Pete Barrows

Sports Journalist — Pete.Barrows12@gmail.com

Archive for December 2013

GVSU women’s soccer exemplifies “team”

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Pete Barrows

GVL Staff Writer

Augusta, Ga. – Rome was not built in a day. Neither was the Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team. Although the latter has built at an accelerated pace and won its third national championship in five years Saturday.

Winning a championship in any sport on any level is a challenge. Winning three…count them three…national championships in five years is a feat.

Much can be built in a lustrum. A lot can change in five years, too – or nothing at all.

For illustration,  look no further than the GVSU women’s soccer program, one of the most successful programs, regardless of division, in collegiate sports today. Players come and go, as they do at any program, but the results have been consistently excellent and unwavering.

Over the past 11 seasons, the lady Lakers have constructed a soccer empire and won over 86-percent of their games on their way to winning those three titles. This season, GVSU seemingly reached a peak, went 24-0-1, set a school record for wins and only gave up four goals on the year.

The accomplishments were many, the successes vast for GVSU this season – almost immeasurably so. Although what distinguished the Lakers in 2013 more than what could be measured by any particular accomplishment was that this squad was a team.

A team well balanced with both youth and experience – three freshman, forward Erika Bradfield, midfielders Kendra Stauffer and Marti Corby, sophomore back Katy Woolley, three juniors, Charlie Socia, a midfielder, forward Jenny Shaba, defensive back Juane Odendaal and four seniors, Autumn Jacobs, a midfielder, defenders Tayler Ward and Kayla Kimble and keeper Abbey Miller composed the usual Laker starting 11.

A team that started the season with 13-straight shutouts behind a seasoned defensive backline and finished with 88 goals, 31 goals more than the next highest scoring team in the nation, behind a budding group of young offensive stars like Bradfield, Corbi, Stauffer and Shaba, all of whom will return in 2014 . A dominance quantified through numbers.

A team that took home most of the major GLIAC hardware this year, stocked both the All-GLIAC and All-American teams, captured an unprecedented ninth consecutive conference title and broke a variety of school and Division II records. A prestige articulated through accolades.

A team that immediately welcomed in newcomers and embraced the journey together.

“Last year’s team was very talented, but there were clicks and it just was not as harmonious as it should have been,” GVSU coach Dave Dilanni said. “This group worked really hard to welcome in the freshman and make them feel like a part of the program and a part of the journey.”

A team that shifted and grew through the season to accommodate its personnel, restructuring a new leadership design as seniors assumed new roles.

“We’ve never had a good team that didn’t have good senior leadership and this is one of those teams,” Dilanni said. “I’d have said a year ago that leadership doesn’t come natural to this senior class in terms of being vocal and they worked really hard throughout the offseason and continued to evolve to make this a good environment.”

A team that stayed humble and focused, despite the success, never skipping a step or a beat.

“This senior class did a great job of was focusing on the day-to-day process,” Dilanni said. “They never spoke about the national championship. We talked about it right at the beginning of the year with our goals, but from there, everyday was about  ‘can you be a better teammate, a better player?’ We just focused on the day-to-day process.”

A team that won a game 13-0 and another 2-1 on a game-winning PK. The Lakers won at home, and away, in rain and shine. It made no difference. A team that had fun together – and played like it.

A team that traveled t Georgia to begin and end the season, and finished better than they started. A program and a team that has accomplished plenty, and isn’t finished, yet.

A team. A team together. A team that won.

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “GV women’s soccer exemplifies team”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

December 9, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Taking it back

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Women take home national title for third time in five years; finish season without a loss

GVL / Robert Mathews

Pete Barrows

GVL Staff Writer

Augusta, Ga. – It rolled across 25 yards of mud and slick grass, over 25 games without a loss, through soccer careers years in the making and a season spanning months and three seconds of the 5,400 played in Saturday’s Division II women’s soccer title game.

And then it rolled past Argonaut keeper Sara Story’s lowered finger tips into the bottommost corner of the University of West Florida crease, like a car off the highway 800 miles away from home finally arriving at an intended and much desired destination.

Like it belonged there.

The NCAA regulation ball rolled, taking a favorable Laker bounce, until it grazed woven white nylon netting. A conclusive peace emanated from the orb across Blanchard Woods Park in Evans, Ga., all the way back to Allendale, Mich., in minute 59 of a 0-0 game.

The 2013 Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team that had rolled past every obstacle, through every practice and every game placed in front of them this season, across state lines and into the title game, had just won a third national championship in five years.

“Prior to that goal, I don’t know that our body language was negative, but we had not done what we had wanted to do,” GVSU coach Dave Dilanni said. “I thought you saw our body language change almost immediately, so did theirs. The game is cruel sometimes, but at the end of the day, (if) you don’t shoot, you don’t score. I don’t know that we deserved that goal, but I thought that it stirred us for the final 25 minutes and gave us an opportunity to drive it home.”

