Year in Review: Top sports #1

Year in Review: Top sports #1

Adam Knorr

Originally published 12/6/14

When a key member of the original cast leaves a TV show, it rarely remains as good. Writers stretch for story lines and slowly the fan base dwindles.

After losing coach Dave DiIanni before the season, the Grand Valley State women’s soccer team had to do some recasting at the helm of its program. Enter Jeff Hosler – the coach at Alma before being hired for the GVSU job.

The show changed in Allendale. New dynamics were added. Old, familiar methods were revamped or even replaced.

But No. 11 GVSU’s 3-0 win on Saturday afternoon over No. 8 Rollins showed that, despite the changes, the overall product is just as good as ever.

Led by Most Outstanding Offensive Player of the Tournament Jenny Shaba and Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Tournament Andrea Strauss, the Lakers rolled through the NCAA Tournament to grab their second Division II Championship in as many years.

“With a lot of people doubting us we never stopped believing in ourselves,” said senior defender Juane Odendaal. “We pushed hard every day in practice. We worked hard every single day to get better than our opponent.”

One night after a thrilling win in penalty kicks, the Lakers took to the pitch against Rollins, which topped Colorado Mines 1-0 in the semifinals.

The Lakers found themselves in a dangerous situation less than a minute into the game when Tars forward Mora Johnson wound up alone in the box. Johnson’s shot sailed wide, however, and the Lakers were able to breathe a sigh of relief.

That saved breath came screaming back out minutes later when the Lakers struck gold. Standout freshman Gabriella Mencotti made a nifty move and managed to slot a ball through to Shaba, who tucked it past Rollins goalkeeper Mary Spring to put GVSU up 1-0.

When the first-half buzzer sounded, the Lakers headed into the locker room up 1-0, although the Tars held an 8-7 advantage in shots.

In the second half, the Lakers set aside any doubts as to who deserved to sit atop Division II soccer.

With 36 minutes remaining in the contest, Rollins set up a goal kick.

The ball sailed out to near midfield, where sophomore Marti Corby soared up and got a head on it, redirecting the ball toward the Rollins net. Forward Kendra Stauffer managed to slip in behind the defense and deftly chip a well-placed shot over a charging keeper to give the Lakers a 2-0 advantage.

The rest was just a matter of time. Rollins mustered a few chances, but Strauss came up clutch at every turn. The Troy, Mich. native made a number of strong saves and rarely surrendered a rebound to keep the Tars off the board.

With 41 seconds left, Shaba put the cherry on top of her illustrious career with one final laser beam into the back of the net. Soon after, the horn sounded and it was official: 3-0 Lakers. Another title for GVSU.

“To think that we’ve fought our way through the season through ups and downs…It’s speechless to think the last two years we’ve gone out one top,” Strauss said.

For Strauss, championships are all she knows. The senior spent two years playing for the GVSU club soccer team before joining the Division II team as a backup last season.

The Lakers won in 2013, handing Strauss her first title. In preseason 2014, Hosler and his staff were deciding between four goaltenders for the starting position. Strauss was given the nod, and no one has doubted it since.

“No question we made the right choice,” Hosler said. “I think once we named (Strauss) the starter you saw another elevated sense of confidence from her, and for everything to come together like it has in the Final Four she has been mistake-free.”

“To play the game of soccer regardless of position mistake-free is about as rare as saving three penalty kicks in one shootout.”

Also as rare – and as unprecedented – is the run for GVSU’s four core seniors since arriving in Allendale in 2011. Odendaal, Shaba, Charlie Socia and Alyssa Wesley helped captain the Lakers to national championships in three of their four years, with 2012 being the only exclusion.

With two goals in her final match, Shaba finishes her distinguished career with 33 goals – good for the eighth-best mark in program history.

“If I could go back, I wouldn’t change one thing,” Shaba said. “From the day I decided to go Grand Valley to my very last game here, I wouldn’t change one thing. It’s an amazing opportunity to be part of the school and the camaraderie with everyone here and the girls here.

“We’re so close no matter how far we went in the tournament. It was such an amazing season.”

While Shaba, Stauffer and Strauss may have dominated the score sheet, players like Clare Carlson and Shannon Quinn made quiet, yet significant contributions.

Quinn, a freshman, made just her second collegiate start in place of injured senior Kaely Schlosser, who was removed from Thursday’s semifinal match early.

Quinn filled in admirably for Schlosser, manning her position along the back end with a strong boot and consistent positioning, flexing GVSU’s strength in depth and lifting some weight off of Hosler’s shoulders.

Rollins outshot GVSU 18-11, but Strauss made seven saves to notch her 15th shutout of the season.

When the final horn sounded, it was official: GVSU had just won its fourth national title in the past six years.

Six seniors played in their last collegiate soccer game on Saturday evening. One coach made his first championship appearance in his inaugural year.

The roster changed this year, but the final product was polished, effective and successful. When the next season of GVSU soccer rolls around, the cast will feature new stars once again.

Don’t forget to tune in. The storyline is as strong as ever.