by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER
The Rockford girls varsity soccer team began its season with the same opponent with which it ended the 2008 season. The results were the same as well. However, the Rams are a very different team from a year ago.
The Rams lost 2-1 in the regional opener last spring to Okemos, and on Friday, they lost 2-1 again against the visiting Chiefs. But a lot has happened to the Rams since last spring. For starters, the girls are under the tutelage of a new coach. Amira Ponne, the junior varsity mentor the past three seasons, took the reigns from former coach and Rockford player Heidi Greenland for the 2009 campaign. Greenland, a teacher at Rockford High School, led her team to two regional berths in the last three seasons. She stepped down to spend more time with her sons.
Ponne, a Spanish teacher at Rockford Freshman Center, has seven years of coaching experience and was a four-year player at Aquinas College. She was not disappointed by her team’s loss Friday night, their first game after just four practices.
The Chiefs scored both goals in the first five minutes of the game off incredible shots by junior standouts Chelsea Miller and Kelsey Mullen. The Rams upped their defense the second half and never gave the Chiefs much of a chance to score again.
“We did a great job,” said Ponne in her reaction to the team’s loss to Okemos. “In the second half we outplayed them. Their coach told me that he wasn’t sure what I had said at halftime but ‘Wow!'”
The Rams got on the scoreboard five minutes into the second half when sophomore Sydney Benda scored off a Matti Graves pass in front of the net. Benda’s shot went high into the left-hand corner, beyond the reach of the Chiefs’ goalkeeper Sarah Banks.
Besides having a new coach this season, the Rams also have nine new players. With just 11 returners from last year’s 12-5-4 squad, the team is still trying to figure out where everyone fits. Less than 12 hours after the loss to the Chiefs, the Rams took the field against Battle Creek Lakeview at a tournament at Grand Valley State University. The squad lost the 10 a.m. game 1-0 in freezing temperatures but, again, Ponne wasn’t concerned.
“I could tell we had just played a rough game [the night before]. The second game, I told the girls to just have fun,” she said.
The Lady Rams took her advice and scored four goals in the 2 p.m. game against Holland. Benda was joined in the stat book by Kate Huyser, Tessa Heeringa and Jordan Diffenderfer.
In the third game, the Rams tied West Catholic 0 – 0.
“I’m happy with how they are playing,” Ponne said. “We have a long way to go, but the learning curve this year is high. They have a different style to learn from last year.”
The junior varsity and freshman teams also have new coaches this year. The JV squad is led by Steve Thomas, who also coaches the boys varsity squad. His team won 3-0 against the Chiefs. The freshmen, coached by Alejandro Ramos, beat the Chiefs 2-0 in their season opener.