Forward Marti Corby had a direction in mind when she teed off the slow-rolling shot that didn’t appear to have a chance of breaking the scoreless tie. The Lakers had mapped out goals at the beginning of the season, the final and most prominent of which was to win a national championship, but Corby, a freshman, could not have known how far her and her teammates would travel or when the trip would come to a close.

“(Winning a national championship) was one of our goals at the beginning of the season, and we knew if we just worked hard for it, we could get here, but it just seemed so imaginable at the time,” Corby said. “It was a hard journey, but we stayed together throughout, pushed through all the games, and we got here. We made it.”

She closed out the season with six goals and three assists in GVSU’s final seven matches, but Corby, who fired 109 shots this season, could not have known in that slow-rolling moment that she had just made the most important strike of her career to-date. Like a soccer ball and a team in the midst of a historic season, a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

“Right when I hit it, I looked down and I didn’t think it was going in it at all, but right when I looked up, I saw it trickle in,” Corby said. “It was crazy.”

A MATCH-UP FOR THE BOOKS

Entering Saturday’s Division II women’s soccer grand finale, GVSU had won 23 consecutive matches. Defending national champion UWF had not lost in 34. One of the two teams had been a part of every Division II championship since 2009. It was only a matter of time — and travel — before the perennial powers crossed paths. Like prize fighters trading jabs, GVSU and UWF began the match exchanging shots.

UWF two-time All-American forward Chelsea Palmer fired from 13 yards out but was foiled by GVSU senior keeper Abbey Miller. Just 53 seconds later, freshman forward Kendra Stauffer launched from the tip of the goal box, narrowly curving a ball around the left goal post.

As the first half of Saturday’s final rolled to a close knotted 0-0, a pair of 10-plus-year tenured coaches told the tale. Two of the most accomplished active coaches in Division II, UWF’s Joe Bartlinski and GVSU’s Dilanni have both won 221 games and more than 86 percent of their career matches, but they had never before met head-to-head.11973_soccernatlchamp_rgb03p

Bartlinski hovered over his sideline seat, demonstrative and vocal, boldly steering his team forward with guttural bellows. Dilanni sat on the bench with his players, cool, calm and collected with legs crossed, allowing his players to drive.

Both the Argonauts and the Lakers, two teams with distinctive styles of play — UWF a pace pushing and pressuring team with an inclination towards offense; GVSU a possession-emphasizing squad with a penchant for defense — mirrored their respective coaches on the pitch.

UWF outshot GVSU 8-5 in the first stanza and had several go-ahead opportunities, but it couldn’t capitalize against GVSU’s Miller, who made three outstanding saves in the first half. The Argonauts struggled, as most teams have, to crack the Laker defense, which marked school record shutout No. 21 of the season in the match. Meanwhile, the Lakers struggled to maintain possession and launch a counter-assault.

“It wasn’t a pretty game,” Dilanni said. “It was very physical, there were a lot of battles in the midfield, we had trouble getting in behind them, but in the same token, I thought our backline did an exceptional job of keeping the West Florida forwards in front of us and not getting beat by pace.”

A RENEWED APPROACH

Bartlinski kept his team on the bench at halftime to save three minutes traveling to and from the locker room, and he delivered an inspired address over chants. Dilanni tactically reassessed his usual lineup and reached into his deep bench, rotating through defensive backs and ball-control midfielders in attempts to redirect the match in the Lakers’ favor.

“The game looked like it was going to be physical, and I gave it about three quarters to see if we could open it up and bang it around, and we just didn’t,” Dilanni said. “We said from the beginning depth was going to be a big factor, and it came to fruition during the game.”

Miller made her fourth save of the match in minute 52 to stall an Argonaut offensive, and at the 58:35 mark, the game hit a fork in the road.

Corby made a run, fired, scored. The ball rolled right in. Both weary travelers, a gassed UWF team was left deflated, GVSU rejuvenated. Eighteen minutes later, the Lakers sent the Argonauts packing.

Stauffer, one of the shortest girls on the field at any particular time, had battled vigorously all afternoon, chasing loose balls and facilitating Laker chances. Sensing opportunity in the moment, she struck.

“When you’re playing against man-marking, you have to fight, be determined to get into spaces, and she did that today,” Dilanni said. “Kenny’s a competitor and that’s what you need to know about her. When the lights are on, she competes, and I think we have a lot of those kids.”

Weaving through traffic, Stauffer collected a through-ball from junior forward Jenny Shaba and shifted gears as she swerved through the UWF defense, pulling Story off her line to defend. Another shot, another opportunity.

“I know that anything can happen, and I took that from last year,” sophomore forward Katie Bounds said. “I knew anything could go either way, and our energy was key. We had to keep pushing through. As long as you want that goal, you can get it.”11978_soccernatlchamp_rgb08p

Story managed to graze the shot, but just as it had 18 minutes prior, the moment froze in minute 76 as Bounds hammered a motionless rebound into a wide-open goal. The right moment. The right players. The Lakers were up 2-0, 14 minutes away from a title.

“All year long, we played the players I thought the moment needed,” Dilanni said. “Our girls have been very selfless about their roles. Everybody wants to play 90 minutes, but what has been special about this team is how they’ve accepted a lot of the young kids’ roles, and we feel like a team. There is a lot of chemistry. I give our seniors credit for that.”

