Lakers, new coach enter season ranked #1
Soccer team opens with rematch against #13 Quincy
Since assuming the reins as head coach of the Grand Valley State University women’s soccer team on June 27, Jeff Hosler has known he will have to hit the ground running.
GVSU's transition period will have to be a quick one in 2014, as the team not only has a reputation to uphold and a national championship to defend, but also a No. 1 ranking to confirm. The Lakers were slated as the No. 1 team in the NSCAA/Continental Tire NCAA Division II Preseason Rankings on Aug. 7.
Conventional wisdom – and collegiate sports standards – might suggest the team should ease itself into the 2014 campaign with a platter of cupcakes. However, that has never been GVSU’s style. The players representing the powerhouse program understand that being the best means beating the best from day one.
In 2013, the No. 2 Lakers took on No. 5 Armstrong Atlantic State University to open the season. The game was unremarkable in many ways as the two teams played to a 0-0 draw in double overtime.
However, the tough matchup prepared GVSU for battles down the road. The Dave DiIanni-led Lakers won their next 24 games en route to the program’s third national championship in five years.
Inheriting such a successful program might seem like an intimidating task to a new coach, but Hosler sees it differently.
“Last year’s team put up very impressive statistics, but to me it’s more how the team is playing as a whole,” he said. “I’m my biggest critic and the amount of expectations I put on myself are higher than anyone else. I’m excited to get going.”
Now, Hosler will look to pioneer the wrecking-ball crew to another historic season, and GVSU will waste no time in matching up with top-quality talent.
The team, which has not lost a season-opener in more than a decade, hosts No. 13 Quincy University on Sept. 5. GVSU held off Quincy in the third round of the NCAA playoffs last year in a tight 2-1 tilt. The Hawks were one of just four teams to score a goal against GVSU last season.
This season, the Lakers welcome back a host of nationally-feared talent all over the pitch, but a few questions still linger. The reconstruction work begins on the back line, an area patrolled last season by Abbey Miller, the 2013 GLIAC Goalkeeper of the Year, who has since graduated.
Miller’s replacement has yet to be determined, but senior Andrea Strauss and a pair of freshmen, Paige Pryson and Jennifer Steinaway, are expected to compete for the position.
As is Laker soccer tradition, however, the defense in front of the unnamed keeper may be the most important cog of the seemingly unsolvable machine.
GVSU’s defense racked up 21 shutouts last year, allowing just 67 shots on goal all season. Center back Katy Woolley returns in her second year as a starter to lead what was one of the stingiest defenses in Division II history a season ago.
Senior left back and fellow returner Juane Odendaal is, as Hosler describes, an “outstanding talent” and will help foster the future fate of the Laker defense. Hosler expects the remaining positions in the back to be “highly competitive.”
Inner competition will be key for GVSU. Any feelings of entitlement or contentment could quickly hinder the crew that was often dominant in 2013.
“If you get complacent you won’t do nearly as well going forward,” senior defender Alyssa Wesley said. “You have to go into each game trying to do better than the last one. We have to put pressure on ourselves.”
The offensively adept midfield returns a number of starters whose chemistry and talent succeed in unifying a team from one end of the pitch to the other.
Sophomore Marti Corby returns after a breakout freshman season in which she totaled 31 points and earned All-American honors. Senior midfielder Charlie Socia also returns for her fourth year as a starter.
Socia tallied eight goals in 2013 – and six of them were game-winners.
“(Socia) was vital to the team’s run last year,” Hosler said. “She has that clutch gene.”
Up front, the Lakers are poised to challenge any defense standing in their way. Senior Jenny Shaba and sophomore Kendra Stauffer, the top two scorers on last year’s squad, will headline the GVSU attack.
Shaba, who racked up 44 points last season, is a dynamic playmaker who works best from the wing. Stauffer had an unprecedented freshman campaign, finishing second on the team in assists and points. She was named the Offensive Player of the Tournament in the NCAA Playoffs.
The Lakers will be without 25-game starter Erika Bradfield, however, who suffered a torn ACL in the spring and is unlikely to see action in 2014. Juniors Katie Klunder and Katie Bounds will be expected to contribute in her absence.
“The game plan is going to look a little different this year,” Shaba said. “Last year we lost quite a bit of our offense and we were looking to build on that. We lost a lot of defense going into this year, so dependability and consistency for our offense is going to be key for us.”
Consistency became synonymous with GVSU soccer under DiIanni’s guidance. The program may have a different look under Hosler’s direction in 2014, but the winning tradition and talent are still there.
The page has been turned and a new chapter remains unmarked. Jeff Hosler holds the pen and, although there are some questions to be answered, the team certainly appears primed to hit the ground running.