Braving the frontier

Duncan MacLean • Jun 1, 2017 at 12:26 AM

EAST GRAND RAPIDS —After routinely beating teams on the Lakeshore by 10, 15 or even 20 points all season, a trip inland gave the Lakers a taste of their own medicine Wednesday.

The Spring Lake girls lacrosse team traveled to East Grand Rapids to take on the Pioneers on their home turf in the Division 2 regional semifinals, falling by a final score of 20-3.

The six-time defending state champions had no trouble scoring at home and put Spring Lake in their place early. A strong second-half effort showed the resilience of this Laker team, but failed to close the gap on EGR.

“They are a good team, you don’t win that many state championships by being a bad team,” Spring Lake head coach Jason Vinkemulder. “We came out a little flat footed. I think we felt better in the second half and we got back to playing lacrosse the way we play lacrosse, we just need to do that for a full 50 minutes to compete here.”

Winning six straight state titles is no small feat, and is not accomplished without serious talent and discipline. The Pioneers showed off their complete command in every facet of the game against the Lakers, who had little answer for their high-octane offense.

“The pace and tempo of the game kind of caught us off-guard,” Vinkemulder said. “They can score well and they work quickly.”

The Pioneers put up seven goals in the first 10 minutes of play and finished the first half with 13.

Meg Ready grabbed the Lakers lone first-half goal with five minutes left before halftime, converting on a penalty shot.

The halftime message was one of resilience by coach Vinkemulder.

“I told them to keep their heads up and stay in the game,” he said. “That amount of points, we have scored that many in a half this season. It was definitely still a game for us at that point.”

With the confidence that they had done it before, the Lakers took the field in the second half with a comeback in mind. A defensive stop and goalie save on the first two EGR possessions feigned hope for Spring Lake, who improved their defensive play in the second half, holding the Pioneers to a modest seven goals.

The Lakers’ nailed a few looks of their own in the final 20 minutes. Ready picked up her second score of the day with a nifty drive and dunk early seven minutes into the half. Later, with one minute left to play, Ready fed a crisp pass to a driving Kate Vinkemulder to give the Lakers their third goal of the day and last of the season.

“Even though we didn’t end up winning, the game we played in the second half was more like the lacrosse I expect this team to play,” Vinkemulder said. “I let them know on our final timeout with five minutes left that I was happy with that, and told them to finish it to the end.”

The loss may have been lopsided, but the experience this team gained over the course of their conference championship season will reverberate in the program for years to come.

“It was a great season, we won the conference title,” Vinkemulder said. “Losing to East Grand Rapids is not a bad thing at all, you don’t like to lose any game, but they are not a bad program at all.

“I plan on building on this for the future. We have a big number of our starters coming back and some of our key players are 10th-graders, so they will be around. I’m looking forward to the future.”

There is a handful of players who will move on to greener pastures after the loss to EGR, seniors who set an incredible example of heart and hustle in their time on the team.

“These seniors are special to me,” Vinkemulder said. “They have been hard workers and a consistent component to the team every year that I have been around. They will be missed.

“A lot of the time you see the seniors get senioritis by this time of year, these girls didn’t. They stayed committed until the very end — the very last minute of the very end, and I am proud of them for that.”

Ready, who led the Lakers with two goals and one assist in their final game of the season, will join Sophie Winn at Hope College to continue their playing careers next year.

“It is bittersweet,” Winn said of moving on. “It is nice to go on to bigger and better things like playing in college, but it is sad to leave these girls.”

Winn emphasized a theme of team-first, resilient lacrosse Wednesday that hopefully will be passed on, strengthening this young program.

“You don’t want to be the best on the team, you want to be the best for the team,” she said. “Getting everyone involved and making them better, makes you a better player. We did that today. Coming in, it was harder knowing they are a better team, but throughout the game we came together and played our lacrosse.”

That team-first mentality and a growing youth program are two keys coach Vinkemulder thinks will elevate Spring Lake to the level of the premiere girls lacrosse programs in the state.

“I believe we are taking the right steps right now,” he said. “A lot of it comes from having a strong youth program and just having it around long enough to produce players of this level. We are starting to harvest the fruits of our investment, but it takes a few years.

“Now, it is about working with the girls we have and continuing to invest in the people who are here. It is a level of commitment to the actual players.”

With middle school teams beating up on competition, a strong junior varsity presence and stellar underclassmen varsity players, the conference champion Spring Lake girls lacrosse team looks as if it is here to stay, and hopes to explore a playoff frontier dominated by covered wagons in the near future.

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