The final minutes played out into a Laker crescendo, as occasional bursts of anticipation bubbled over from the sidelines onto the field.UWF, who did not get a single shot off in the final 37:26 of the game, had reached the end of the road.

“We know the pressures of coming back as a defending national champion and how difficult that is,” Dilanni said. “I thought Joe did a great job of getting those girls here to the finals.”

A ’5-4-3-2-1’ countdown clamored down from the P.A., trophies rolled onto the field on trolleys, championship T-shirts and hats were distributed, all in a blur. The Lakers’ season, like the 2009 and 2010 championship seasons before, has come to a halt, as all good things must.

“They’re all different teams, and they’re different because there are different players, and it’s a different journey,” Dilanni said in comparing GVSU’s three championship squads. “Three in five years is pretty special, but this one’s different because of these kids. We lost a great senior class that had a fantastic career together, but we brought in great freshmen, had awesome senior leadership, and the team came together. You could see us climb throughout the journey.”

There are few better feelings than pulling off the road at the end of a long drive, a destination reached — GVSU should know, they’ve arrived — for the moment. Next year, there will be new players, new goals, and new challenges for the Lakers to conquer. More the year after, and then the year after that.

“I’m really proud of our team effort,” DiIanni said. “It wasn’t pretty, but we dug in and did all the intangible stuff to get this win.”

Next year will come soon enough.

Saturday, for the briefest of moments, a ball nestled in the corner of the net, and a team united with trophies in hand at midfield to enjoy a well-deserved pause to relish the moment. A moment to realize that there is no one destination to arrive at, that the true joy of soccer, and life, is the trip. A moment to understand that a title, all the records and accolades, are merely road markers — souvenirs for the ride.

Accompanied right-to-left by Stauffer, Bounds and Corby at the postgame press conference table, all wearing championship hats flipped backwards and smiles that only the acknowledgment of arrival can unhinge, Dilanni drove home the final touch on a season that transcended the tangible.

“It was fun,” he said. “Had nothing to do with the wins. We just had a good time. The people were great, we competed, we had a good time this fall. We’re going to enjoy the moment while it’s here.”

To read the original post “Taking it back – National champs”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

December 9, 2013 at 9:38 pm

A review of the GV Lakers’ 2013 season

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Stats
UWF outshot GVSU 13-9 in the title game. It was the first time all season that the Lakers were out-fired. GVSU outshot opponents 609-145 on the year. That’s four Lakers shots to every one shot fired by a opponent.

Freshman forward Marti Corby, who netted six goals and three assists in GVSU’s final seven matches, was the Lakers’ leading postseason point scorer.

Junior forward Jenny Shaba led the GLIAC in shots (84), tied for the most points (27) and was tied for second in goals (10) and assists (7).

Senior goal keeper Abbey Miller played 1,228:08 consecutive scoreless minutes in 13 shutout games to begin the year, both second best marks in Division II history and led the nation in save-percentage (.937) and goals-against average (.16). Miller made more saves (4) in the title game than in any other game of her career.

17 different Lakers scored a goal for GVSU this season, and seven have tallied 18 points or more. GVSU led the nation with 88 goals, tied for the second highest goal total in school history.

GVSU only allowed four goals on the season. That’s 22 Laker goals to every one goal scored by an opponent.

Awards

Seniors Kayla Kimble, Tayler Ward, Abbey Miller; juniors Jenny Shaba, Charlie Socia and Juane Odendaal; and freshman Marti Corby were all named to the All-GLIAC first team. Freshman forward Kendra Stauffer was named to the second team, and sophomore defender Katy Woolley to the third.

Shaba, a forward, was named the GLIAC “Offensive Player of the Year”, Kimble was named GLIAC “Defensive Player of the Year”, and coach Dave Dilanni, earned GLIAC “Coach of the Year”.

Three Lakers were named All-Americans; defender and tri-captain Kimble to the first team, and Shaba with midfielder Corby to the second team.

Odendaal, Shaba and Stauffer were named to the all-Tournament team. Stauffer was voted the Offensive Player of the NCAA Tournament.

Records
GVSU finished the 2013 campaign with a 24-0-1 overall record to claim its first national title since 2010. The Lakers’ 24 wins this year were a school record and are tied for the fourth-most in the Division II record books.

GVSU began the year on a 13-game, 1,228:08-minute scoreless streak, the second longest such streak in Division II history.

The Lakers posted 21 shutouts in 2013 and matched the Division II record for blank slates in a season currently held by GVSU’s 2010 squad, which also won a national title.

GVSU matched a program-record with a .840 shutout-percentage, tied for the second highest total in Division II history.

By holding the Argonauts of the University of West Florida scoreless Saturday, senior goalkeeper Abbey Miller set a school record formerly paced by Laker great Chelsea Parise for fewest goals allowed per game. Miller’s 0.16 goals-against average is the second lowest mark in Division II history.

