GVSU soccer wins 11th straight GLIAC Tournament Championship

Robbie Triano

Since 2005, there has only been one women’s soccer program that has been crowned the GLIAC champion.

That program is the Grand Valley State women’s soccer team, which was once again crowned champion of the GLIAC Tournament after a physical 3-0 victory over Saginaw Valley State at home Sunday, Nov. 5.

With his team having won the past 11 GLIAC Tournament Championships while also competing in the past four NCAA National Championship finals, there’s one word head coach Jeff Hosler uses to define how his program has been so successful during that stretch of time.

“Culture,” Hosler said. “Throughout the different coaches we’ve had, a lot of the same fundamental concepts have worked. It’s about establishing culture at the forefront and not sacrificing short-term results.

“It also helps to have great kids.”

Seeded No. 1 in the tournament, the Lakers (18-3, 9-0 GLIAC) faced the No. 6-seeded Cardinals (10-7-2, 4-4-1 GLIAC), who surprisingly upset No. 3 Ferris State 2-1 Tuesday, Oct. 31, and No. 2 Ashland University Friday, Nov. 3. 

The Lakers had a seemingly easy trip to the championship contest, defeating the No. 8-seeded Michigan Technological University Tuesday, Oct. 31, and blowing out the No. 4-seeded Tiffin University Dragons 8-0 Friday, Nov. 3.

Although GVSU came into the contest outscoring GLIAC Tournament opponents 13-0, SVSU surprised the Lakers with early physicality and stingy defense after the opening whistle. The Cardinals found themselves maintaining the possession for a greater part of the first half—a rarity against the Lakers’ strong defensive line this season.

But with less than two minutes remaining in the first, freshman Ava Cook dribbled around the box to make an open crossing pass to senior Sara Stevens in front of the net, who buried the shot to give the Lakers a 1-0 lead.

Both teams posted seven shots in the first half, but luckily for GVSU, senior goalkeeper Jennifer Steinaway was there to shut out the Cardinals. Steinaway finished the contest with eight total saves, but she gave credit to her defense for her personal success in the net. 

“I think for us, we did really well combining passes and working off the ball for each other,” Steinaway said. “It feels good to have a team that will have everyone’s back.”

Heading into the halftime break, the Lakers focused on improving their passing game against the physically minded Cardinals. Instead of short passes into a crowded SVSU defense, GVSU opened the second half with longer passes downfield to create separation.

At the 54 minute mark, senior forward Tracey McCoy gave the Lakers a 2-0 advantage after passes by Gabriella Mencotti and Cook led McCoy to an open left-footed crossing shot for the goal. The goal was McCoy’s fifth of the season. McCoy believes the halftime adjustments were the major turning points for a successful finish.

“(Coach) Jeff warned us about their physicality, but he just wanted us to play our game,” McCoy said. “Our game is more about passing the ball. The more we passed, the less of a chance they had to hit us.”

Although SVSU continued to fight their way for offensive opportunities, the Lakers’ defense, led by senior Dani Johnson, freshman Cecilia Steinwascher and senior defender Shannon Quinn, denied the Cardinals a legitimate chance to score.

In the 77th minute, Mencotti tacked on her 26th goal of the season in fashion. The senior, who is currently second in goals in Division II, took control of the ball inside the box and kicked it over her head for a “rainbow” finish. 

The goal was the final score of the game, giving the Lakers the final 3-0 victory score to earn the GLIAC Tournament Championship trophy. After the final whistle, the GVSU bench joyously ran onto the field to swarm the players in celebration.

For a team that added 12 incoming freshmen, the pre-season expectations for the Lakers didn’t seem too high. But as the season progressed, the senior class, including McCoy, realized the newcomers had much more potential than expected. 

“Having such a big freshman class, this win showed that we did a good job teaching them what winning mentality is all about,” McCoy said. “This is just the first step for them, and it feels amazing.”

The road is far from over for the Lakers, as the NCAA playoffs are just around the corner. The Lakers are ranked first in the Midwest Region and will find out their final seeding Monday, Nov. 6, at 6 p.m. If GVSU is selected as a top-two seed, they will serve as host sites for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament, starting Friday, Nov. 10. The tournament is in single elimination format.

Although the possibility for another Laker National Championship is still there, the team is only focused on one thing moving forward.

“We just have to win our next game,” McCoy said. “At this point, we have to take each game one step at a time.”