by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER
Take notice, soccer fans and foes alike. The new and improved Rockford girls soccer team will be a force with which to be reckoned this year. The girls proved that Friday night, March 26, with a 3-1 victory over Forest Hills Eastern in the home opener at Rams Stadium.
Second-year coach Amira Ponne couldn’t have been prouder. “We really showed our strength,” she said. “This was a big win. Last year we tied 1-1. This year we have a clear 3-1 victory. Before the game I looked at their roster and saw that they have a lot of the same girls from last year. They don’t have a lot of young girls on their team. Our team has changed a lot. We really showed our strength with some of our freshmen. We showed them our new format.”
That new format, which includes just nine returners and four starters on the 23-member team, has lots of speed and skill. Whereas the Rams of the past used more brute strength and size to get the job done, this team has finesse and scoring ability.
For the first time in four years, that lineup also includes a new goalie. The Rams relied on Kristin Darby to keep the ball out of the net throughout her high school career, but when she graduated last spring, Ponne was left pondering what to do. The solution? She found not one, but two capable underclassmen to take the helm. Starting for the Rams Friday night was sophomore Makaela Harrell, who gave up just one goal in the first half. Finishing for the Rams was junior Karlee Flegel, who came in with six minutes left to play, but also saw a lot of playing time in preseason scrimmages Saturday and the previous weekend.
The Rams got off to a convincing start just eight minutes into the game when freshman speedster Katie Hartnett took advantage of an open net. As senior Kate Huyser drove up the middle, Forest Hills Eastern (FHE) goalkeeper Michelle Marcus came out to stop her. Huyser’s ball went around Marcus, and Hartnett was in the right place at the right time to kick it in from close proximity.
“Katie Hartnett is a scrapper. She was relentless at going to the goal,” said Ponne.
The Eagles tied the game with 2:55 left in the first half when freshman Jenna Winkel took advantage of a defensive breakdown to score just 20 yards from the goal. After that, however, there was no stopping the Rams.
In the second half, the only thing in Rockford’s way was Marcus. Again and again the Rams took their shots on goal. Senior Al Huyser had three sweet corner kicks in the second half that Marcus punched away, and she also denied freshman Erika Bradfield’s header. The Grand Valley State University-bound Marcus could not stop K. Huyser, however. As in the first half, K. Huyser drove straight at her, but this time when Marcus came out and Huyser shot around her, it was Huyser herself who got the goal with 18 minutes remaining. Seven minutes later, she scored again.
“In the second half, we turned it around,” said Ponne. “We don’t have a lot of seniors, but the seniors out there are strong, starting with Sam [Decker] in the backfield, Al [Huyser] in the middle, and Kate [Huyser] up top. Kate’s two goals were a great thing to see, and it was great to see Al out there again.” A knee injury kept Al Huyser off the field for much of the 2009 season.
Earlier in the evening, the Rockford junior varsity soccer team mercied FHE 8-0.