by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER
Call the Rockford girls soccer team “The Avengers.”
On their way to victory in the OK Red conference tournament, the Rams avenged both of their league losses and handed early leader East Kentwood (EK) its only two conference losses. The tournament win gave the Rams a runner-up finish in the conference standings, a half game behind the Falcons. The two teams matched losses in the OK Red with two, but Rockford’s 2-2 tie to West Ottawa on May 6 gave the Falcons the edge. This week, the Rams may have a chance to avenge that tie with a match-up against West Ottawa in the district tournament.
“I am very proud of what these girls have done,” said Rockford Coach Amira Ponne. “We avenged our two conference losses [to Grandville and Grand Haven]. Conference champs or runners-up-I don’t care. EK will know that we beat them not once but twice. We are champs in my mind, and everyone else knows that we are the team to beat. I hope the girls can keep this run going strong through districts.”
After retaliating for an earlier 1-0 loss to the Grandville Bulldogs with an impressive 5-1 win in the tournament opener May 14, the Rams handed the Falcons their second loss Monday, May 18, with a 1-0 shutout on East Kentwood’s fast turf field. That victory placed them into the final round at Grand Haven on Wednesday, May 20. The Rams strode into the Buccaneer stadium with one main purpose: avenge a 2-1 loss 19 days earlier. They accomplished that mission with finesse.
“Our girls are playing great soccer, and players are stepping out of the woodwork,” said Coach Ponne. “The key to success is to stay hungry for the win. We need to play hard and confident, but also with humility. I think we learned early on this season that at this level it’s anyone’s game.”
The Rams are a unique team in that they do not feature one or two star players. Although junior Britanni Pierce scored the goal in the victory at Grand Haven, and senior Rachel Doud scored against the Falcons-both with assists from Sydney Benda-many other players have scored along the way and have pressured the opposition’s goalkeepers.
“We definitely do not count on one player to get the job done,” said Ponne. “We work together to create an opportunity for someone who is working to be in the right place at the right time. We don’t really have fluke goals. This makes it difficult to sub because you second guess yourself, wondering if you should have left someone in for two more minutes. It speaks to the depth of this team and the type of ball that we play.”
The defense has also played an integral role in keeping the competition out of the net. Fourth-year keeper Kristin Darby, a University of Michigan recruit, has made 106 saves and has only given up 11 goals this year.
“She is an amazing keeper,” said Ponne. “It is comforting knowing she is in the net. She has a great attitude, and she has worked and trained hard to be the player that she is. I am so impressed with our defense. They are unbelievable and reliable. Darby talks to them the entire time. Teams know that if they are going to score on us that they are going to have to work from all aspects. It is fun to have someone like Darby in our goal and to have a defense that works as fluidly as ours is. A huge key to our defense is obviously our aggressiveness and their speed.”