by IAN PURVIS and
The Rockford girls varsity soccer team may be one of the area’s best kept secrets, but the word is going to get out.
After a dismal 1-0 loss to Grandville on Wednesday, April 15, the Rams came back with impressive shutouts against Hudsonville Friday night, April 17, and the area’s top-ranked team, East Grand Rapids, on Saturday, April 18. The victories over the weekend excited coach Amira Ponne and should be a wake-up call to the Rams’ future foes.
“It was great! They needed that,” said Ponne of the unranked Rams. “This team doesn’t know how good it is. We have made so much progress. We are going to peak at the right time. We definitely are not the same team as we were on Wednesday.”
In the home game against Grandville, the Rams were out of sync. After only two days of practice after the week-and-a-half spring break, the Rams struggled in all aspects of the game. Grandville outran Rockford, won the 50/50 balls, communicated better, and maintained better control to set up shooting opportunities. Grandville senior Tricia Bajema scored the lone goal of the contest, sending the ball just over Rockford goalkeeper Kristin Darby’s head with 1:55 left in the first half.”It wasn’t that they were so fast,” noted Ponne after the loss. “It’s just that we were so out of our game. We looked tired compared to them.”
After losing to Grandville, the Rams felt like they needed to redeem themselves. A day of practice made all the difference when Friday night rolled around. The Rams came away with a 1-0 win thanks to some strong offense, gutsy defense, and great saves by Darby in the closing minutes as the Eagles pressed hard. It was a tight game throughout, with the Rams building the attack better and looking much more confident than in their previous game. But the Eagles’ back four repeatedly picked off the through-ball and their keeper came very quickly off her line to clean up anything chipped over the top.
Rockford’s sophomore center midfielder Sydney Benda had a busy game, earning a free kick just outside the penalty area when she was taken down on an attacking run. Sam Decker had a well-placed free kick, but Benda’s shot was blocked by the Eagles’ goalie. Brittani Pierce put the Rams on the board before the half, turning and firing strongly to the left-side netting.
The second half brought more up-tempo soccer. The Rams had more success with Kate Huyser, Matti Graves, and Rachel Doud all getting behind the Eagles’ defense, but the Hudsonville keeper kept her net empty. As the clock wound down, Decker and Kayla Knoll made great recovery runs to save dangerous situations, and Darby made a couple of strong saves, diving to the feet of an Eagles attacker and blocking a driven shot moments later.
The Rams beat the highly rated East Grand Rapids (EGR) Pioneers 2-0 in a cancer benefit at Forest Hills Northern High School. The goal going in was to keep EGR’s two Olympic Development players, Kelly Foy and Michigan State University-bound Chelsea Peterson, from scoring. They accomplished that goal while continually pushing forward themselves and earning a number of attacking corners. Knoll converted one after 12 minutes. Allison Huyser placed the kick about eight yards out on the left post, and Knoll came in hard with a low, diving header into the back of the net. The keeper had no chance. A. Huyser, the player of the game, made it 2-0 with a solo effort 20 minutes later on a long shot from outside the 18-yard line that hit the upper left 90.
Both sides had a number of chances and there was some pinball action in front of the goals with desperate clearances. EGR had a number of strong players, but the Rams’ back line of Lyndsey Hutchings, Knoll, Decker, and Celine Stallmer, with Katie Purvis subbing in the second half, kept them mostly at bay. Darby was a safe pair of hands in goal, earning another shutout.