With a shot at a Division 2 regional championship looming Friday, the Lakers are tuning their instruments. From lockdown defense to patient midfielders and pass-happy forwards, everyone has a role to play in the band. While their skills are individual, family provides the harmony.
With four sets of siblings on the roster, the chemistry is easy to spot on the field, but that relationship runs 22 deep.
“They all have their notes to play,” said head coach Becky May. “Sometimes, those notes don’t go together and it is just this loud screeching noise. Then, we regroup and find our rhythm and it all falls together into a beautiful song.
“This team is special. When you have parents from the teams we beat coming up to you saying, ‘Wow, that was a pretty game of soccer,’ then you know you are doing it well. It is all about winning, yes. But, we want to win beautifully in both our play and our attitude.”
Drummers penning lyrics or bassists demanding melodies can send shockwaves through a well-oiled group. The Lakers don’t have to worry about anyone going solo.
“We are comfortable with the way we play,” said senior forward Emily Batts. “We count on each other. We know that when we all stick to our roles it all fits together well. If we want to stand out and be selfish, it gets ugly. It is a team game and we understand that and that is how we win.”
Sixteen times this season, Spring Lake’s set list has ended to a standing ovation, as they bring a 16-2 record into the regional finals. That starts with a strong bass section — the defense.
Keeper Kamryn Lewkowski has recorded 12 shutouts throughout this year, including every game so far in their postseason run. Just ahead of her at sweeper sits freshman Kate Lewkowski. Together, the siblings bring a cooperation to the final line of defense like none other.
“Having her in front of me as my last defender is definitely a different feeling than just roaming around at home,” Kamryn said. “It has developed a bond between us that you don’t usually get between sisters. It makes us work harder for each other.
“It was definitely stressful at first, not so much for myself, but I was stressed for her because I wanted her to do so well.”
For freshman Kate, her debut on varsity was eased a bit with big sister tending the goal.
“I like having her behind me,” she said. “I trust her if I mess up. I’m pretty confident going out and challenging the ball because of the other defenders and the people behind me.”
After dismissing an opponent’s attack, it’s time to work the ball through the middle of the field, where the rhythm section holds things down. Spring Lake has a firm no clearing policy, trusting in teamwork and cool passing to get the ball across no-man’s land.
Persistent, intentional possession serves as a calling card for Spring Lake, as they take control of tempo through dominant play at midfield. Whether it is a well-timed pass from their own defense, or a desperation clear from their opponent’s, nothing goes through midfield without Kate Gilchrist.
“A ball doesn’t go through midfield without Kate controlling it, you know she is going to get every ball out of the air. Every time,” May said.
That air control typically involves some collisions, none of which bother the sturdy midfielder.
“It usually doesn’t hurt me, I don’t know why,” she said. “The girls on this team keep you going with encouragement. We have a great energy that keeps you going.”
Once controlled in the midfield, the whole band knows the refrain for transitioning to offense: “Find Phoebe.”
“We know Kate is going to get the ball, because that is her role, and she does it very well,” May said. “Then, she settles it and finds Phoebe, who decides who we are going to distribute it to and does it.”
With the ball at Phoebe’s feet, it is time for the voices to shine. Batts, Laney Peasley, Taylor Colquitt and the rest of the Spring Lake forwards have found serious harmony this season, putting together multi-touch scoring runs with selfless ease.
Batts, the Lakers’ former scoring soloist, has taken on a supporting role in her senior year as she leads the team in assists.
“That is an interesting development for her senior season,” May said. “She has really stepped into that senior leadership role.”
“We are all really solid up there,” Batts said. “We have this relationship that we run hard and we want to help each other score goals. We all want goals for the team, so it doesn’t matter who scores. If I give a good ball to Laney and she scores, she runs right up to me and says, ‘Next one is yours.’”
While the music is sweet with this team, rehearsal was necessary. Like any family, these players know each other inside and out and aren’t afraid to let each other know.
“There was only one time this season when the girls started to get frustrated with each other, and I lost it,” May said. “After that, we remembered who we were and got back to playing together, but it hasn’t been without incident.
“When Lilly Saunders, for example, screws up, Phoebe calls her Lillian. That’s when you know it is serious.”
“We never get too angry,” Phoebe said. “The other person knows we are yelling at them about soccer and are helping them get better. That’s all.”
“I like that we are honest with each other,” Colquitt said. “We trust each other and take the criticism well.”
A common goal keeps things in perspective while ironing out the kinks in practice and even mid-game.
“We all want to win, that is what this team has in common,” Lilly said. “We have this drive, desire and passion to get the ball to each other and put it in the back of the net. That common goal really helps us work together.”
Friday’s matchup with Forest Hills Northern will have to be the performance of the year for the Lakers, as the Huskies carry a 16-5 record into their regional finals rematch.
Forest Hills took the 2017 regional title, 1-0, over Spring Lake, scoring the game-winning goal with 30 seconds left to play.
Halftime adjustments have been key for the Lakers’ success this season, but they will need to nail their opening number to stay in the game Friday.
“Our biggest concern is starting strong,” May said. “We don’t have a problem finishing strong. At some point in the game, we will click and find our momentum and possess and dominate. The question is when will that come.
“It is one thing to start with a lot of energy, but to start with composure is hard on that stage. At some point, they always realize it is just soccer and we are good at it. We just need that to happen early Friday.”
With the set list selected, instruments tuned and harmony honed, watch for the Lakers to jam Friday at Holland Christian High School. The show starts at 6 p.m. with the encore coming in the Division 2 state semifinals against the winner of Marshall (16-3-3) and Richland Gull Lake (19-0-1).