Jumping on West Ottawa early, Bucs junior midfielder Jennifer Dear beat the keeper just eight minutes into the game to take a 1-0 lead. West Ottawa’s coach was yelling on the sideline, trying to get his team to wake up, but Grand Haven never gave them the chance.
As the first half started to wind down, Grand Haven scored again, this time by prolific forward Alli Keyser, who calmly drilled a shot into the back of the net after West Ottawa broke down on defense.
Keyser, a Northwood University basketball commit, gave the Panthers fits all night, consistently making strong runs into the box. She had another goal called back in the second half for offsides, though she looked to be behind West Ottawa’s last defender.
Dear, a Lawrence Tech soccer signee, put together another masterful performance in midfield, using her strength to win back possession, and her quick feet to set up scoring opportunities for herself or teammates.
“Both of those young ladies are incredibly team oriented,” said Bucs head coach Yvonne McKessy of Keyser and Dear. “They really are leaders on and off the field. I couldn’t be more impressed with them. They have a never-ending desire and work ethic, which is something that will carry them through life on the field and off it.”
Photo Gallery: Buccaneers shut out Panthers
McKessy has emphasized teamwork this season, and her message must have been heard because Dear will link up with teammate Dahlia Jerovsek, a senior also signed with Lawrence Tech to play soccer, at the next level.
“Dahlia is going (to Lawrence Tech) this year, and then Jennifer will follow next year,” McKessy said. “They are both engineering students. This is a smart team that has really banded together. There is a lot of team chemistry. They all fully understand that this has to be a team effort. It takes everyone, and they have all bought into it and trust each other.”
Although Grand Haven scored two goals in the first half, they looked even more impressive after the break. Senior Miya Luckey, playing right back, spearheaded a number of valiant attacks down the right flank, which usually resulted in a dangerous cross or a cut-back shot. Luckey scored Grand Haven’s second-half goal with a calm putback in front of net.
“We have been working really hard on communication and combination play,” McKessy said. “I think the longer this season goes, the better they are going to be at creating plays and trusting each other. They are so fun to watch.”
Grand Haven may be growing more comfortable playing possession soccer, but they are still most dangerous in open space. Featuring plenty of fast athletes, the Bucs often look to bury teams on the counterattack.
“We are a fast team, so we like to orchestrate quick give and goes, and our midfielders are so strong and smart that they already know whether they should make a quick drop or slide a through ball over to the side,” McKessy said. “There are a lot of seniors involved, and I’m going to miss them.”
The Bucs play on a slick turf surface at home, a field that fits all of their strengths, but in high school soccer, they are forced to play on some different surfaces like Tuesday night’s, which featured longer grass and an uneven pitch.
“We learned we don’t like this really thick grass,” McKessy said. “We are a speed team and this slowed us down quite a bit. We play on grass again at Hudsonville, so we will try to take what we learned here today and finish the season out strong.”
After fighting through a couple of tough conference foes early in the month, Grand Haven has taken complete control over its season with wins of 5-0 and 3-0 in its last two games. Dear and Keyser are scoring at a prolific pace, and the defense has remained organized and physical against opposing attacks.
The Bucs will have to remain in good form with a road game against Hudsonville and a home clash against Rockford rounding out the regular season. Grand Haven then heads back to West Ottawa for districts, where they again will have to adjust to the slower playing surface.