Battling the elements

GVL / Robert Mathews
Katie Klunder driving the ball up the pitch against Michigan Tech.

GVL / Robert Mathews Katie Klunder driving the ball up the pitch against Michigan Tech.

Pete Barrows

Stiff winds raked across mud soaked turf Sunday as the Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team defeated Rockhurst University 5-0 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional.

It was just business as usual for the Lakers, who have had to contend with the elements as often as any opponent this season.

“The weather, it’s something we just deal with,” sophomore defender Katy Woolley said. “We make a big deal out of playing the way we know how to play and then make adjustments as necessary as we go along.”

Playing into the wind, freshman forward Erika Bradfield rebounded a shot by junior midfielder Charlie Socia and drew the first blood of the game in the sixth minute of the match. Up 1-0, the Lakers only managed to outshoot Rockhurst 5-4 in the first half and did not score again until the second.

“We were a little bit lucky to not have given up a goal in the first half, and at halftime, we talked about how we need to be better in those situations,” GVSU coach Dave Dilanni said. “We stressed that we didn’t play great in the back end of the half but also said we’re still up 1-0 and we need to win now.

“Sometimes, it’s important to focus on the positives instead of the negatives.”

The winds shifted in the second stanza as the Lakers sailed to a commanding five-goal lead in a little less than 12 minutes of play.

“The elements obviously played a role in both halves,” Dilanni said. “We made the decision early on to play heading into the wind, assuming it was going to get a little stronger in the second half, but that didn’t happen. I also expected our depth to play a bigger role than it did, but I thought we really turned a corner to start that second half.”

In minute 54, Bradfield contributed to another goal on a redirection that bounced in off a Rockhurst defender. Four minutes later, junior forward and GVSU season point leader Jenny Shaba struck pay dirt off an assist from Socia.

“I think going with the game plan today was really important,” Woolley said. “We knew the weather was going to be terrible with the wind, and keeping it on the ground, especially in the first half, allowed us to get that first goal. In the second half, we just took advantage of the opportunities like we always do.”

In minute 65, Bradfield launched a long pass to Shaba, who finished a one-on-one opportunity against goalkeeper Ali Wallner with a strike to the middle of the Rockhurst crease. Freshman midfielder Marti Corby then capped the game with a blast from the box 30 seconds later.

“We really worked together as a team, and I think in the second half, we moved the ball considerably better than we did in the first half,” Shaba said. “Keeping the ball on the ground was definitely a key, considering the wind, and it made it easier for everyone on the field to play with each other.”

Feet and ball on the ground, the Lakers tallied shutout and consecutive win No. 20 of the season while extending the longest home winning streak in NCAA Division II history to 63 games. GVSU concluded the game with a 25-7 shot advantage over Rockhurst.

“The little things are crucial for us,” Shaba said. “They were today, they have been this season, and they’ll continue to be. But today, big picture, it just feels great. Every year in the beginning of the season, we make a long list of goals, and anytime we move on towards another goal, it’s a good day.”

Now 20-0-1 on the season, the Lakers will advance to play Midwest Regional No. 2 seed Quincy (18-0-4), the No. 8 ranked team in the latest NSCAA poll, Friday at a site that has yet to be determined. The obstacles left to be conquered by GVSU—weather, travel, opponents to face—are growing fewer and are steadily traversed each week.

“For us, it’s all in house,” Dilanni said. “We need to get healthy, take care of ourselves and be in a good frame of mind, but it is good for us to get a game like this for our young kids to play. We have a lot of players who do not have game experience in the tournament, so that was exciting for them. It’s also good for them to know that if they put in the effort, they’re going to get the reward.

“To get the first postseason victory helps progress the entire team, and this team is really just about trying to extend the season each week. This team loves each other, they want to keep playing, and we’re going to try to climb the ladder here, rung by rung.”

[email protected]