“I know this is cheesy, but I watched the Michigan State-Ohio State game a couple weekends ago and Urban Meyer does this Superman thing,” Thelen said, as he demonstrated the act of the Man of Steel pulling his coat open to reveal the big red and yellow ‘S’.
“(Meyer’s) big thing is you need to open your heart to competition, and I keep telling the kids, you want a test. You’ve got to dig yourselves out of holes. And at 2-2 at the half, this is a test.”
Spring Lake embraced the competition from their neighboring rivals and passed the test, claiming a 4-2 victory and ensuring the program of its fourth-straight outright championship in the Lakes Eight.
The No. 1-ranked Lakers keep their unbeaten season alive at 17-0, while Fruitport drops to 10-7-2.
For seniors such as four-year varsity player Adam Clauss, the win is more of the same. Clauss has never lost a conference game during his career at Spring Lake.
“These kinds of games are good for us, because we know that not every game in the tournament is going to be a blowout and we’ve got to bring it every game,” said Clauss, who had two goals and an assist in the victory. “I guess you could call it a wake-up call.”
Fruitport certainly got the Lakers’ attention early in the first half, as the Trojans’ Zach Gilson showcased tremendous footwork by dribbling through three Lakers’ defenders and then making an equally stellar move on goalie Joseph Czajka that left Gilson an open net for a 1-0 Fruitport lead just two minutes into the contest.
Spring Lake tried a different strategy in the first half by employing a 3-4-3 formation, adding an extra forward for a chance at more offensive opportunities with no sweeper to lend a hand on defense.
“We’ll have that in our back pocket for the tournament,” Clauss said. “We had a lot of people in different places tonight and we had some key injuries like K.J. Sanchez (the team’s second-leading scorer who rolled his ankle in practice on Monday). “But Fruitport’s a good team. We tried to go with a more offensive look and they took advantage of it.”
Clauss, who played up more from his normal midfield position, quickly got into the goal-scoring conversation, as he scored the game’s next two goals to give the hosts the lead.
His first, at nearly six minutes into the game, was set up by a nice pass forward to the right corner of the field from Austin Gabris. Clauss then beat a Fruitport defender to the front of the goalie box and punched in a shot inside the right post just past the reach of Trojans’ goalie Loghan Stong.
Nearly two minutes later, Clauss struck again as the Trojans failed to clear a volleying header. Lakers’ forward Riley Kammeraad directed the ball over to Clauss, who quickly controlled and fired on goal before a pair of Trojans within arms reach could react.
“My teammates set me up nicely and I just did my job,” said Clauss, a returning all-stater who has committed to play at the University of Detroit next season.
Fruitport’s highlight reel was boosted with 10:38 remaining in the half, as the Trojans broke down the Lakers’ defense again, thanks to a brilliant crossing pass from Cody Pekel. It was on the money to teammate Collin Sparks, whose header goal tied the contest at 2-2. The goal caused Fruitport coach Greg Kobylak to jump up and pump his fists in the air.
“That’s been our M.O.,” Kobylak said. “We’re always going to come and compete. But we have goals to come in and win, even if our opponent is undefeated and ranked No. 1.
“We felt great at the half,” he added. “We found a way to put a couple balls in the back of the net.”
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