Written by peterdbarrows

December 9, 2013 at 9:38 pm

GVSU plays UWF in championship game; one team gets a loss, the other a title

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Pete Barrows

GVL Staff Writer

Augusta, Ga. – In ancient Greek mythology, the Argonauts were a band of heroes who quested long and far on their ship, the Argo, in search of the a much revered Golden Fleece. In ancient Greek mythology, there were no fabled freshwater sailing Lakers from Michigan to contend for the prize.

The Argonauts of the University of West Florida and the Lakers of Grand Valley State University have never before met on the pitch – or on the seas – although the schools have traced paths plenty. The programs have 11 Final Fours between them, have combined to win three of the last four national championships and either UWF or GVSU has made an appearance in every title game since 2009.  GVL / Robert Mathews Jenny Shaba weaving past an AIC defender.

“It’s a matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 2, so that’s what you like to see,” GVSU head coach Dave Dilanni said. “If you’re going to win a national championship, you have to play the best and we’ve been circling around each other for five or six years now. It just came to fruition that we’re going to play this year.”

The final two teams still afloat in Division II soccer, GVSU (23-0-1) and UWF (18-0-2) have set a collision course for Blanchard Park Field in Evans, GA for noon Saturday. Only one will travel home with an unblemished record, a national championship trophy and the right to lay claim to a perfect season – the collegiate soccer golden fleece.

“Our girls are excited and they believe in the goals, their roles, the journey and the cause,” Dilanni said. “The seniors want to get up and win their second national championship, the rest of the team, their first, and they want to be successful for each other.”

The Season and the Semifinal
In a trip to Savannah, GA early to kick off the season, both UWF and GVSU performed an unknowing and incidental litmus test.

GVSU defeated then National Soccer Coll No. 13 ranked Columbus State 2-0 and played to a scoreless tie in double-overtime against No. 5 Armstrong. West Florida beat Columbus State 3-2 in overtime and tied Armstrong 1-1 in double-overtime.

“I’ve told them all along we’re going to be a better team in October, hopefully November, than we are right now,” Dilanni remarked back in September.

Both squads have unquestionably grown since. GVSU handily defeated American International College 4-1 on Thursday to advance to the final and UWF played in with a 2-1 victory over Western Washington University three and a half minute into an overtime period, just as the they had defeated Saint Rose, 2-1, in overtime in the semifinals last year en route to the national title.

“There’s a ton of excitement, some nerves, but at the end of the day, we’re the last two teams standing in the country and that in itself is such an accomplishment,” GVSU junior forward Jenny Shaba said. “We’ve already past he hardest point, just getting here, and I think tomorrow we just have to play our game, have fun, and enjoy every second of it.”

By the stars
If awards and accolades were buried treasure, both UWF and GVSU would have plenty to burry.

Three Lakers were named All-Americans Friday – senior defender and tri-captain Kayla Kimble to the first team, and Shaba and freshman midfielder Marti Corby to the second. Three Argos also made the 40 member student-athlete list – senior forward Chelsea Palmer to the first team, and seniors Sarah Story, a keeper, and midfielder Shelby Bush to the second – all for the second time.11966_wsoccer_rgb19p

“Going in into the year, (making the first team) was one of my top goals and to actually hear that I got it was very exciting,” Kimble said. “It was a big accomplishment and to find out just after we advanced to the championship was special.”

Head coach Joe Bartlinski came to UWF in 2001, and after 13 seasons with the program holds a career record of 221-27-16 (.867). Dilanni, who took the job with GVSU is 220-18-18 (.895) after 11 seasons. Both have collected multiple coach of year accolades, including this year.

Head-to-head
Kimble, who helped spearhead a defensive unit that posted 20 shutouts for GVSU this season will contend with fellow first team All-American Palmer, the 2012 national player of the year who leads an aggressive UWF attack with 40 points.

“I feel really good about our chances,” Kimble said. “Winning 4-1 in a semifinal game is exceptionally good, so we’re all hyped up on that win and we’re going to stick to that game plan. We’re fully prepared and ready to go.”

Shaba, the GLIAC Offensive Player of the Year, played a primary role in the opening match of the Final Four and notched a pair of goals to bring her season total to 16, but will combat Story, one of the nation’s premier keepers, in what might be the most monumental and meaningful match of their respective careers.

“We just had practice this morning (Friday); we talked about how we were going to defend UWF, went through set pieces and I think we’re just trying to emulate the same mindset we had when we went into AIC,” Shaba said. “The sooner the game comes around, the better.”

Corby, one of only two freshman to be honored as an All-American, struggled to find her shot early in the season, but has scored five goals and dished out three assists, all three coming in the semifinal, in the last six games. That’s 13 postseason points and 11 goals and seven helpers contributed by Corby in 24 matches this year. On the other end of the class spectrum and the field, UWF third leading point scorer Shelby Brush will challenge her less-seasoned counterpart.

“I never would have guessed (that I’d be named an All-American),” Corby said. “I knew that the team could make it this far in the tournament, but I didn’t know how much I’d be playing or if I’d have a big role on this team – now, we’re here. I’ve just tried to play aggressive and confident and it really is all my teammates that have made it comfortable and easy for me to step in, both on and off the field.”

