The Grand Haven girls lacrosse team kicked off their playoff run with an emphatic victory over Hudsonville on Wednesday, downing the host Eagles, 17-9, putting their wealth of talent on display.
A long, versatile roster, clear control of the mid-field game and prolific scoring from the outset won the day for the Bucs, who netted three goals in the opening three minutes of play, despite starting an alternative lineup.
“We started a couple of the younger kids, just to see how they would handle the pressure and how they would react to a playoff atmosphere,” Grand Haven head coach Scott Sweet-Christian said. “It was kind of tight there for a while, but we left them in and they figured it out.”
Jerica Tallman was the spark for the hot start, winning the first six draws.
“Tallman was winning those left and right, she was amazing tonight,” Sweet-Christian said. “Even when she didn’t win one, she was able to kick it out to Brooke or Libby (Plowman) for cleanup.”
The draws directly produced goals. The Bucs lead, 3-0, just over three minutes into the game, with goals by Brooke Lonergan, Isabel Andrini and Laura Reuterdahl.
The Eagles were eager to avoid embarrassment at home. They stormed back with three quick goals of their own to tie the game mid-way through the first half.
“I don’t think they were quite ready for that pushback,” Sweet-Christian said. “I told them before, ‘have fun, but remember that Hudsonville doesn’t know they are supposed to lose, they are going to come out and try to jump you.’”
At the 15:02 mark in the 30-minute first half, Lonergan had enough of the drama, taking an isolation play straight to the hole and netting her second goal of the day, taking the lead back for good.
Tallman continued the push, grabbing a goal of her own just before Reuterdahl netted a penalty shot, pushing the Bucs’ lead to 3-6 with 11 minutes remaining in the first half. Scoring went quiet after that, until Hudsonville snuck their fourth goal past the Grand Haven keeper with just over five minutes left in the half.
The two-goal lead was just too little for Tallman against a team the Bucs dismantled earlier this month. She finished off an impeccable goalie to midfield to attack transition just 30 seconds before intermission.
“That is what we practiced all week, there wasn’t anything magical about it,” Sweet-Christian said of the Bucs’ lethal transition game. “Just me and the coaches riding them about transition all week. We have struggled a bit all year on that. It is nice when the practice pays off.”
Halftime marked a switch in the cage for the Bucs, who started Taylor Hylok in place of senior Autumn Eslick.
“Hylok had a rocky start, but she came back and made a few great saves,” Sweet-Christian said. “I think she expected us to pull her right away when they tied the game, but I think it was good for her to realize, next year Autumn isn’t going to be there to come in, and she stuck it out and made some good saves.”
With their young players proven effective on the playoff stage, it was back to the stars for the second half, who turned up the heat to stay warm in the rain.
The Bucs scored another 10 goals over the course of the second half, netting six in the opening seven minutes. The Eagles managed none in that time, but were allowed five more down the stretch to bring the game to its final tally.
Second-half Grand Haven goals came courtesy of Reuterdahl, Lonergan, Liz Nowak, Elise Betten and Paige Kramer, with a mountain of assists by Andrini.
“I liked this game because everybody got to play,” Sweet-Christian said. “It bodes well for next year. We got up quick and they caught up, our defense reacted well and stuck in there. Then, we rotated the firsts back in and shut them down.”
The win advances the Bucs to the Regional semifinal, where they were eliminated by eventual state champion Rockford one year ago. They will face the Rams once again, who are in pursuit of their fourth-straight state title.
“They are one of the best teams in the Midwest, maybe the country,” Sweet-Christian said of their O-K Red Conference Rivals. “Our girls are not afraid, they look forward to those games. They know if they play their hardest they will do this program proud.”
The semifinal rematch is set for May 30 at Hudsonville High School, with opening draw at 5:30 p.m.