KANSAS CITY— Redemption is on Western women’s soccer’s mind when they think about the Grand Valley State University Lakers.
Why? Grand Valley State knocked off the Vikings last season in the semifinal round en route to a third consecutive National Championship title.
“I’m looking forward to it. A little revenge,” senior midfielder Becca Cates said.
The Vikings will take on the Lakers for the NCAA Division II Soccer National Championship at 1 p.m. PST, Saturday, Dec. 3 at Swope Soccer Village in Kansas City, Missouri.
“It feels awesome to be moving on as a team, with this team,” senior forward Elise Aylward said.
Scouting Grand Valley State University (Michigan)
Overall record: 22-1-1
Toppling a Goliath
As mentioned above, Grand Valley State has won three consecutive National Championships; but 2016 also marks the eighth-consecutive trip to the final four for the team. The Lakers have been ranked nationally in the top 25 since September 13, 2005 and has won at least 20 matches for the last ten seasons. Current Grand Valley State seniors are 91-4-5 overall, amassing Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular season and tournament championships in all four seasons to go along with the three National titles. This season marks the school’s 16th consecutive winning season and 14th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth.
“They’re a great team and we’re going to have to be at our best to beat them,” head coach Travis Connell said.
An offensive powerhouse
After its 3-0 win over Columbus State University in the semifinal round, Grand Valley State has now tallied 100 goals on the season. That stat is good for most in the nation, so too are total points (283) and total assists (89). Junior forward Gabriella Mencotti leads the way for the Lakers with a whopping 29 goals on the season, followed by senior forward Jayma Martin (19), senior forward Kendra Stauffer (17) and senior midfielder Marti Corby (12); Corby leads the team in assists with 24. The Lakers have 9 total players with at least 3 goals and average just over 4 goals per match. Grand Valley State has inflated its 4 goal per game average a bit by putting up 11, 10, 8 (twice) and six (twice) goals in a single match.
Western: seniors Elise Aylward, Becca Cates, Caitlyn Jobanek and Erin Russell
What a ride for this quartet of seniors who will put on their Viking kits for the final time Saturday. But for the first time in each of their careers, a championship ring will be on the line. Aylward is second on the team with goals (8) and Jobanek is tied for third (7). Neither got in on the scoring action in the semifinal, but pressed Kutztown’s keeper all night long — Jobanek notching 7 total shots in the effort. Cates is the lone Viking senior who scored on Thursday and she looks to bring that momentum into championship Saturday. Russell could potentially be the biggest of the four x-factors though, due to Grand Valley State’s offensive attack. Russell and the rest of Western’s backline will need to be at their absolute best against the Lakers.
- Bonus: redshirt junior goalkeeper Ashley Homer
When Homer transferred from the College of Saint Rose in New York to Western, her coach at Saint Rose told her she’d never become an All-American. Well she did that, as she was announced as a third-team selection by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America on Dec. 1. At Saint Rose, she lost to Grand Valley State in a semifinal shootout match. Last year, she had to sit and watch — she redshirted — as the Lakers once again ended Homer’s season when they beat Western 3-2 in the semifinal. If anyone’s got a chip on their shoulder come Saturday, it’s Homer.
“Third time’s the charm,” Homer said.
GVSU: redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Jennifer Steinaway
Steinaway doesn’t get a ton of attention playing for a team that scores goals in bunches. Still, the keeper has allowed only 6 goals all season and recorded 15 total shutouts. This includes a shutout of Columbus State in which she stopped 7 shots. Steinaway, along with senior defender and GLIAC Defensive Player of the Year Clare Carlson, are major keys for the Lakers defensively as they’re up against a level of offensive attack they have yet to see in 2016.
Keys to the match
Go into halftime with the lead
Dating back to the 2003 season, Grand Valley State has only lost 4 matches when it goes into the break with a lead. The team is now 17-0-0 in such games this season after going into halftime up 1-0 over Columbus State. Should the Vikings hold a lead before the second half kicks off, Grand Valley State will have to play with its back against the wall — something the Lakers might not be comfortable doing, especially against the strong defense of Western.
Know where Mencotti and Corby are at all times
True, there are lots of weapons for Grand Valley State. But in the NCAA tournament, Mencotti and Corby have risen to the occasion and been a thorn in the side of opposing defenses. The duo have accounted for a score or assist on 76 of the Lakers’ 100 goals and, after scoring two goals against Columbus State, Corby has 5 goals in the last three games.
Keep GVSU under three goals
All time, Grand Valley State has lost only once when scoring three goals in a match — a 224-1-0 overall record. The most goals Western has given up this season is two, and it only happened once, so don’t count on the Lakers putting up three on the Vikings. But if they do, it could mean not bringing home a National Championship to Bellingham.
“We’ve got nothing to lose,” junior defender Sierra Shugarts said. “We want revenge.”