Led by freshmen offensive firepower, girls JV soccer claims conference championship in 14-1-1 season

Matthew Mahoney

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Coming off of a second place finish in the OK White conference the year prior, the girls JV soccer team came into this year with high expectations after adding new, young talent and returning experienced sophomores.

“Heading into this year, I thought we were going to do very well after adding some very skillful incoming freshman,” sophomore defender Morghan Tilton said. “However, we still had to piece everything together and mesh well as a team in order to have a good season.”

The results the girls were looking for came right away, with the team starting off the season with a 5-1 win over Rockford. In the midst of a snowstorm in mid-March, a slow start prevented the Rangers from blowing out the Rams. However, after ending the first half with a 1-0 lead, sophomores Ashley Bowen and Addi Whitten scored 2 goals apiece to lead the Rangers to the 5-1 advantage. With such a big win against a very worthy non-conference opponent, the girls were happy with the result and ready to continue the momentum.

Just days later, against another historically-respectable opponent in East Kentwood, the girls came out in full force, scoring 11 goals in the first half to end the game at the interval with a mercy win. Sophomore Rachel Toole and Freshman Addi Tack each scored 3 goals, and the offense was already clicking. In the next game, the midfield emergence of freshmen Ruthie VanSkiver, Olivia Bowling, and Claudia Folkert became very evident. Playing against a talented and skilled team, the two of them controlled the midfield and picked apart the Grand Rapids Christian defense.

After coming back from Spring Break, the Rangers took on the Gull Lake Blue Devils In the last game before the team began conference play. Gull Lake is one of the most talented programs in the state, so the girls came in with the expectation of it being a tough game. Each defense played phenomenally, shutting down any threatening attack that the other team had. Freshman goalie Ava Wilberding saved the 0-0 tie for the Rangers as the Blue Devils had a penalty kick saved by her in the second half. The game finished in a 0-0 draw, but the two teams felt content with a tie after playing well.

On Monday of the next week, FHC took on the Forest Hills Northern Huskies in a rematch of last year’s rivalry games. In both of the two matchups last year, FHN defeated the Rangers in a very close game. Ruthie scored 2 goals in the game, and FHC dominated the second half to secure a 4-1 victory.

This year, our team has really bonded together well,” said Ashley. “This really helped us beat Northern for the first time because each and every play we knew where our teammates would be.”

Off the back of the rivalry win, the girls moved on to play another conference opponent in Northview. Addi Whitten scored with 25 minutes left in the game, and the Rangers walked out of there early with another mercy win, with this one being an 8-0 victory.

A few days later, FHC hosted Cedar Springs, and Olivia dominated the midfield as she distributed the ball efficiently throughout the entirety of the game. However, the Red Hawks were playing hard, and the Rangers weren’t finishing their chances in front of the net, so the score was tied 0-0 at halftime. Finally, midway through the second half, sophomore Audrey Svoboda broke the deadlock and gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead, which was quickly added to from a goal by Olivia. The girls held off Cedar Springs for the rest of the match, and they took home a 2-0 win.

Against Lowell, FHC came out with high intensity and pressure. Addi Whitten and Ashley each scored in the first half, but in the second half, the girls struggled to create opportunities. The Red Arrows scored with five minutes left in the game, and although nerves were high, the Rangers managed to hold the 2-1 lead. Just a day later, the girls took on East Grand Rapids, a team that FHC has traditionally taken care of business against. Sophomore Mia Rabideau put on a passing clinic against the Pioneers, dishing out 4 assists to her teammates throughout the game. The Pioneers couldn’t handle the FHC offense, and the Rangers mercied them 20 minutes into the second half with an 8-0 scoreline.

Next up, FHC took on the Greenville Yellow Jackets. The Rangers dominated from start to finish, and Addi Tack scored 4 goals to lead the offense to a thrilling performance. Attack after attack, the girls looked like they would score, and they secured a 9-0 mercy win as the halftime buzzer sounded.

Soon after, the girls played against FHN for the final time in the season. This result was even more lopsided than last time and displayed pure superiority from FHC. Ashley and Mia continued their scoring streak from previous games, and each of them scored a goal in the match. With this win, the Rangers were moving closer and closer to the conference championship they so desired.

The next day, FHC continued its dominance with its fourth straight blowout win, with this one coming against the Northview Wildcats. Ashley kept scoring, leading the team with 2 goals on the day en route to a 7-0 win.

Then, just two days later, the Rangers suffered their first and only loss of the season at the hands of Cedar Springs. The Red Hawks sat back and played a very defensive game, remaining in a packed back line of four. While the Rangers did dominate, they couldn’t penetrate the defense and create chances like they had in previous games. With only two minutes left in the game, Cedar Springs set up for a free kick. The ball was served 12 yards out from the goal, and it slipped through the defense in a chaotic situation to a Red Hawk forward, who buried it into the back of the net, giving Cedar Springs a 1-0 win.

“I thought we played well [against Cedar Springs] in terms of having possession for most of the game,” head coach Maddie Pollard said. “Unfortunately, we had a limited number of opportunities on goal, and we couldn’t capitalize on any of them, despite playing well.”

A week later, the girls moved on from the loss and took on the South Christian Sailors. Ruthie scored 3 goals in the game, her highest goal total of the year. Her hat-trick—along with a goal from Addi Tack—propelled the Rangers to a 4-0 win over a high-quality non-conference opponent. The next day, the girls played Lowell in a rematch of a close game earlier in the year. However, this game was very different compared to the previous matchup. While the score was tied 0-0 at the half, Claudia, Ruthie, Addi Tack, and Addi Whitten all scored in the second half to give the Rangers a 5-0 win and move closer to clinching a conference championship.

In the last game of the season, FHC played Greenville to secure the conference championship. They did so easily, mercying the Yellow Jackets 8-0 in the first half. Addi Whitten scored 4 goals in what was her best game of the season to lead the Rangers to the dominating win.

The girls finished the season with a 14-1-1 record, going 9-1 in conference play en route to an OK White conference championship. Not only did the Rangers have a phenomenal season, but they improved both individually and as a team throughout the year.

“I think all season, we made improvements to play as one cohesive group,” Pollard said. “As a result of that, I think our possession also improved. The girls became familiar with each other’s tendencies on the field, which allowed them to connect more passes and keep possession for extended periods of time.”