That was the lesson learned by the Grand Haven girls soccer team on Tuesday in the Division 1 district opener at Macatawa Bay Middle School.
The Buccaneers had defeated O-K Red Conference rival West Ottawa by scores of 5-3 on April 30 and 6-2 on May 10, but the third matchup proved to be the charm for the Panthers, as they rode a tidal wave of momentum past the Buccaneers when it mattered most in a 3-0 shutout win.
The Panthers (5-10-2) advance to face Mona Shores (18-1-1) in the district semifinals at 5 p.m. on Friday at Jenison High School.
For the Buccaneers (10-7-2), missed scoring chances early on in the game gave West Ottawa the opportunity to take control of the pace of the game.
"At the beginning of the game, we had a lot of good opportunities, but we didn't finish," said Grand Haven head coach Yvonne McKessy. "If we had converted on one or two of those, it would have been a completely different game. After that, it was a tight game. They scored right before halftime and really took all that momentum into the second half.
"That's girls soccer for you, though. Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they don't."
West Ottawa weathered an early storm by Grand Haven and capitalized on a scoring chance late in the first half, when Olivia Salas took the ball up the left sideline and beat a defender for a prime look at the net. She would bury the shot attempt to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead after 40 minutes of play.
Four minutes into the second half, Dani Kuiper followed suit for the Panthers, taking another run up the left sideline before converting the shot for another West Ottawa goal.
The Panthers didn't rest on their lead, following up with a third goal at the 27:37 mark of the second half on a goal by Lucy Borski on an assist from Kuiper that put the game out of reach for Grand Haven.
"Our biggest takeaway from this is that we are a really young team and you hope they learn from the pressure of a one-and-done situation like this," McKessy added. "With that pressure, the hope is that they will mature and not let that one goal turn into another goal and ruin our confidence.
"We've got to grow from this, and I think we will. I'm really excited about next year, because I think if we collectively have more poise moving forward, we would have found a way to turn things around. We had four freshmen that have played big roles on the team this spring and they are only going to get better with the more game action they see."
One underclassman who has already shined is sophomore keeper Hannah Brackenbury. The talented goalie made five saves on the day and kept the Buccaneers in the ballgame, despite a lack of scoring prowess.
"Hannah had an amazing season," McKessy continued. "She is the toughest keeper out there and her timing and aggressiveness are fun to watch. She's just a sophomore, but her confidence is sky high already."
The loss signals the end of the varsity career of three senior leaders in the program, which McKessy knows will be hard to replace.
"I'm going to miss these seniors dearly," she said. "Haiden Trowbridge, Lucy Toppen and Stephanie Thompson are all extraordinary leaders and amazing people. This whole group has been a lot of fun to coach. They make this job a lot of fun and us coaches enjoy coming to work every day because of the atmosphere they create."
NEED FOR SPEED
After the game, McKessy challenged her returning group of players to push themselves during the offseason and put in the work necessary to take the next step as a program.
"We need a little bit more speed as a team, so I challenged them after the game to push themselves over the offseason to get faster in all phases," she added. "And that's not just physically; that has a lot to do with quick decision-making and instinctive play instead of thinking about your next move too much.
"If we can do that, that will take us to the next level. Our goal is to contend for conference and district titles, but in order to do that, we have to play more instinctually. That's when you become a step or two faster and start making those plays that win games like this."