by JACKIE HOLLAND-DECKER
The seniors on the Rockford girls varsity soccer team won’t play at Rams Stadium ever again. Wednesday night, May 26, as they wrapped up their conference tournament run there, they left their final mark on the pitch by beating Jenison 5-0.
The 12th-graders, most of whom have played together on teams for at least a third of their lives, stole the show in their second rout of the visiting Wildcats, scoring all five goals. Nine of the 10 players were on the field as the clock ticked off those final seconds. Defender Katie Purvis—who was injured in the Rams’ first game against Jenison on April 23 and faces surgery this summer—cheered madly from the sidelines.
“It was fun to watch them end the game together,” said Coach Amira Ponne, who has coached all but one of the seniors since their freshman year. “They came off smiling and hugging one another. It wasn’t sad; it was celebratory. They have played together their whole lives. It’s a big part of their childhood memories, which go back to the soccer field, and of course in high school, that includes Rams Stadium. They showed their leadership in the game and how strong they are as a class. They can get the job done. The underclassmen and juniors are really going to need to step it up next year.”
Ponne began her coaching career at Rockford four years ago as the junior varsity coach with nine of the 10 players: Jenna Lysne, Jordan Diffenderfer, Allison Huyser, Kate Huyser, Jenna Odem, Celine Stallmer, Kori Brown, Sondra Weaver, and Purvis. The 10th senior, Sam Decker, played on the varsity team as a freshman. All 10 played for the Soccer Club of Rockford (SCOR) through ninth grade, and all but Decker continued with the club through their senior season under the tutelage of long-time coaches Ian Purvis and John Stallmer. Decker, who will play next year for Grand Valley State University, spent the last three club seasons playing for Grand Rapids Junior Crew.
The victory over Jenison, which was delayed an hour because of lightning, helped the Rams secure a tie for third place with Grand Haven in the OK Red conference. Undefeated East Kentwood, which beat Rockford 2-1 in both the regular season and in Monday night’s conference tournament game, won the title outright. West Ottawa finished second. Grandville was fourth, followed by Jenison, Hudsonville and Muskegon.
On Wednesday, June 2, at 5 p.m., the Rams, who are 8-8-1 overall, face host Grand Haven in the district opener. The Rams have won the district title the past four years.
“We beat them in the past, but that doesn’t matter,” said Ponne. “We know the strength that Grand Haven has.”
Against the Jenison Wildcats, the Rams were relentless on offense and defense. Rockford outshot Jenison 27-4 and the Rockford defense did not allow the Wildcats a shot on goal until only 10:55 remained in the contest. Rockford junior goalkeeper Karlee Fluegel made four saves; Jenison keeper Kelly Hevelhurst made 15.
The Rams’ first goal came off a penalty kick 24 minutes into the game. Freshman Missy Biener was tripped in the box as she headed in to score. All-Conference pick Decker took the penalty kick and placed it smartly into the goal just left of the keeper for her second goal of the year.
Lysne lit up the scoreboard eight minutes later when she dribbled up on the left and shot from across the field 20 yards outside the box. The Rams made it 3-0 with 2:55 left in the first half when the team’s leading scorer, Kate Huyser (17 goals and nine assists), put the ball in the left corner from inside the box. Weaver, who scored the Rams’ only goal on Monday against East Kentwood, made the assist as Huyser crossed in front of her.
Al Huyser started the second round of the scoring four minutes into the second half. Junior Emily Cowan made a beautiful corner kick from the right side of the net, and A. Huyser headed it in. K. Huyser—who, like her sister, always seems to be in the right place at the right time—scored again in the second half, this time off an assist by Cowan. Cowan passed the ball into the box from way over by the Rockford bench. K. Huyser, another All-Conference honoree, moved into position past Hevelhurst, who misread the play and came out to defend, and took the easy shot.
“We played our possession game. That’s always the key to our success,” said Ponne. “We did a nice job using our outside mids, who are getting more accomplished.”
Against East Kentwood (EK) on Monday in 90-degree heat, the Rams did just the opposite of what Ponne told them to do in the first half. However, in the second half, they played even with their hosts.
“I told them that the first thing we need to do is have a good first half and take a lot of shots. If we would have played our game, we could have beaten EK.”
The Rams were sluggish in the first half, and the EK Falcons ran all over them. Central Michigan-bound Becca Means scored the Falcons’ first goal 19 minutes into the game when neither Rockford’s defense nor Fluegel tried to stop her because they were certain she would be called off sides. Means took advantage of a distracted official and put the ball into the net without obstruction 19 minutes into the game.
The Rockford defense fought to keep the Falcons out of the net after that, but EK’s Abbey Tyson was credited with a goal in traffic near the end of the first half, putting the Rams down by two.
A switch in the Rams’ defense late in the first half made all of the difference and, although they threatened, the Falcons never scored again. Rockford got on the board when freshman Katie Hartnett’s corner found Sydney Benda in the middle, whose shot in a flurry of activity in the box somehow bounced off the body of Weaver into the net.