“I wouldn’t want to go through a season without going on to the tournament and as far as putting together a full game, that was it (against AIC). We were really wearing them down, getting anything we wanted and we hope to repeat that effort again Saturday.”

By the numbers
“The styles aren’t similar, but the quality, success and how we build our programs are,” Dilanni said. “It’s going to be a very good game.”

Numbers never lie and if they’re any indication, Dilanni won’t have, either.

The Argonauts have scored 54 goals, allowed 13 and outshot their opponents 375-182 heading into the championship game. The Lakers have netted a nation high 86 goals, allowed a nation low four and outshot opponents 600-132.

17 different Lakers have scored at least a goal for GVSU, 16 Argonauts for UWF. The Lakers leading point scorer, Jenny Shaba, has 16 goals, the sixth highest total in the country, and 12 assists to her credit. The Argonauts leading point scorer, Palmer, has recorded 12 goals and 16 assists.

UWF senior keeper Sarah Story has made 56 saves to go with a .56 goals against average, helping West Florida to win four consecutive games in the 2013 NCAA Tournament by one goal.
GVSU senior keeper Abbey Miller has made 55 to go with a .17 GAA and 15 individual shutouts, including a 13-game, 1,228:08-minute Division II record scoreless streak.

When the Lakers have the ball
Of the Lakers’ six leading goal scorers, four are freshmen, a testament to the upperclassmen, as many have taken a step back statistically to let others shine.

“We have such great seniors on this team,” Corby said. “They’ve helped unify our team and there’s no drama on or off the field. They’ve helped connect everyone in every class, and that’s helped us in the long run.”11967_wsoccer_rgb20p

Sharing the load and building offense from a sturdy base defense will be crucial to the Lakers’ success Saturday, as it has been all year.

“I think there’s very contrasting styles in this game,” Dilanni said. “We like to possess the ball and build out of the back. We want to keep the ball, we want to make them have to defend for 90 minutes so they have less energy to get forward in the attack, but saying it and doing are two different things.”

When the Argos have the ball
Powered by a pair of explosive senior forwards, UWF will once again rely upon Jamaica native Sashana Campbell, who scored both of her team’s goals on Thursday, and Chelsea Palmer.

” West Florida wants to get the ball forward to their playmakers and put pressure on you with those players with pace,” Dilanni said. “They play with a great pace and they’re very, very aggressive. We’re going to have to be very careful on set pieces and keep their forwards in front of us.

GVSU X-factor: Depth
“We’re hoping that our depth is going to be a factor once again,” Dilanni said. “To be able to play 90 minutes and push their starters.”

Only three Lakers – played a full 90 minutes Thursday, although 20 different student-athletes entered the game for GVSU.

“We respect their program, we respect their defensive line and they also have a very good goal keeper who doesn’t seem to get rattled in tough situations, but we feel pretty confident that they’re not going to be able to hang with us end line to end line for 90 minutes,” Shaba said.

UWF X-factor: Incumbent Status
In basketball, the team that wins last holds the court until their beaten. The same rule applies frequently in sport. Both GVSU and UWF have plenty of big game experience, but look for the Argonauts to hold a slight composure advantage in the first half.

“No matter how experienced you are, you’re going to have butterflies and nerves going into a national championship game, but you hope that the moment the ball is kicked, that  those nerves become excitement and energy and focus,” Dilanni said. “If we were going to succumb to inexperience and youth, I think that would have occurred a long time ago. ”

Prediction
GVSU 2, WFU 1

Call it a hunch, call it bias, but few teams in the history of Division II soccer have looked better on paper than the 2013 Lakers. Few teams are more cohesive, on and off the field. Few programs, in any division, have been as successful as the GVSU women’s soccer program at GVSU.

“There’s three things that really stand out with this group,” Dilanni said, comparing his 2013 team to title squads of 2009 and 2010. “One is our good defense. They just don’t allow any easy shots. Teams have to work for every opportunity.”

Two, is their competitive spirit and their will to win. They could care less about stats. They just want to win. And lastly, they just get along so well. The team chemistry is outstanding. I don’t know if that attributes to more wins, but it sure makes for a fun ride.”

One of those few programs happens to be defending champion UWF, and baring anything more than the forecasted scattered showers, expect a gritty fight to finish as both GVSU and UWF battle down the plank.

“It won’t be easy, it wasn’t last year, but that’s why we came here – to play the best,” Palmer said. “May the best team win.”

Watch live, receive live stats, follow live commentary with @RePete20, pop some popcorn and enjoy…live.

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

Written by peterdbarrows

December 7, 2013 at 10:46 am

GV soccer advances to the national title game

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Pete Barrows

GVL Staff Writer

Augusta, Ga. – Pull off interstate 20 at Evans, GA., make a left on Belair, the street with a Cracker Barrel on the corner, and take it all the way down past traffic to Blanchard Dr. Turn in.

