by Alan Babbitt
The nationally ranked Hope College women's soccer team begin pursuit of a Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association title repeat in familiar fashion on Wednesday.
The MIAA's stingiest defense last season opened league play with a 2-0 shutout at Kalamazoo College.
The Flying Dutch allowed only four goals to MIAA opponents in 18 matches against league opponents last season, including postseason play. Hope recorded 14 shutouts against MIAA foes.
Senior defender Morgan Buursma of Grandville, Michigan (Calvin Christian HS), pictured, and freshman forward Sarah Mikesell of Norton Shores, Michigan (Mona Shores) provided the necessary offense for Hope (7-0-1 overall).
Sophomore goalie Jordanne Ellingboe of Grand Haven, Michigan (Grand Haven) made five saves for her fifth shutout of the season and the 18th of her career. She is tied for the second-most career shutouts by a Flying Dutch keeper.
Head coach Leigh Sears said a challenging non-conference schedule has helped the Flying Dutch in their bid for a third consecutive MIAA championship. Hope is ranked fifth in this week's D3soccer.com poll and 13th in the United Soccer Coaches rankings.
Hope added more non-league matches this season, including three against nationally ranked opponents, after the format for MIAA play was changed to a single round of matches.
"We've just had really good competition," Sears said. "This year, we knew we weren't going to have as many shutouts but knew our schedule was going to prepare us for conference."
Hope outshot Kalamazoo (5-3-1 overall) by a 19-10 margin. The Flying Dutch yielded only two second-half shots with stingy coverage led by defenders such as Buursma, Kristen Marsman, Eliza Beird, and Lindsay Kooy.
"Our defense, they're just seniors with experience," Sears, explaining the success of a unit that's allowed an MIAA-low three goals so far this season. "Our backs played great in front of Jordanne. It all started in the middle with Megan Bigelow, Maria Egloff, and Rylie Dalton. They work so hard. They were just amazing. It was a fun game to watch."
A Kooy-created turnover near midfield led to Hope's first goal with 11:11 remaining in the first half.
Senior Hilary Curry of Grand Rapids, Michigan (Calvin Christian) took the pass from Kooy and found a streaking Mikesell up the right wing. Mikesell fired it to the left of the Kalamazoo goal for her third goal of the season.
In the second half, Buursma converted a corner kick from Kooy for her first collegiate goal and a 2-0 lead 12 ½ minutes into the second half.
Hope's next match is Saturday at noon against Olivet College at Van Andel Soccer Stadium. There will be a free team poster giveaway and autographs after the match on the field.