GVSU soccer gears up for Quincy rematch
Becoming a champion is anything but easy. A vague, yet finicky formula of hard work, talent and teamwork must be present for any team to sustain success. Often, however, the most challenging work in sports is done after the championship is won.
That’s why the Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team isn’t missing a beat when it comes to the possibility of improvement.
GVSU, fresh off its 2013 NCAA Division II National Championship, will waste no time jumping into the deep end in 2014. The No. 1 Lakers host No. 13 Quincy University to open the season Friday at 7 p.m.
Facing such elevated competition to start the year could alarm some teams, but for GVSU, it’s all part of the plan.
“Playing a top opponent in your first match gives you a measuring stick for where your team is at,” GVSU coach Jeff Hosler said. “We always want to play someone who is going to potentially expose our weaknesses.
“We should get frustrated so that we can learn from it.”
Few teams are more prepared or motivated to frustrate the Lakers than Quincy.
During GVSU’s championship run, the two teams squared off in the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship. The Lakers jumped out to an early 1-0 lead before Quincy responded with a tally of its own in the 27th minute. The score remained unchanged until early in the second half when GVSU midfielder Charlie Socia knocked home the game-winner in what turned out to be a 2-1 Laker victory.
The rest is history. GVSU won its next three games and took a trophy home to Allendale while the Hawks returned to Illinois to brood over a teasingly tight loss.
On Friday, Quincy has a shot at long-awaited redemption – and the talent to carry it out.
The Hawks finished the 2013 regular season with the first undefeated record in the program’s history. They finished the year at 18-1-4 – and the one blemish came courtesy of GVSU. Despite graduating two All-Americans, Quincy is poised to roll again in 2014.
“They’re a very competitive team that has a high soccer IQ,” said GVSU senior forward Jenny Shaba. “They will challenge us both physically and mentally.
"It’s going to be key for us to show our excitement about being back on the field.”
The Hawks, who have won back-to-back Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) crowns, were selected in a preseason coaches' poll to repeat for the third consecutive season. Eight starters from the 2013 club return this season, including All-American midfielder Ashley Burton, who led the team with 10 goals last year. All-region defender Taylor Lindwedel will back a Hawk defense that recorded a school-record 15 shutouts last season.
The Laker offense, led by Shaba, will look to find and exploit any holes found in Quincy’s back line. Despite an offseason coaching change, GVSU’s on-field philosophy is likely to remain largely the same from last year’s record-breaking club.
“(Hosler) is slightly more attack-minded than (Dave) DiIanni was,” said senior defender Juane Odendaal. "But overall, there are more adjustments than big changes.
"We’re learning a lot about each other and the transition is going really well.”
The Lakers have yet to finalize the 11 players who will take the pitch to start game one. The starter at goalkeeper, most notably, is still up in the air as four goalies are in the midst of a position battle.
Regardless of who starts in net for the Lakers, the team figures to be focused and fiery come game time. The defending national champions know the target on their backs will glow brightly this season, but, with a talented group that is eager to learn, GVSU appears ready to win once again.