by DAN LEESA
The Rams’ varsity soccer players kicked off their season in August loving Saturdays.
After losing a core of 12 strong seniors and grueling weeks of pre-season conditioning, Rockford’s newly formed varsity team came out of the gate on Saturday, Aug. 22 without time for small talk during the Portage Central Invitational.
The field catered to no one during the first match against a highly ranked Okemos crew. Though rough ground conditions coughed up a havoc of bad bounces, creating scoring opportunities for Okemos’ skilled strikers, Rockford senior goalie Sean Lewis and a motivated defense kept them off the board. Rockford won the first match 1-0 courtesy of Okemos and a misguided ball in the first half.
Strongly favored to win, Stoney Creek faced off against a Rams team ignited. Rockford scored on a streamlined ball from freshman Dewey Lewis to senior Andrew Wyles, who drilled an upper 90 blast past the keeper 20 yards off the net. Stellar play from sophomore Cam Jensen and senior Kyle Cook kept Stoney Creek Academy player Jordan Tyler trapped in the midfield. Meanwhile, senior defenders Joe Weber and Michael Bertsch, backed by junior Dylan Bronkema, held Tyler’s teammates in check to close the game 1-0.
Though exhilaration traded places with fatigue during the heated tourney’s third match against South Lyon, a precision touch shot over the keeper’s head by Wyles sealed the deal 1-0 yet again and sent home inspired players.
And then Monday, Aug. 24’s home opener against Lowell rolled around.
While starters Dewey Lewis and Jensen sat out with injuries, a Rams team—still rebounding from the Portage tourney’s unfaltering physical action—struggled to connect passes. Several turnovers on the defensive end, despite Rockford’s refueled attempts to find the net, led to Lowell’s 1-0 win.
On Wednesday, Aug. 26, the Rams journeyed to Fruitport. The rivals finally scored on a cross to an open striker, sending Rockford home without a post for the scoreboard, 0-1.
Heading into Saturday, Aug. 29’s high noon match against Michigan’s number-one-ranked Class B team, Forest Hills Eastern, Rockford stepped up their game. While Eastern controlled possession and pleased home bleachers with a goal in the first half, Rams’ diligent defense and skilled net-tending held them at bay.
Dewey Lewis worked past an outside defender to find junior Justin Wynn during the second half. Feeding off of Wynn’s driven punch past Eastern’s keeper, the Rams propelled an aggressive offense into overtime, where sophomore Jacob Aman’s stolen ball connected with Wyles. The tireless team captain—who shares the role with fellow seniors Kyle Cook, Mitch Reyers and goalie Sean Lewis—scored the winning overtime goal, quieting at least one side of the stands with Rockford’s 2-1 finish.
Sept. 12 marked another Saturday victory for Rockford against Portage Central. Energy during the Rams’ first half catapulted after Jensen threatened the net with a shot that was blocked but sent back past the keeper in traffic by Wynn for the goal. Rockford upped the scoreboard again when a concise through ball from Rider connected with a sprinting Wyles, who beat the keeper with a low strike. Unflappable goalkeeper Sean Lewis, backed by a full-throttle defensive effort, earned his shutout, 2-0.
On Thursday, Sept. 15, the Rams decided they couldn’t wait for Saturday.
During a match against Hudsonville that fueled intensity between both teams, the Rams initially had difficulty finding their midfielders, but strong attacks by Hudsonville were closed down by Rockford defenders Michael Bertsch, Bronkema and Weber. Meanwhile, goalie Sean Lewis took the “golden” out of opportunity for Hudsonville when a Rams turnover in their own box left an opposing striker unguarded on the left corner of the six; Lewis roused fans with a memorable save to keep the board 0-0.
Just minutes left in regulation play, Ram seniors Wyles and Cook turned up the pressure. After a penalty just outside of the Eagles’ 18, Wyles found Weber after a deflection on the six. Weber buried the ball into the net, ending the contest 1-0.
Rockford was seeing green on Thursday, Sept. 17 in Jenison. Led by senior opponents David Fuller and Ty Fisher, the Wildcats hosted the Rams to drawn-out, scoreless battles in both halves punctuated by notable footwork and ball skills on both sides, as well as numerous fouls. Set against a backdrop of animated bleachers, with 23 minutes left in the game, a Jenison striker collided with Ram keeper Sean Lewis in the 18, but hit the post despite an open invite to score.
Adept Jenison freshman keeper Austin Elling took heat from Rockford during the battle’s first overtime, and solace in a bit of luck: a 30-yard launch by Jensen drilled the crossbar, missing the net by inches, while a focused effort by Wyles also just fell short. The Rams left Jenison’s turf field after valiant competitive play and a second overtime in the shadow of a tie, 0-0.
Another tie—1-1, with Rockford’ goal coming from Nick Williams—concluded the Rams’ well-fought match against Caledonia last Saturday, in Caledonia.
“Conference games are always kind of grind-out affairs,” said varsity head coach Steve Thomas. “Scoring goals continues to be an Achilles heel for us; we need to connect those final passes. But having only given up four goals in 10 matches is incredible, quite an accomplishment—we realize the way we defend as a team is going to keep us close in many games this fall.”
This week, Rockford’s varsity team plays at Rams Stadium, hosting three of its high-ranked opponents: Grand Haven on Tuesday at 7:15 p.m., West Ottawa on Thursday at 7:15 p.m., and Petoskey on Saturday at 1 p.m.