by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER
The rivalry between the Rockford girls soccer team and Grand Haven goes back a long way, so every time the two teams meet, a battle ensues.
Three years ago, the Rams beat the Buccaneers for the district title. Two years ago, the Bucs turned the tables in the same game. Last year, Rockford beat Grand Haven in the district semifinal, so Friday night’s OK Red conference match-up on the Bucs’ home turf was expected to be a battle. The fans got their money’s worth.
The evenly matched teams provided a night of entertainment, but the hosts got the upper hand, beating visiting Rockford 2-1 in a conference thriller.
“A lot of us who have been on the team a couple of years tried to instill in people’s minds that this was a big game,” said Rockford co-captain Rachel Doud, a four-year varsity member. “It is a really big game for both of us. It always feels good to walk away with a win. We played our hearts out. It was a tough loss, but it was nice to see us come together and play as a team.”
Although each squad had their opportunities in the first half, a defensive battle left the teams scoreless. The Rams’ first major chance came nine minutes into the game. Doud, driving on the outside, passed the ball into sophomore center midfielder Sydney Benda, who passed it on to Graves. Graves maneuvered past the Bucs’ formidable defense, but her shot on goal was kicked away by Grand Haven goalkeeper Katie Malnight. The Bucs peppered Rockford keeper Kristin Darby with three shots in a two-minute stretch late in the first half, but the four-year starter answered the call, leaving the scoreboard empty after 40 minutes of play.
The Rams came out on fire in the second half, but the Bucs got the first goal when sophomore Alina Weykamp wound her way past the Rockford defense and sent the ball flying over Darby’s reach seven-and-a-half minutes into the half. Jenna Lysne put the visitors on the scoreboard three minutes later when she took a sweet pass from Britanni Pierce 20 yards out and sent it in low toward the left side of the net.
The tie didn’t last long, however. The Bucs’ Andrea Norman got behind the Rockford defense into the box and took advantage of the rebound from her own blocked shot to make the score 2-1. Darby lunged to bat away Norman’s initial shot, but Norman snagged the rebound, moved to the left around Darby, and took an easy shot into the left side of the net with 26:40 left to play.
Earlier in the half, Darby had a phenomenal save when Weykamp was fouled in the box and blasted a penalty kick to the left side of the net. Darby dove at just the right moment to make the save.
The Grand Haven defense, led by sophomore Sarah Kober and senior Lacey Hamilton, was a key element in keeping the Rams from scoring a second time. Kober, a good head taller than most of the players on the field, was especially formidable, using her body to outmuscle the Rams.