The Grand Valley State soccer team marched into the GVSU Fieldhouse with an NCAA Division II championship trophy in hand to a chorus of applause and a swarm of well-wishers. The Lakers made the trip home from Pensacola, Florida after winning their third consecutive national championship and fifth national title in program history. The fifth title ties Franklin Pierce for the most national titles by a single program in Division II history.
“We are just so happy for these girls,” said GVSU head coach Jeff Hosler, who is 45-3-3 in two seasons at GVSU. “This was a very young team with 19 players in their first or second years. After our season-opener setback it really could have gone another direction.”
As Hosler said, though, this season could have been a completely different one after the preseason No. 1 Lakers team fell in their first match to Quincy 3-0. The match was a road test for a fairly young team, but the upperclassmen on the squad would not let one loss define their season.
“Our seniors and juniors provided great leadership and became teachers,” Hosler said. “Our young players began to understand accountability and the work rate it would take to have success.”
After the opening loss, the Lakers rallied to go undefeated in regular season play, as they dominated their opponents. GVSU outscored its counterparts 76-7 during the regular season. The 76 goals mark a testament to the Lakers’ high-powered offense, but often overshadowed was the strength of GVSU’s defense.
GVSU shredded opponents in the GLIAC tournament, but then came the challenge of the NCAA tournament. The Lakers, who had won back-to-back national titles heading into the tournament, knew teams would be gunning to knock them from the Division II throne. After a solid 6-0 victory against Quincy in a rematch of the season-opener, the Lakers faced adversity. A narrow 2-1 victory over Bellarmine in the third round of the NCAA tournament was a wakeup call for GVSU.
The next match might have been an even bigger test in the form of Central Missouri. The teams were even after 90 minutes and overtime. It took a showcase effort from one of the younger members of the team to finish the job. Freshman goalkeeper Emily Maresh grew into her own this season and, in the Central Missouri match, she took over the spotlight.
The Lakers made it back to the semifinals and booked a trip to Pensacola to face two more talented opponents in Western Washington and Columbus State in the title match. In both matches, the Lakers jumped ahead early and continued to cruise. GVSU has made it to eight NCAA semifinals in the past decade, but Hosler says it is still a huge privilege to go back to the familiar round of the tournament.
“Prior to GV, the closest I ever got was the Final Four,” said Hosler, who was the head coach at Alma prior to coming to GVSU. “I fully recognize how special this is.”
GVSU capped off a remarkable season with multiple shattered records. According to Hosler, it was mainly thanks to offseason preparation, which gave the team an edge heading into this new season.
“This year we found more consistency because we had an offseason and were on the same page coming into August,” he said. “We were able to implement more attacking ideas and I think that really showed in the offensive numbers we put up.”
This was Hosler’s second season at the helm for the Lakers after taking over for the former head coach Dave DiIanni, who is now the head coach at the University of Iowa. Dilanni was instrumental in putting the GVSU soccer program on the national landscape, as he won three national titles while employed as a Laker.
According to a number of players on this season’s team, Dilanni and Hosler are two different coaches in terms of scheme. They both share a winning attitude, however, and a competitive drive to be successful on the field.
“It’s always hard to compare old staff, especially when I didn’t know the old staff,” said GVSU assistant coach Annette Stromberg, who came with Hosler from Alma. “But we’ve talked a lot about focusing on the now, and embracing each individual moment.”
With the season’s end, the Lakers now have to focus on the future, as they lose four seniors to graduation. The future is bright for a young team and Hosler at the wheel.
“While we are really going to miss our four special seniors, it is exciting to know that we have another offseason with so many returners to get even more thorough on both sides of the ball,” Hosler said.