GVSU women’s soccer exemplifies “team”

GVL / Robert Mathews

GVL / Robert Mathews

Pete Barrows

Rome was not built in a day. Neither was the Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team. Although the latter was built at an accelerated pace and won its third national championship in five years Saturday.

Winning a championship in any sport on any level is a challenge. Winning three—count them, three—national championships in five years is a feat.

Much can be built in a lustrum. A lot can change in five years, too – or nothing at all.

For illustration, look no further than the GVSU women’s soccer program, one of the most successful programs, regardless of division, in collegiate sports today. Players come and go, as they do at any program, but the results have been consistently excellent and unwavering.

Over the past 11 seasons, the lady Lakers have constructed a soccer empire and won over 86-percent of their games on their way to winning those three titles. This season, GVSU seemingly reached a peak, went 24-0-1, set a school record for wins and only gave up four goals on the year.

The accomplishments were many, the successes vast for GVSU this season – almost immeasurably so. Although what distinguished the Lakers in 2013 more than what could be measured by any particular accomplishment was that this squad was a team.

A team well-balanced with both youth and experience – three freshman, forward Erika Bradfield, midfielders Kendra Stauffer and Marti Corby, sophomore back Katy Woolley, three juniors, Charlie Socia, a midfielder, forward Jenny Shaba, defensive back Juane Odendaal and four seniors, Autumn Jacobs, a midfielder, defenders Tayler Ward and Kayla Kimble and keeper Abbey Miller composed the usual Laker starting 11.

A team that started the season with 13-straight shutouts behind a seasoned defensive backline and finished with 88 goals, 31 goals more than the next highest scoring team in the nation, behind a budding group of young offensive stars like Bradfield, Corbi, Stauffer and Shaba, all of whom will return in 2014 . A dominance quantified through numbers.

A team that took home most of the major GLIAC hardware this year, stocked both the All-GLIAC and All-American teams, captured an unprecedented ninth consecutive conference title and broke a variety of school and Division II records. A prestige articulated through accolades.

A team that immediately welcomed in newcomers and embraced the journey together.

“Last year’s team was very talented, but there were cliques and it just was not as harmonious as it should have been,” GVSU coach Dave Dilanni said. “This group worked really hard to welcome in the freshman and make them feel like a part of the program and a part of the journey.”

A team that shifted and grew through the season to accommodate its personnel, restructuring a new leadership design as seniors assumed new roles.

“We’ve never had a good team that didn’t have good senior leadership and this is one of those teams,” Dilanni said. “I’d have said a year ago that leadership doesn’t come natural to this senior class in terms of being vocal and they worked really hard throughout the offseason and continued to evolve to make this a good environment.”

A team that stayed humble and focused, despite the success, never skipping a step or a beat.

“This senior class did a great job of was focusing on the day-to-day process,” Dilanni said. “They never spoke about the national championship. We talked about it right at the beginning of the year with our goals, but from there, everyday was about ‘can you be a better teammate, a better player?’ We just focused on the day-to-day process.”

A team that won a game 13-0 and another 2-1 on a game-winning PK. The Lakers won at home, and away, in rain and shine. It made no difference. A team that had fun together – and played like it.

A team that traveled to Georgia to begin and end the season, and finished better than they started. A program and a team that has accomplished plenty, and isn’t finished, yet.

A team. A team together. A team that won.

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