GV Soccer revels in their back-to-back championship win


Courtesy / GVSU Lakers

Josh Carlson, Staff Writer

The Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team knew that the road to winning a championship wouldn’t be easy heading in this season. Coming off a year without soccer and the hiring of new head coach Jim Conlon, the team’s success this season sets a new precedent for the strength of GVSU soccer.

Despite all the obstacles created by COVID-19 as well as regular season ups and downs, the Lakers battled through the year and achieved their back-to-back national championship in a 3-2 overtime victory against Saint Rose on Dec. 11 in Colorado Springs. The win marks the Lakers’ seventh national championship since 2009.

The championship game started in the Lakers’ favor when sophomore forward Kennedy Bearden scored just four minutes into the match, making it 1-0 for the remainder of the first half. Saint Rose answered in the 61st minute to tie the game in the second.

Senior defender Cecilia Stienwascher answered the bell in the 72nd minute to push the Lakers into the lead again. Saint Rose refused to go away easily, though, with an answer of their own in the 76th minute to tie the game once again. As the final goal in regulation, the championship was sent into the first of two overtimes.

Neither team could find their way to victory, resulting in golden goal overtime, this being the second for the Lakers in playoff history. For the win, Bearden sealed the game for the second time in the playoffs with a goal in the 100th minute of the match, making the Lakers the 2021 Division II women’s soccer champions.

Bearden—a member of the 2019 national championship roster—grew her role throughout this season, becoming a key player on the offense that led to the Lakers’ victory. For Bearden, it made her second ring that much more exciting.

“Honestly, it was really rewarding for me,” Bearden said. “In 2019, I was a freshman and still learning the game, and a lot of it just comes from experience. Playing with my seniors and just learning from them, they helped me a lot to step into that role.”

The Lakers also achieved this victory with a new coach at the helm, who only had limited time in the preseason to get to know his players. For Conlon, he gives credit to his staff and the team for helping him along the way.

“We have got great people here at Grand Valley,” Conlon said. “We were able to keep a couple of coaches on staff, have a great group of women, and I’m fortunate that Becca (Roller) came with me. We just learned over the course of the fall that if you lean in on each other, that anything is possible. There is a lot of different things that we had to learn about each other, but at the end of the day, we were able to pull together as a team and get the results we wanted.”

Not many teams in the country get to say that they are champions, let alone back-to-back. Bearden said there was a turning point in the season that elevated the Lakers into second gear.

“We always had that mindset that we wanted to win the national championship,” Bearden said. “But, when we lost to Ferris in the GLIAC Tournament, I think we all got motivated and realized, ‘okay, we really have to get in gear and focus because one loss and its over.’ After the second round of the tournament, I think we said, ‘okay, we got this,’ and just started playing true GV soccer.”

The Lakers now get an entire off-season with Conlon to prepare for a three-peat. Conlon plans to continue to preach exactly what he did during his first magical year.

“The plan is always just to get better every day,” Conlon said. “We are going to rest, then we are going to come back and look internally to get better as individuals and as a team, just continue to move forward. We know we will have some seniors graduate, and we know that we are going to have some rookies join the team. We are going to try and make the best team out of the 2022 group that we have.”