lake goalie Joseph Czajka made a poor read on a high-bouncing shot, as he grabbed nothing but air in his attempt to snatch the ball on the hop. A Spring Lake player was able to track down the ball and clear it out of danger, however, just inches away from the goal line.
Nic Ellingboe gave Spring Lake a 2-0 lead with just 1:05 remaining in the first half, as he controlled a ball sent in by teammate Adam Clauss in a crowd of players, and somehow found an open seam to fire at the net and past OV goalie Dylan Tyler.
The tight first half was simply a mirage, as the Lakers passed, created and executed tremendously in the second 40 minutes of play.
“I think we have the capability to play faster,” Thelen said. “We did look quick after playing on that turf over in Grand Haven, and the thing with this group, they make such good decisions. And we are 13-14 (players) deep.”
With 22 minutes remaining in the second half, the Lakers’ lead had skyrocketed to 6-0, thanks to two goals from senior forward Austin Gabris, one from senior midfielder Clauss, and another from junior Luke Gray.
Gabris’ first score was a gorgeous one-touch effort.
“Adam Roberge sent me a great ball across and it got over the defender,” Gabris said. “I just took my time and hit a volley, and put it away.
“Really, anybody on this team can score,” he added. “We’re all good at passing it around and sharing the ball. Of course you have a Riley Kammeraad on the team who is capable of scoring in any game, but we’ve got a lot of other guys who can score, too.”
Gabris’ second goal was aided by the hard work of Kammeraad, who pressured an OV player and freed the ball, allowing Gabris to pounce, fire and celebrate.
“Riley just has that constant work ethic,” Thelen said. “He pushes himself so hard.”
Gabris also had an assist, as his free kick into a crowd in front of the OV goal was cleaned up by Clauss and buried into the back of the net with 22:45 showing on the clock.
Spring Lake was so technically dominant with is offensive execution, it wasn’t a shock that all of its starters were on the bench with 17 minutes remaining.
The Lakers’ most feel-good goal might have been their last. Senior KJ Sanchez, who was visibly frustrated after missing high on a handful of previous shots on goal, was finally rewarded for his persistence with 5:33 to play.
After Tyler’s diving save attempt left an open goal and the ball scooting free, Sanchez tracked it down and calmly deposited the ball on a sharp-angled blast.
Spring Lake held a 17-2 advantage in shots on goal, with Czajka going the distance in goal for the Lakers. His best save came 10 minutes into the second half, as he charged off his line and made a nice break-up before the Cardinals’ player could rear back and fire.
Of course, the last thing Thelen wants to talk about is a perfect season, and while Gabris said the Lakers are taking it “one game at a time,” he later added perfection “is a great goal to have.”
So is returning to the Division 2 state championship game.
“Definitely state finals is a chance for us,” Gabris said. “We just have to keep improving every game.”
“Our whole season is not going to be 6-0, 7-0,” Thelen said. “We’ve got tougher challenges ahead of us. I’ve seen our guys play better. Tonight, we had some bad touches in the middle and we didn’t challenge the ball enough. In order for us to get to that state championship level, we have to challenge, we have to do everything perfect. I want to hold those guys to those standards.”