A few freshly planted ‘NCAA Division II by choice’ flags line a twisted gravel road that leads into a cul de sac. All the way back in the bottom of a sloping basin sits a field in the woods that could only be found by those who already know that it’s there.

Here, only a few hours from Savannah, GA., where the Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team’s undefeated season began, the Lakers made their triumphant return to the Peach State to extend their 2013 campaign with a 4-1 NCAA tournament semifinal victory over American International College.GVL / Robert Mathews

“We have a lot of respect for our opponent and I thought AIC was a very dangerous squad – any team that comes out of that conference is usually very athletic – but going in, we were very prepared,” GVSU coach Dave Dilanni said. “We had a chance to see (AIC) play quite a bit and thought we’d given our girls enough information to manage and be ready to go.”

Both GVSU and AIC warmed up in a light drizzle as a recorded rendition of ‘Oh, Canada’ preceded ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ across a drowned PA system. The rain subsided into an umbrella of cloud cover with the opening kickoff.

Junior forward Charlie Socia took the first shot of the game in the fourth minute and inspired a series of deep Laker runs into the heart of the Yellow Jacket defense, although each early fast break was thwarted and cleared by the swarming AIC defense.

GVSU produced an 8-3 shot advantage and a 6-0 corner-kick margin over AIC in the first half, but It wasn’t until minute 31, 64 seconds after the Lakers utilized their first substitution of the game, that GVSU located the back of the net.

Freshman forward Marti Corby, who had scored in five consecutive games entering the match, was held without goal, but assisted Laker and GLIAC leading scorer, junior Jenny Shaba, to put GVSU up 1-0. A flurry of narrow misses – a shot by Yellow Jacket senior back Alie Fitzsimmons that grazed the post and a header by Laker senior Shelby Humphries that redirected off the crossbar – punctuated the final 10 minutes of the half.

Down a goal, AIC retook the swamped field in the second half revitalized. The Yellow Jackets controlled possession, pace and peppered GVSU with several shots early in the second stanza

“We had five really bad minutes, and that was the first five minutes of the second half,” Dilanni said. “As good as we played in the first half, to give up that goal right at the beginning was difficult. Give our kids credit mentally – they dove right back in – and I’m really proud of our girls.”

Senior defender Kayla Kimble and the rest of the seasoned GVSU back line held AICleading scorer and likely All-American, junior forward Sonia Basma, to two shots, but one that got away ricocheted around in front of the GVSU crease where it was rebounded and punched past GVSU senior keeper Abbey Miller by AIC Ronja Haag in minute 47. It was the third straight game that GVSU had scored first, only to have the score knotted up at 1-1.

“They came out and they scored the goal,” Miller said. “Mentally we made a mistake. You have to just move on, keep the ball on the ground and keep communicating.”

The game notched at one goal apiece, Shaba took it upon herself to once again rattle the Yellow Jacket hive. After Shaba raced past her defender to collect a long, rolling through ball, danced along the goal line and fired just wide of the crease, she returned less than a minute later to finish what she started. Corby once again provided the assist and a missile launched to the left-upper 90 of the AIC crease put GVSU up to stay, 2-1.

“At halftime (Coach Dilanni) put it really well: it’s a 90 minute game,” Shaba said. “It’s not one half – it’s two halves. We really tried to focus on playing the second half as well, if not better, than the first. It was probably one of my better games, but I think the best is yet to come. I’m excited for Saturday.”

With the game still very much in reach, AIC dodged a near own-goal while combating Shaba’s continued attacks to stay alive. In minute 73, Kimble hammered close the AICcoffin. Freshman forward Erika Bradfield held the nail.

Bradfield escaped the AIC defense to make her third deep run in the game and was dragged down in the box – a rare whistle set the stage. Kimble, who had netted her only other goal in a penalty kick opportunity to defeat Michigan Tech earlier in the season, delivered on the set piece to put GVSU up 3-1.

“I was nervous, but it was time to step up for the team,” Kimble said. “We all knew it was time to step up in the second half, and it showed out there.”

Another Shaba shot, one of her six on the afternoon, deflected back to Corby, who launched six shots of her own, and freshman Kendra Stauffer filled out the 4-1 final with a strike in minute 78. Corby was credited with the assist, her third of the game.

Up three with 12 minutes left in the match, GVSU subbed in seniors Sam Decker, Kelsey Fiscus, Taylor Callen and Humphries to join fellow seniors Miller, Kimble, Tayler Ward and Autumn Jacobs and complete the graduating Laker class that had gone 84-4-10 in their four years together on the field.

The Lakers subbed frequently throughout the afternoon and only Miller, Kimble junior defender Juane Odendaal logged a full 90 minutes. Nine Yellow Jackets punched in for 80 minutes or more.

“We wanted to out-posses them,” Dilanni said. “We wanted to milk the game out. We thought we had the players to do that, and we were right. We also thought we had better depth than them and we got some real key contributions from players off of our bench. It was very evident that our kids did a fantastic job today following the game plan.“

GVSU (24-01) will kick off their fifth title game in school history Saturday at noon against NSCAA No. 3 ranked West Florida (18-0-2), who beat Western Washington 2-1 in overtime in their semifinal Saturday.

