Rams get revenge over Grandville
by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER
The Rockford girls soccer team played the OK Red “game of the week” twice last week.
The Rams first took on behemoth East Kentwood (EK) Monday night, May 11, in the last game of the regular season, handing the host Falcons their first league loss with a 1-0 shutout in overtime. Then on Thursday, May 14, the adrenaline-charged host Rams avenged an earlier loss to Grandville with a resounding 5-1 victory in the conference tournament opener. The wins brought praise from first-year coach Amira Ponne.
“I am proud of the way these girls are playing, the way they have come together to be a team that trusts each other,” Ponne said. “They play beautiful soccer. We were so excited and anxious to play East Kentwood. We were ready to surprise them. Because of our inconsistencies this season, I don’t think East Kentwood thought the game was going to be much of anything but a big V for them on their senior night. East Kentwood is a great team, but I really think that our girls are now seeing that when we play as a team, we are awesome!”
The ending at EK on the Falcons’ senior night was magical. After hard-fought sparring with the Falcons for 90 minutes of regulation play, the first 14 minutes and 30 seconds of overtime were more of the same back-and-forth action. Both teams had opportunities, but their defenses held strong. Then it happened-that dream play that coaches talk about to their players.
Junior forward Kate Huyser charged up the middle toward the net as junior defender Sam Decker raced up on the right. With both girls barreling toward her and Decker screaming for the ball, junior keeper Audra Racette didn’t know which threat was more pertinent. She committed to the right. Huyser shot it into the left side of the net with seven seconds left on the clock.
“I was in shock,” said a beaming Huyser. “I was just aiming for the corner. I didn’t want to shoot at the goalie. I heard Sam, and I thought, ‘You are not getting the ball.’ We work well together, but I saw the shot and I took it.”
“I was thinking, ‘Kate, give me the ball,'” said an equally excited Decker. “I was so close to taking that off her foot. I thought it was do or die-I am going up.”
Ponne, the Ram bench and the Ram fans erupted with cheers after the play.
Rockford’s defensive play by the defenders and the offense, as well as the finesse of fourth-year goalie Kristin Darby, kept the Falcons out of the net.
“Our defense is amazing,” said Ponne. “They did not stab and they stayed on their marks. They [EK] had four off-sides calls, which means our defense was pushing up and holding the line.”
After losing to Grandville 1-0 on April 15, the Rams were glad for the opportunity to play them again in the conference tournament. It was time to prove their mettle.
A bevy of Rams sent balls into the net past Grandville keeper Savannah Tibbetts. Senior forward Rachel Doud scored first, taking advantage of Decker’s free kick from near the Grandville bench to place the ball up and over Tibbetts from five yards out four minutes into the game. Twenty minutes later, Jordan Diffenderfer, assisted by Carlyn Young, drove past the aggressive Grandville defense and sent the ball flying into the net. Two minutes later, Tessa Heeringa scored the first of her two goals with her signature run down the right side. She scored again with 14:16 remaining in the game, this time racing down the middle and shooting with her left foot from the 18-yard line. Emily Cowan rounded out the scoring a minute later when she took the pass from Jenna Lysne way out in front, turned and shot.
A defensive miscommunication allowed the Bulldogs’ Allie Rossi to get her team’s only goal of the night 12 minutes into the second half. Earlier in the game, Grandville’s only other real threat of scoring was denied when Darby stopped Tricia Bajema’s shot from right in front of the goal, but didn’t grab it and Decker covered for her in the net and kicked away a second shot.
“That is called smart defense,” said Ponne.
In non-league action Friday night, May 15, the Rams faced a formidable foe in host Forest Hills Northern (FHN). The Huskies were paced by senior forward Erin Sellman, who scored three of the hosts’ four goals in the 4-1 FHN win.
The Rams’ loan goal was scored by senior forward Matti Graves, whose shot at close range was a textbook example of what coaches call “finishing.” Graves was the fourth Ram to touch the ball on the way to the goal 28 minutes into the first half. Heeringa started the play, driving down the middle. She passed to Doud, who was running up on the right. Doud sent the ball to Huyser in the middle, and Huyser shot. The ball went just out of reach of the goalie’s outstretched arm and hit the post. Graves, standing by the post, kicked it in.
Before the game began, Rockford assistant coach Scott Hazel was given tribute by the FHN coach and Rockford graduate Jamie Bogart, who played under Hazel’s tutelage at Rockford in the ’90s.