Reload, not rebuild

GVL / Archive
Junior Juane Odendaal looks to repeat her NSCAA Midwest Region second team and All-GLIAC first team honors in the 2013 season.

GVL / Archive Junior Juane Odendaal looks to repeat her NSCAA Midwest Region second team and All-GLIAC first team honors in the 2013 season.

Pete Barrows

No Division II women’s soccer program, or perhaps any program, has experienced more quantifiable success over the last four seasons than the program housed at Grand Valley State University. From 2009 through 2012, GVSU netted an undefeated season, back-to-back national championships and a runner-up finish, four straight NCAA Final Four appearances, and broken records and accolades that rained in with every goal, scored or disallowed, by the Lakers.

Those four years are up, but expectations for the eight-year straight defending GLIAC champion and conference power Lakers, ranked No. 2 in the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) poll, haven’t shrunk a yard.

“The message needs to be consistent,” GVSU head coach Dave Dilanni said. “The expectations have to be high and unwavering and that goes through your staff, through your players and trickles down from seniors all the way down to freshmen. When you have a competitive environment, not only do we support one another, we challenge and push one another to being better, to being great.”

In 2012, forwards Ashley Botts and Kayla Addison accounted for a combined 30 goals, 10 assists and 70 points. Midfielder Alyssa Mira led the Lakers with nine helpers, and keeper Chelsea Parise maintained a .881 save percentage to go with 15 shutouts. Their names are prominent in GVSU record books and all four have since graduated from the program.

“I don’t think you’re going to replace players like that—they have their own originality and what they brought to the program, they set their own standards,” Dilanni said. “We’ve been successful the last 10 years because we’ve had lots of players like that come in and go through, players that have been successful both as leaders and on the field. Having a young team, I know there’s going to be a hiccup or two, but I also know we have some leaders that are going to help us right the ship, stay consistent and send the right message.”

What the Lakers might lack in known star power, they anticipate compensating with synchronization. Like a constellation, it’s the connections between stars that help to map out the bigger picture.

“We lost a great senior class this past year, but honestly our team is coming together better than I think I’ve ever seen it,” senior Sam Decker said. “The chemistry is great this year—everybody gets along and being able to have chemistry off the field is just as important as having it on the field.”
With five starters, four from a defense that tallied 18 shutouts in 2012, and 14 letter winners returning, the Lakers plan to pick up right where they left off, competing for regional and national tournament titles, filling the empty crease left by Parise with senior and first-year starter Abbey
Miller and infusing young, offensive talent like freshman Erika Bradfield with a ‘money ball’ approach to fill the offensive void left by Botts, Addison and Mira. Instead of two 15 goal scorers,
Dilanni hopes to produce multiple eight to nine goal scorers.

“We’re going to replace those kinds of players not maybe by individuals, by group of players,” Dilanni said. “It’s not that we don’t have talent in our program to replace those kinds of players. It’s ‘Are those players ready? Are they able to handle to an expanded role, a little more responsibility?’ We’re still really young and it’s still very early to know who it’s going to be.”

The season opens Sept. 6 at home against No. 5 NSCAA ranked Atlantic State. The Lakers’ early schedule doesn’t get any easier from there with three other top 15 opponents and a tournament to be played in Savannah, GA, with the No. 1, 2, 5 and 6 ranked teams scheduled to attend, penciled in for a 10-day span.

“That was by design,” Dilanni said. “We’ve had this motto with scheduling for a long time – ‘we’re not going to know how good we are unless we play the best teams we can’. And if we lose those games, we better find out why we’ve lost them and we’re going to improve and move on. There’s no better time to do that than the beginning of the year.”

With only one more Friday scrimmage separating GVSU from the onset of another season, the obstacles facing the 2013 squad are known. That doesn’t mean they will be heeded or limiting.
“I think there are a lot of people that don’t think we’re going to be as good this year because we lost so many players and that’s been really big motivation for us to outdo everyone’s expectations,” said senior defender and returning all-GLIAC performer Kayla Kimble. “We’re just going to work for each other and everyone seems to want to play for each other instead of individually.”

Eleven years into his tenure, Dilanni, who is first among active Division II coaches with a .886 winning percentage, has helped construct something undeniably great, something that has survived the test of time and beaconed its own success. As the program moves into the 2013 season and a new era, it’s worth noting that there’s always room to expand the project; day by day, goal by goal, brick by brick.

“The goal for us, with this group, is to focus on the journey—the day-to-day aspects of our season,” Dilanni said. “Preparing properly, not only physically, but mentally. To come to practice and be able to give your best effort. To improve for yourself, but also for your teammates. I think if you can do those kinds of things and focus on the journey, then the end result is often a success.”

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