Much like a field that can be found only by those who already know where it is, a national title can only be discovered with a map – a map the Lakers have followed to the curve. The season extended to its fullest extent, two teams will enter Blanchard Park Saturday without loss. Only one will find their way home with a championship trophy.

pbarrows@lanthron.com

To read the original post “GV advances to national title game”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

December 6, 2013 at 4:00 am

GVSU women’s soccer team treks to Georgia for fifth consecutive Final-Four

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Pete Barrows

GVL Staff Writer

One shot. One opportunity. Maybe five.

Both the Grand Valley State University and American International College women’s soccer teams are on the brink of seizing everything they ever wanted heading into the season.

One will capture the moment. The other will let it slip. GVL / Robert Mathews Freshman Gabbie Guibord

The stage is set for Thursday at 11 a.m. in Blanchard Woods Park in Evans Park, Ga., and although GVSU holds a distinct advantage in Final Four appearances over AIC, neither program is outmatched heading into the semifinal contest.

“(America International) is a very good team; they are the best team we’ve faced all year, in many ways, but that is what you assume will be the case in the Final Four,”GVSU coach Dave DiIanni said. “They don’t have a lot of weaknesses. They may not be as deep as us, but their starting lineup is very solid all around.”

The Lakers return to Georgia, where their undefeated season began, 9-0-1 on the road, with intent to amend for last year’s 2-1 semifinal loss to the University of California, San Diego. GVSU will play in its fifth consecutive Final Four game Thursday. AIC, 7-0-1 on the road this season, will play the first in program history.

“It’s a tremendous feeling,” AIC coach Matt Johnson said. “We’ve been working toward this for eight years, and our girls are so excited.”

That’s where the differences end.

The National Soccer Coaches Athletic Association (NSCAA) poll No. 1 ranked GVSU (22-0-1) has allowed only three goals on the season and held opponents to a paltry 5.4 shots per game, while tallying 19 shutouts, including a 13-straight game shutout streak—the second-longest streak in NCAA Division II history—to start the season.

“Defense wins championships, and because of our strong defense, we’ve given ourselves a chance to evolve slowly offensively,” Dilanni said. “We are very balanced in all areas of the field, and we have many options.”

The NSCAA No. 13 ranked AIC (18-2-2) has allowed only six goals on the season and held opponents to 6.3 shots per game, while notching 18 shutouts.

Led by junior forward Jenny Shaba with a team-high 14 goals, 12 assists and 40 points, the Laker lineup that has netted 82 goals on an average of 25.3 shots per game includes six other student-athletes with 18 points or more. Led by junior forward Sonia Basma with a team-high 19 goals, 11 assists and 49 points, the Yellow Jackets of AIC have tallied 57 goals on an average of 23.2 shots per game.

Two of the best two-way teams in Division II collegiate soccer, GVSU and AIC mirror each other in more ways than one.

In a complete GVSU sweep, senior defender Kayla Kimble was named GLIAC Defensive Player of the Year; Shaba snagged Offensive Player of the Year; senior Abbey Miller, who tallied 15 solo shutouts and played 1,228:08 consecutive minutes without allowing a goal—the second-longest run in DII history, took Goalkeeper of the Year; and Dilanni boasts Coach of the Year.

“All of our kids have received awards, but we’d trade them all in to win a national championship,” Dilanni said.

Four-year AIC starter, do-it-all defender Bailey Robinson was named to the Northeast-10 Conference second team and is considered by her coach to be one of the best kept secrets in Division II soccer. “Bailey made an impact for us from day one, and it is our opinion internally that she is one of the most underrated players in the country,” Johnson said. “She is one of the top 10 players this conference has ever seen and has turned into a complete player in every facet of the game.

“I’ve never had a player like her. She can play any position on the field except goalkeeper. If I started her up top all year, she’d be an All-Conference forward.”

With only four teams remaining in tournament play, there’s no surprise that the quality is reflected.

“The accolades, the streaks, the awards are all great, but it’s the intangibles that a lot of people don’t see that go towards how much success we see,” Dilanni said. “The team has some of the best chemistry of any I’ve coached, and when players care about each other, a lot can go well.”

In a match that could see as few as five quality shots taken in total, the team that takes advantage of the limited amount of opportunities left in the waning season will likely shine back the brightest and advance to the championship game to be played Saturday at noon. The mantra: feet, fail me not.

The opportunity comes once, maybe five times if you’re lucky, in a lifetime.

“We’re ecstatic to be where we are,” Dilanni said. “We’ve had a lot of different goals this season, and those were really important for us to get. We’re happy to keep playing, to extend the season and stay together, but we’re also intent that our senior class go out on top.”

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “GVSU women’s soccer team treks to Georgia for fifth consecutive Final-Four”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

December 5, 2013 at 4:34 am

Women’s hoops upsets No. 12 Lewis

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Pete Barrows

GVL Staff Writer

In a Saturday non-regional game, the Grand Valley State University women’s basketball team and No. 12 Lewis University passed the controlling stake of the contest back-and-forth as if it was a gravy boat at Thanksgiving dinner.

