Lakers ready to defend title in Louisville

GVL/Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff

GVL/Kevin Sielaff

Adam Knorr

On Tuesday afternoon, a bus jammed full of Grand Valley State women’s soccer players started its engine and headed southeast, bound for Louisville, Ky.

No. 11 GVSU (21-2-1) is preparing for what has almost become a given for the program in recent years – an NCAA Division II semifinal appearance – after a 3-1 victory over No. 10 Central Missouri.

But just because there’s a streak doesn’t mean this appearance is any less special.

“You can’t expect this every year,” said senior Alyssa Wesley. “We’ve worked all season for this.”

If the Lakers want to add to another streak – that of national championships – it will have to go through a field composed of nothing but one seeds.

The team kicks off its semifinal match against No. 6 Saint Rose on Thursday at 5 p.m. The last time GVSU squared off against Saint Rose was in 2011, when the Golden Knights trumped the Lakers 2-1 in the national championship game.

Four current Laker seniors played on that 2011 GVSU team. But, with three years of separation between the two games, little remains of that loss.

For now, GVSU is simply focusing on attacking and conquering an opponent it hasn’t seen all year.

“They play kind of a unique formation,” said GVSU goalkeeper Andrea Strauss. “Some of the players they have play all over the field and they can cover a lot of the field…They seam really athletic and they’ve had a great season as well.”

Saint Rose (21-1-2) has zipped through the NCAA Tournament, winning its three by a combined score of 7-1.

The Lakers demonstrated similar success in the tournament, winning by a total of 6-1 over three games, with the only snag coming in a 1-0 overtime win against No. 3 Wisconsin-Parkside.

Thursday marks the first time either team will have played a game since Nov. 23 – nearly a two-week layoff. Despite the unusual break, first-year GVSU head coach Jeff Hosler said his team is ready to go.

“We spent a lot of time making sure we got the right training schedule over the last two weeks,” Hosler said. “Three of our best training sessions have been the last three. The girls are really mentally and physically engaged right now.”

Two more top seeds loom on the other side of the bracket in the form of No. 7 Colorado Mines (16-1-6) and No. 8 Rollins (19-2-0).

Before the Lakers hit the field, they get to partake in festivities reserved for teams fortunate enough to make it to the NCAA Division II Championship Fall Festival.

For GVSU, this includes the volleyball team and both the men’s and women’s cross country teams.

On Tuesday evening, all teams across each separate sport met at Churchill Downs – the site of the Kentucky Derby – for a dinner and opening ceremonies. On Wednesday, the GVSU soccer team headed to a local elementary school to work with students.

Then, on Thursday, it’s back to the pitch. Back to the most grueling part of the season. Back to the position GVSU has become so familiar with.

Back to where stars are made, hearts are broken and game-winning plays are immortalized.

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