by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER
The clouds were gray and foreboding Friday night as the Rockford girls soccer team warmed up at Jenison High School, but the weather had nothing to do with the impending storm. The Rams were on a rampage, and the Wildcats were unprepared.
After losing miserably 4-1 to their previous two opponents, non-league foes Petoskey and Caledonia, the Rams had come to win.
“In the huddle with the starters before the game, I told them ‘I am sick of losing,’” said senior tri-captain Sam Decker. “I said, ‘I am dead serious. We are not going to lose this game.’”
Decker was so confident of the impending win that she even told a Wildcats fan of her certainty. When asked by a Jenison student before the game if she was 98 percent sure Rockford would win, she told him that she was 100 percent sure.
The Rams weren’t being cocky, however. They just knew it was time to prove that they were better than their previous two games.
“I felt a big W coming on,” said Coach Amira Ponne. “I knew we were going to come out and shine. I hope we can keep doing this and find our groove.”
Using the entire roster, the Rams outshot the host Wildcats 21-2 in the 7-0 shutout. The OK Red victory puts them at 2-0 in the league, 3-3 overall. Jenison is now 2-3-2.
The Rams were up 2-0 at halftime and 4-0 seven minutes into the second half, allowing Ponne to sub liberally and try some different strategies.
“It’s not like we were trying to run up the score with all of my starters,” said Ponne. “We had all of our non-starters in at the end. We are still trying to figure out what is the best team to put on the field. We tried some things against Jenison.”
One of the strategies the Rams tried in the game was a flat-back four defense instead of the flat-back three they had been using previously. The flat-back four gave them more stability in the backfield, something they needed against Caledonia and Petoskey, but didn’t try because of their inexperience with it. Midway through the Jenison game, Ponne switched it back, however, because she realized they didn’t need it against the slower, less-skilled Wildcats.
The Rams were also much more patient on passing than they had been in the two previous games, opening up the opportunity for a bevy of Rams to score. Sophomore Jordyn Ryfiak began the onslaught 20 minutes into the game when freshman Erika Bradfield passed to her right in front of the net and Ryfiak shot it straight up the gut. The Rams scored again when junior tri-captain Syd Benda’s shot in front of the net was deflected by Jenison goalkeeper Kelly Hevelhurst, but senior tri-captain Kate Huyser was there to finish it.
The floodgates opened up after halftime, deflating the ill-equipped hosts. Kate Huyser’s pass found Benda right in front of the net. Benda keyed it up and shot from 20 yards out with 35 minutes of play remaining. Ten minutes later, Ryfiak was fouled in the box.
Bradfield took the penalty kick, and placed it in the left lower corner. Ryfiak scored again 15 minutes later off an assist by Bradfield.
With just 1:43 remaining, Katie Purvis’s pass from the backfield found Al Huyser, who passed to her twin Kate, who made the score 6-0. Two seconds later, K. Huyser passed to freshman Melissa Biener, who ran up on the right and shot unchallenged.
Against the Fighting Scots on Monday, however, the roles were reversed. It was host Caledonia that ran the show, and the Rams looked badly prepared.
“The girls psyched themselves out like they did last year [in the regional opener] against Portage Central,” said Ponne. “They knew that just about every girl on Caledonia’s team is on a premier club, and they knew that many were the best from those clubs. The Western [Michigan University] coach was there to see multiple players on their team. They have Division I girls. We knew they were going to be good and fast. Their attacks were so fast, and they put pressure on us, and the girls did not respond. They struck with finesse. We didn’t get anything going, got scared, and didn’t pressure.”
Rockford scored first in the contest when freshman Katie Hartnett took advantage of an open net. Benda crossed the ball to Hartnett in front of the goal, and Caledonia’s keeper came out of the net to field the pass. Hartnett, with her back to the net, did a bicycle kick, which sent the ball flying into the goal at 31:13. The Scots responded 11 minutes later to tie the game, and led 3-1 at halftime. Rockford never recovered.