In a game that featured 10 ties and 11 lead changes, GVSU demonstrated the intestinal fortitude to come back for seconds and the ability to finish a game as if it were a full plate to be cleaned before leaving the table. And it walked away, grateful, with a 67-59 upset victory. GVL / Archive  Dani Crandell

“We kept our composure at some really crucial times in the game and kept excited throughout, particularly during the last five minutes,” GVSU head coach Janel Burgess said. “We weren’t perfect in those final five minutes by any stretch of the imagination, but we found ways to finish possessions, if it was getting a defensive rebound or hitting big free throws, throughout the game and down the stretch.”

Lewis jumped out to an early 10-6 lead, although it was a pair of three-pointers by sophomore center Jill Steinmetz and freshman forward Piper Tucker over a one-minute span that stymied the Lewis attack and ignited the game’s first run—a 15-4 scoring advantage in GVSU’s favor. Junior forward Kat LaPrairie capped the run with a three of her own to give the Lakers a 24-16 lead with 7:52 left in the first half.

Lewis battled back to knot the score at 24-24 two minutes later, but GVSU answered the call and finished the half with three consecutive field goals to take a 35-33 lead into the locker room.

“In a close game like that, it’s a continual fight and you can’t let up,” junior point guard Meryl Cripe said. “You have to make sure you have solid possessions, and you have to finish possessions. You have to be smart with just about everything you do. It’s a challenge every possession, but it also makes the game fun.

“When you beat a great team like Lewis, you can see where you fit with some of these good teams, and it’s something you can be excited about, but then again, with the schedule we have, we have to take it a game—a possession—at a time.”

A 35-33 Laker lead evaporated in the first 30 seconds of the second half as Lewis held court for the next eight minutes of action. Neither squad exceeded more than a three-point advantage for the next 10 minutes of play.

“We know what we have to offer is good enough to win a game, and our team leadership is very strong, which helps us stay relaxed and get the job done,” Tucker said. “We really focused this week on not only finishing our baskets, but finishing on the defensive end, and every stop we made in turn gave us confidence on the offensive end.”

Despite trailing by as many as six points with 14:39 to play in the second half, GVSU rallied to regain a 49-48 lead with 11:55 to go. Tucker netted the go-ahead layup and helped GVSU put the finishing touches on the tightly-contested match.

Tucker contributed 14 points on 4-of-9 shooting and six boards, and she was 4-for-4 from the stripe on a series of one-and-ones in the fourth quarter, including the free throw that put GVSU up for good with less than three minutes to play in the game.

The Lakers shot 17-of-22 from the line in the game and knocked down 11 freebies in the final 3:52 to secure their second victory of the season.

“Piper’s just an extremely fundamental kid,” Burgess said. “She was coached very well in high school, but she’s also really grown a lot in her first three months on campus. She’s one of those kids that (can) create extra possessions for us, deflections or rebounds, and really has a knack for finishing possessions. Those are huge things for a freshman to do.”

Senior guard Dani Crandall led the Lakers and packed the box score with 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals.

“In a game like this, you have to look at what your seniors are doing, and we’re fortunate to have a great one,” Burgess said. “Her play was another huge reason why we were able to succeed down the stretch.”

GVSU out-rebounded Lewis 48 to 43, thanks in part to Steinmetz who nabbed a career-high 10 boards to accompany eight points on 3-of-6 shooting, three assists and a blocked shot.

“Today was the first time this season that we’ve out-rebounded an opponent. We made a concerted effort all week in practice to hit the boards hard,” Burgess said. “We also worked a lot of situations in practice where we had to get a stop and a score on back-to-back possessions and succession was key for us down the stretch.”

Mariyah Henley of Lewis entered the game averaging 21.5 points per game this season, but was contained to 10 points by GVSU. The swarming Laker defense held Lewis to just 27.8 percent shooting in the second half and to 34.8 percent for the entire game.

“I think we did a great job of really sticking with the game plan,” Burgess said. “I have to give our post players credit for playing physical in the low post. Our weak side help was tremendous. That low post defense was another huge improvement we worked on making throughout the week, and we responded and succeeded in that improvement on game day.”

GVSU (2-1) will host No. 23 Ashland on Thursday at 6 p.m. at Grand Rapids Community College’s Hunsburger Arena to begin GLIAC play before hosting Lake Erie on Saturday at 12 p.m. in Allendale.

“In our final games before Christmas break, we really need to stay focused on us,” Burgess said. “Ashland is a defending national champion and is ranked in the top 25 right now. They’re a different looking team than they have ever been, but I know for us to be successful we’re going to really have to absorb our game plan and execute it.

“As coaches, we’ll give our young ladies the tools to be successful, and our kids need to put them in play.”

pbarrows@lanthorn.com

To read the original post “Women’s hoops upsets No. 12 Lewis”, click here at the Lanthorn online.

Written by peterdbarrows

December 2, 2013 at 9:19 pm